The Fratelli d’Italia (Italian Brothers) leads in public opinion polls, and in a recent video recorded in English, Spanish and French, Meloni insists that the party’s ideology takes history into account.
But just history is the stumbling block here. Italy did not go through the process of denazification after the war as Germany did, which pushed the Fascist parties to reform.
Fratelli d’Italia, founded in 2012, has its roots in the Italian Social Movement (MSI), which in turn grew out of remnants of Mussolini’s fascism.
Meloni’s party retains the logo of the postwar extreme right-wing parties, the tricolor flame that is often seen in Italy as the fire burning on Mussolini’s grave.
“Giorgia Meloni does not want to give up this symbol because it is a part of her identity that she cannot escape, it is her youth,” says Gianluca Passarelli, professor of political science at Rome’s Sapienza University.
“Her party is not fascist,” the professor is convinced. – Fascism means gaining power and destroying the system. She won’t and can’t do that. But the party has wings associated with the neo-fascist movement. She has always held somewhere in the middle.”
Meloni’s youth was indeed associated with the extreme right. And in those humble beginnings lies the key to her image as a woman of the people.
She was born in Rome and was only a year old when her father Francesco abandoned the family and moved to the Canary Islands. Francesco was leftist and her mother Anna was rightist, leading one to speculate that Meloni’s political choices were partly due to a desire for revenge against her father.
The family moved to Garbatella, closer to her grandparents. There, at age 15, Georgiana joined the Youth Front, a wing of the neo-fascist MSI, and later became president of the student branch of the National Alliance, MSI’s successor.
Marco Marsilio was holding a meeting in MSI’s Garbatella office when Meloni knocked on his door in 1992. Ten years her senior, he became her close friend and political ally and today is president of the Abruzzo region.
“Here’s this slender girl, but always very serious and determined,” he says. – “She was conspicuous and at student meetings she wouldn’t let anyone take the microphone away from her.
For years they celebrated family holidays together, went to debates and parties. Marsilio watched her confidence grow.
“She was insecure at the time, but perhaps that was her strength, as she read more, rather than less, on the subject before tackling an issue,” Marsilio recalled.
In 2008, when she was 31 years old, Meloni became the youngest minister, Silvio Berlusconi appointed her to head the Ministry of Youth and Sports.
In 2012 she created her own party, which won only 4% of the vote in the 2018 elections.
Now, as the only major party left outside the unity coalition of Mario Draghi’s government, Fratelli d’Italia leads in opinion polls, garnering about 25%, and its alliance with former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s right-wing Berlusconi and the far-right Liga party has every chance of winning in September.
But even as Meloni seeks to appease Italy’s Western allies (for example, by strongly supporting the Draghi government’s pro-Ukrainian line), her hardline conservative social policies worry many.
“Yes to the natural family, no to the LGBT lobby!” – she declared at a recent rally of the far-right Spanish party Vox. And called for a naval blockade of Libya to stop migrant ships.
“Meloni is not a danger to democracy, but to the EU,” says Professor Passarelli, who ranks her with the nationalist leaders of Hungary and France.
“She is in the same position as Marine Le Pen in France or Viktor Orban in Hungary. And she wants a ‘Europe of nations,’ where everyone is virtually on their own. Italy can become Putin’s Trojan horse in order to undermine the solidarity of the Europeans, and she will thus allow him to continue weakening the European Union,” believes Professor Psarelli.
Now, in hopes of becoming Italy’s first female prime minister, she is pinning her gender. Reasoning in a macho-political manner, Professor Passarelli says: “The Italian family is dominated by the mother. She is the macho figure who controls the kitchen. Meloni uses this wisely because it directly affects the very core of the system.”
For Meloni’s allies, who already smell victory, the 45-year-old leader represents the radical political shift Italy needs, given its years of stagnation and aging society.
“I feel great, like a father walking his daughter down the aisle,” says Marsilio. – “We wouldn’t have founded the party if we didn’t think it had potential.
I asked Marsilio what he would say to Meloni during the first phone call if she won the election. And he replied, “Act! We’ve been waiting for this. Now it’s time to respond.”