Italian far-right leader rejects links to Fascism, touts ‘shared values’ with Likud

Giorgia Meloni, whose party currently leads in opinion polls, insists that Italian conservatives have abandoned Mussolini’s ideology

Brothers of Italy's Giorgia Meloni attends a media event for center-right leaders in Rome, on March 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)
Brothers of Italy's Giorgia Meloni attends a media event for center-right leaders in Rome, on March 1, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini, File)

Italy’s far-right leader Giorgia Meloni insisted Wednesday that she won’t be a danger to democracy if she becomes premier, calling Fascism “history” and highlighting her party’s links to Israel’s Likud and other mainstream conservative factions.

Meloni, who is leading in opinion polls ahead of the September 25 parliamentary elections, also dismissed as “nonsense” concerns that if her Brothers of Italy party comes to power, making her Italy’s first far-right premier, there would be a risk of an “anti-democratic drift” or that the country might exit the group of European nations using the euro currency.

“I have been reading that the victory of Fratelli d’Italia in the September elections would mean a disaster, leading to an authoritarian turn, Italy’s departure from the euro and other nonsense of this sort. None of this is true,” she said in the video sent to international journalists, switching between English, French and Spanish.

Brothers of Italy, which Meloni founded in 2012, is a political descendant of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), formed by supporters of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini after World War II. Fast-growing in popularity, the party uses a symbol featuring a tri-colored flame that had been an icon of MSI.

But she insisted in her video: “The Italian right has handed fascism over to history for decades now, unambiguously condemning the suppression of democracy and the ignominious anti-Jewish laws.”

Meloni has been dogged by criticism that she has been ambiguous about denouncing Italy’s fascist past.

Illustrative: A small group of fascist supporters give the Roman salute in front of the tomb of late dictator Benito Mussolini in Predappio, central Italy, April 28, 1995, (Paolo Ferrari/AP)

Her contention ignored attempts, including by her allies, to minimize some of Mussolini’s legacy. For example, former Italian leader Silvio Berlusconi, referring to internal exile for Italian opponents of fascism, once said that the dictator sent them on “vacation” to Italian islands.

Meloni has agreed an alliance to form a government with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s anti-immigration League, but reiterated this week she plans to be prime minister if her party comes out on top.

Recent opinion polls have indicated Meloni’s support among eligible voters slightly ahead of her main rival in the election, Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta, a former premier.

Her rise has prompted a slew of negative headlines at home and abroad, to which her team is starting to respond, including with an interview to Fox News in English last month.

From left, Silvio Berlusconi, Giorgia Meloni and Matteo Salvini address a rally in Rome, October 19, 2019. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

In her video, Meloni emphasized her party’s “shared values and experience” with Israel’s Likud party, US Republicans and British Conservatives, seemingly attempting to align herself with mainstream conservatives.

The “Italian conservatives” she leads are “a bastion of freedom and defense of Western values,” she said, highlighting her Christian and family values.

Brothers of Italy was the only main party not to join the national unity government formed by Prime Minister Mario Draghi in February 2021 — and has since seen its poll ratings soar.

Since the coalition collapsed and Draghi resigned last month, it has remained in pole position with around 23 percent of support.

While backing the EU’s tough response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she is highly critical of the bloc and has ties to Spain’s Vox and Poland’s Law and Justice parties.

Brothers of Italy’s party leader, Giorgia Meloni, takes a selfie with supporters during a rally in Rome, Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019. (AP/Andrew Medichini)

Meloni has railed against European Union bureaucracy for years as infringing on national sovereignty. On Wednesday, she blasted as an “absurd narrative” the idea that a center-right government would jeopardize the implementation of reforms needed to receive all of the 200 billion euros earmarked for Italy in EU pandemic recovery funds.

“For days, I have been reading articles in the international press about the upcoming elections that will give Italy a new government, in which I am described as a danger to democracy, to Italian, European and international stability,” Meloni said, sitting at a desk and reading the message with a stern, no-nonsense tone.

Under Italy’s complex electoral rules, victors need extensive campaign alliances with other parties to control Parliament. But the Democrats have struggled to match the reach of the center-right’s campaign alliance, especially when they refused to ally with the populist 5-Stars, who triggered a crisis that eventually collapsed Premier Mario Draghi’s broad pandemic unity coalition last month.

Still, the dynamics between the center-right and center-left bloc could shift. Letta announced on Wednesday that coming on board as a Democratic Party candidate for a Parliamentary seat will be Carlo Cottarelli, a widely-respected economist who held positions in Italy’s central bank and with the International Monetary Fund.

“The next election is probably the most important we have had and likely to be in the years to come,” Cottarelli said. The vote essentially comes down to ”progressives vs. conservatives. Italy has to decide” its future, he said.

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