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She could become Italy's first female leader -- and its first far-right one since Mussolini

Tom Kington and Tracy Wilkinson, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

“It will be the first time for years the appointment will not be about trading favors,” said health consultant Paola Baccani, 59.

Luciano Panichi, 59, a lighting company employee, played down the occasional reports of neofascists turning up as local councilors in Meloni’s party. “Fascism doesn’t exist anymore, and there are fanatics on the left as well,” he said.

Lorenzo Pregliasco, director of the polling firm You Trend, listed the main reasons Italians were voting for Meloni, and none of them was ideological. He said she is seen as “coherent” — a word cited by supporters repeatedly — and is a new face, having not served in the government. She is seen as a politician who did not reach power making deals with other politicians, he said.

In terms of how radical her policies might be, Pregliasco suggested she would have “few margins to maneuver” given budget restrictions and other factors.

“I don’t expect to see too much ‘identity’ politics in the short term, although if she needs to boost her popularity she could stoke up a battle against immigration,” he said. “However, I don’t see her making a frontal attack on Italy’s law allowing same-sex civil unions or abortion.”

Although she has attempted to soften her positions, she’s also worked to assure the Italian electorate that she will not abandon the European Union, while still siding with those like Orban, who are determined to do so. Meloni has voiced affinity with him and even with Russian President Vladimir Putin while also criticizing him. Many see the flip-flop as a matter of political expedience, with Meloni having refused to condemn Mussolini.

Aldo Cazzullo, the author of a new book, “Mussolini Il Capobanda,” said many Italians do not have a negative view of the former dictator, a kind of whitewashing of the historical record.


“The majority think Mussolini was a success until 1938. He had to crack the whip a bit, but that was necessary. Only in 1938 did he ally with Hitler and pass racial laws,” he said.

“The truth is that he took power with violence and by 1938 had already had opponents killed,” Cazzullo added. “Entering the war was not a tactical error. It was the natural result of fascism.”

Carlo Bastasin, a senior fellow specializing in Europe at the Brookings Institution in Washington, predicted Meloni will probably adopt a more conventional governing line, especially where the European Union and financial markets are concerned. Money from those sources depends in part on countries maintaining core democratic values.

“From a statistical perspective,” he said in an analysis for the think tank, “Brothers of Italy’s rise is no different from that of all other Italian anti-system parties from the 1990s onwards. The current developments — though traumatic for Italy’s political culture — appear to be a new round of the same phenomenon, with single parties suddenly rising and surfing the waves, one after the other, of endlessly protesting Italians. Those waves have not stopped rolling since the resurgence of anti-political sentiment in the early 1990s.”


(Los Angeles Times special correspondent Kington reported from Florence and Times staff writer Wilkinson from Washington.)

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