The good news is she’s Italy’s first female prime minister! The bad news is... literally everything else
Italy has elected its first female prime minister. This might sound like a win for feminism, but don’t head down to The Wing for a rousing singalong of “Sisters Are Doing It For Themselves” just yet. Giorgia Meloni may be a woman but she is also, regrettably, the leader of a far-right party with roots in Italy’s post-war fascist movement.
Meloni’s victory was decisive: she won about 26 per cent of the vote, which makes her party, Brothers of Italy, the largest faction in Italy’s government. It will be weeks before a new government is formed, but she is the presumptive prime minister and likely to preside over a coalition of far-right parties. While the election had a lower turn-out than normal, there’s no getting around the fact that this represents a resounding success for Italy’s far-right. Meloni has said she intends to “govern for everyone”, but given her party’s track record there is plenty of reason to be concerned. Here’s everything you know about what this means for Italy.
IS SHE A FASCIST?
Brothers of Italy’s fascist roots are undeniable, and Meloni has previously expressed admiration for Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. She also allied herself with Victor Orban, the hard-right prime minister of Hungary (a country which, according to the European parliament, can no longer be considered a full democracy), and they share a focus on upholding ultra-conservative ideals of the nation, the family, religion and gender identity.
Throughout her election campaign, she has denied being a fascist and has made some effort to present as a moderate. But at the same time, she has explicitly focused on “defending God, the homeland and the family” (a line that echoes a Mussolini-era slogan). She has also spoken extensively about the threat posed by mass immigration to Italy’s identity and racial demographics. Her rhetoric on this matter fits in with the ‘great replacement’, a white supremacist conspiracy theory that posits there is an intentional plot (by vaguely defined “global elites’) to replace white people in Europe. Meloni has consistently attacked migrants and asylum seekers and has called for a naval blockade against Africa to prevent migration. It’s possible to quibble over whether she meets a strict definition of ‘fascist’, but she is unambiguously far-right.
WHAT’S THE DEAL WITH HER OBSESSION WITH THE LORD OF THE RINGS?
The most bizarre aspect of Meloni’s far-right history is her long-standing obsession with The Lord of the Rings. She has described JRR Tolkien’s fantasy series as a “sacred text” and used to dress up as a hobbit and sing with an extremist folk band called Fellowship of the Ring. Later, as an elected politician, she posed for a photo shoot next to a statue of Gandalf. This might sound harmlessly eccentric, but The Lord of the Rings has long been a major touchstone of post-war Italian fascism, offering a vision of an idealised past that must be defended against invading hordes.
According to Ted Stansfield, Dazed’s very own Lord of the Rings expert, “I’m aware of the context but I still don’t really understand how Giorgia Meloni has managed to draw a fascist reading from the series. It’s literally a story about different races – elves, men and sweet little hobbs – coming together to fight tyranny. Like, did you sprain your arm with that reach?”
“Writing between 1937 and 1949, Tolkien was very much aware of WW2 when he was working on the book – two of his sons were fighting in it,” Stansfield continues. “And while he never confirmed a direct analogy, it’s not hard to see a connection between Sauron/Mordor and Hitler/Nazi Germany. Much like the Third Reich, Sauron’s regime is defined by hate, violence and genocide – he literally tries to wipe out the race of men – while Frodo et al fight for a world of goodness and tolerance.” Not only did Tolkien refuse to work with Nazi-leaning publishers who wanted to create a German-language version of the Hobbit, he also once referred to Hitler as a “nasty little ignoramus”. So as to whether he’d approve of Ms Meloni, it’s fairly safe to say that he wouldn’t...
Nasceva oggi J. R. R. #Tolkien, autore de Il Signore degli Anelli e molti altri libri straordinari che hanno segnato l’immaginario di tantissime generazioni. Spero che anche Gigì presto possa leggere e apprendere dalle sue indimenticabili storie ricche di valori e significati ❤ pic.twitter.com/IdxBVjdYqf— Giorgia Meloni 🇮🇹 ن (@GiorgiaMeloni) January 3, 2020
WHAT DOES HER VICTORY MEAN FOR ITALY’S LGBTQ+ COMMUNITY?
