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Do the Italian Elections Reflect a Turn to Fascism or Cynicism?

Afew years ago, I stopped to fill up the tank of my mother’s Fiat 500 at a gas station close to our family home in southern Tuscany. When I went into the store to pay, I noticed that it had started to sell lighters bearing the face of Benito Mussolini, the fascist leader who ruled Italy as a dictator from 1925 to 1943.

This came as a shock. Tuscany has historically been a left-wing region. The Monte Amiata, a densely wooded mountain on whose slopes my village perches, served as a base for partisans who fought the Nazis during World War II. Why would our local gas station be selling fascist memorabilia?

I put the question to the attendant. He squirmed. “I don’t like it either. Headquarters sent us those a few days ago,” he told me. Then he perked up, happy to think of something that would, he assumed, be sure to mollify me. “Don’t worry: Next week, we’re getting in some lighters with the face of Che Guevara!”

The Italian constitution, which came into force in 1948, is resolutely anti-fascist, yet the country’s political culture has never made a clean break with its extremist past. For a German gas station to sell items that commemorated Adolf Hitler would be truly shocking (and probably illegal); in Italy, the sight of Mussolini memorabilia for sale in stores is not that unusual. Similarly, mainstream German political parties shun far-right extremists such as the Alternative for Germany; in Italy, parties with roots in fascism have long been an accepted part of the political scene.

Even so, Sunday’s electoral success for Giorgia Meloni and her party, Brothers of Italy, is unprecedented. It marks the first time in Italy’s postwar history that a party with fascist roots has won the most votes in a national election. Meloni, who received just over a quarter of votes cast, is now very likely to become prime minister at the head of a far-right coalition with the League, led by Matteo Salvini, and Forza Italia, headed by Silvio Berlusconi.

How will the new government change Italy? And how much damage could it inflict on the country’s democratic institutions?

Italian history gives reason to worry about what lies ahead.

Brothers of Italy is descended from the Italian Social Movement, or MSI, which was founded in the aftermath of World War II by fascist politicians who had played a significant role in the Republic of Salò, the pro-Nazi puppet regime that governed the northern half of Italy after the Allies invaded Sicily in 1943. Meloni’s party has as its symbol a green, white, and red flame, which many regard as intended, in its original design, to express enduring loyalty to Mussolini.

Meloni herself, who has led Brothers of Italy since 2014, grew up in Garbatella, a working-class neighborhood of Rome, and cut her teeth in the youth wing of the MSI. Today, she regularly inveighs against immigrants and the gay-rights movement, and has made common cause internationally with far-right parties and illiberal leaders such as Hungary’s Viktor Orbán. In June, she spoke at a campaign event for Vox, a rightist party in Spain. “Five hundred thirty years ago, the capitulation of Granada put an end to the Reconquista, Andalucia turned Spanish, and Europe became Christian,” she said. “Today, the secularism of the left and radical Islam threaten our roots.” Compromise with such opponents is unthinkable: Parties of the right such as Vox and Brothers of Italy, she said, needed to say a clear no to the “LGBT lobby,” to “gender ideology,” and to “mass immigration.”

Read entire article at The Atlantic