Pride and prejudice, Italian style

The European Union envisioned by Giorgia Meloni along with her fellow travellers Marine Le Pen in France and Santiago Abascaul in Spain is not the one Ireland wants to be part of, writes Vittorio Bufacci
Pride and prejudice, Italian style

Giorgia Meloni chose to talk about ‘pride’ in her victory speech because her power base is, and has always been, that extreme right-wing core of voters nostalgic of Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. Picture: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

Pride, and responsibility. These were the key terms used by Giorgia Meloni in her victory speech in the early hours of Monday morning. 

The outright winner of Sunday’s election, Meloni’s ‘Brothers of Italy’ far-right party went from 4.3% in 2018 to 26% in 2022. The right-wing coalition made up of Meloni’s ‘Brothers of Italy’, Salvini’s ‘League’, and Berlusconi’s ‘Forza Italia’ will have an absolute majority in the next parliament. 

Some commentators keep referring to it as a ‘Centre-Right Coalition’ but this is misleading: in this coalition the centre is not at the centre but firmly on the right, and the other parties in the coalition are on the extreme far-right.

On the lips of Giorgia Meloni, the word ‘proud’ is not an innocent term, instead it is an ideologically loaded term chosen deliberately to send out a clear political message. ‘Pride’ (orgoglio in Italian) was a leitmotif in Mussolini’s rhetoric reminding Italians to be proud of their fatherland. 

Since these dark days last century, orgoglio has always been a motto for Italy’s many fascists, neo-fascists, and post-fascists, a byword used to signal one’s political affiliation.

Meloni chose to talk about ‘pride’ in her speech because her power base is, and has always been, that extreme right-wing core of voters nostalgic of Italy in the 1920s and 1930s. It is not a coincidence that Benito Mussolini’s granddaughter, Rachele Mussolini, is a politician in Meloni’s ‘Brothers of Italy’ party, and was even elected in Rome’s City Council.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with being proud of one’s country, but with Meloni’s ‘Brothers of Italy’ (the party is named after the opening line of Italy’s national anthem) nationalism has an ominous dimension, which is reflected in her campaign slogan: ‘God, Family, Fatherland’. 

Giorgia Meloni believes in traditional family values, but these values apply only to certain families: Italian families; white families, Catholic families; and of course families made up of a mother and a father. Picture: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
Giorgia Meloni believes in traditional family values, but these values apply only to certain families: Italian families; white families, Catholic families; and of course families made up of a mother and a father. Picture: AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia

Meloni wants Italians to be proud of being Italians, but not all Italians need apply. Her party is openly and proudly opposed to multiculturalism and diversity. She believes in traditional family values, but these values apply only to certain families: Italian families; white families, Catholic families; and of course families made up of a mother and a father. 

There is no place for LGBT+ in Meloni’s Italy, just as there is no place for refugees and immigrants, especially from North Africa. Where there is pride there is also prejudice.

In the aftermath of this election, we are not going to see black-shirts roaming the streets of Rome, but that only because fascism in the 21st century has learned to be more sophisticated in its methods of oppression. However, there will be changes, and the brunt of Meloni’s far-right policies will be felt by some of the most vulnerable groups in Italian society, including women.

If there is a silver lining in the outcome of these elections — and one needs a powerful magnifying glass to see it — it is that for the first time in its history Italy will have a woman as prime minister. Yes, at long last. 

This is no doubt symbolically significant, and a step in the right direction, but we should not assume for a moment that Meloni’s government will be good for all the women of Italy. 

Certainly not for women experiencing an unwanted pregnancy, judging by some of the things Meloni has said in the past. This is very worrying, but we should not be surprised. After all, extreme right-wing parties are not known for championing equality as their guiding principle, so women in Italy may be in for a shock now that Meloni is at the helm of Italy’s government.

Giorgia Meloni: Her party is openly and proudly opposed to multiculturalism and diversity. Picture: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino
Giorgia Meloni: Her party is openly and proudly opposed to multiculturalism and diversity. Picture: AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino

But the most worrying aspect of this election is that Meloni’s right-wing coalition could make changes to the constitution. Because of Italy’s shameful experiment with fascism in the early part of the 20th century, after the war the new Italian constitution was designed to water down any concentration of power. In terms of averting revamped authoritarianism, the Italian constitution has done its work extremely well. 

But all that may change if Meloni has her way. Italy’s new right-wing coalition has already indicated its desire to introduce a French-style presidential system, where people vote directly for a national leader with extended executive powers.

The outcome of this election is also bad news for the European Union. There has always been a far-right contingent in Europe, but one thing is Hungary, another thing is Italy. 

Meloni’s success will galvanise other far-right parties in Europe, starting from Vox in Spain, who will now have realistic aspirations of being in government and not merely an unruly protest party in opposition. 

During her electoral campaign Meloni has said she is not anti-EU, but she has also indicated she is opposed to the EU interfering with the internal politics of individual states. 

The EU that Giorgia Meloni in Italy, Marine Le Pen in France, and Santiago Abascal in Spain have in mind is very different from the EU Ireland wants to be part of.

These are worrying times. As the great Roman philosopher Macus Tullius Cicero once said: mala tempora currunt sed peiora parantur, that is “bad times are upon us, but the worst has yet to come”.

  • Dr Vittorio Bufacchi is senior lecturer in philosophy at University College Cork

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