One of Meloni’s great preoccupations as a politician is the family, something which she conceives of as being in natural opposition to “gender ideology” and “the LGBT lobby” (which, if you live in the UK, should sound familiar). She presents queer people as a threat to both the family and the nation; a nefarious internal force attempting to destroy the natural “identity” of Italy.
Meloni has said she’s not going to roll back existing civil rights, but LGBTQ+ groups in Italy are concerned that she will, at the very least, stand in the way of future progress. Italy introduced civil partnerships in 2016 (which Brothers of Italy voted against) but it remains the only country in western Europe not to have equal marriage. This has wide-ranging implications: for a start, it makes it significantly harder for gay couples to enter into the adoption process, which demands marriage – not civil union – as a prerequisite. IVF is also limited to heterosexual couples. In effect, gay couples who want to have children are forced to travel abroad, and Meloni recently introduced legislation – which is yet to pass – which would make this illegal. Despite her reassurances to the contrary, many LGBTQ+ parents in Italy are worried she will strip back their existing rights.
These concerns are well-founded: Meloni is on record as being opposed to gay marriage and adoption. Recently, a member of her party urged the Italian state broadcaster not to show an episode of Peppa Pig that featured a bear who has two mothers – he argued that children shouldn’t see gay adoption as something “natural or normal”.
IS SHE A FEMINIST?
No. Brothers of Italy’s record on abortion is truly disturbing: in 2019, the party attempted to pass a law that stipulated that all aborted fetuses had to be given a cemetery burial, even against the express wishes of the mother. The party has also proposed allowing anti-abortion activists to work in family counselling clinics, in order to allow them to pressure women not to end their pregnancies.
One of her party’s key concerns – which ties into its anxieties about white Italians being replaced by migrants – is boosting Italy’s faltering birthrate. Making it harder for Italian women to access abortions would be one way of doing this. She has said she doesn’t plan to appeal the country’s abortion law, but will instead promote alternatives – which is all well and good, but the party’s policy platform features some troubling language, including the pledge to “protect life from the beginning.” Elsewhere Meloni has said “Yes to the culture of life! No to the abyss of death!"
WILL ITALY LEAVE THE EU?
Probably not. While Meloni is a Eurosceptic, she indicated during her campaign that she doesn’t want to leave outright. It wouldn’t really be in her interests to do so, given Italy is currently receiving billions of euros in relief funds from the EU. But she is essentially hostile to the union and at one point wanted to ditch the Euro currency. Given that Italy is the third largest economy in the Eurozone, this probably doesn’t spell good news for the cohesion of the project.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR ITALY’S ECONOMY?
Like a lot of right-wing populists, Meloni’s rhetoric is often vaguely anti-capitalist: she has railed against consumerism, global elites and financial speculators. But don’t expect her party to embark on a programme of radical redistributive politics: throughout her time as an elected politician, she has consistently supported austerity reforms that have widened Italy’s inequality and impoverished its working classes. Now she’s in power, she wants to further dismantle unemployment benefits and introduce deep tax cuts which will benefit the wealthy. For all her rabble-rousing populist rhetoric, her economic policies will offer more of the same – if slightly worse.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR THE REST OF EUROPE?
Nothing good. In the worst possible ways, Italy has often been ahead of the curve in terms of political developments. It was the birthplace of fascism and saw billionaire populist Berlusconi rise to power years before Trump did. As Italian journalist Roberto Saviano wrote in The Guardian this week, “where Italy goes, the rest of Europe will soon follow.”
Even now, Meloni is hardly an outlier. Her victory comes after an election in Sweden earlier this month when a party founded by neo-Nazis won the second largest share of the vote and are expected to be the largest party in a right-wing coalition. Earlier this year, in France, Marine Le Pen reached the final round of the presidential election, and Spain’s far-right party Vox is on the rise. As for Britain… what else can we do but weep for Italy? Imagine having a right-wing party in government that hates migrants and trans people, and supports sweeping tax cuts which benefit only the wealthy. The possibility is simply too awful to contemplate!