The Bundle of Fascism in Italy


The recent election win of neo-fascist Meloni in Italy has renewed the interest in the history and ideology of neo-fascism. The original ideology of Italian fascism dates back to Fasci Italiani di Combattimento – the Italian Fasces of Combat or Italian Fascist Fighting Platoons, and death squads. Melina’s new bundles of fighting brothers are no longer called Fasci Italiano di Combattimento but Brothers of Italy.  In addition, Meloni’s election win might not just re-set the Italian politics but also Italy’s relationship with both Europe and Russia.

On the international stage, those who were the most happy about Giorgia Meloni’s election win were Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin, and, in Europe, Viktor Orban. Yet, Trump has become largely irrelevant and Orban’s EU-member country of Hungary is rather isolated among the 27 EU member states.

Meanwhile, many EU countries are engaged in a proxy-war with Putin’s Russia since its attack on the Ukraine. As a consequence, Meloni and her two coalition partners – Berlusconi and Salvini’s relationship with Putin warrants special attention even though it might be a case of cold affections.

Currently, Europe’s extreme right – of which Meloni & Co. are a part of – is officially and publicly distancing itself from Russia. Meanwhile, not so officially, they like to keep backdoors to Russia and Putin open. Worse, Italy’s neo-fascist tripod of Matteo Salvini, Silvio Berlusconi, and Giorgia Meloni – the three right-wing coalition partners – might not be in agreement on the Russia issue.

Recently, Lega’s mini-Führer Matteo Salvini reacted rather angrily when journalists pressed him on the issue relating to the final phase of the Italian election campaign, wherein US intelligence reports suggested that Russia had invested at least €300 million to foreign political parties, their candidates, and other political organizations since 2014. Instead of responding to the allegation, Salvini announced that he will sue anyone who claims that his party has ever received money from Moscow. Salvini claimed that not a single Ruble, Euro, Dinar, and Dollar from Russia had ever flowed to him.

In fact, so far there is no evidence of whether the Lega or its chairman ever received financial support from Russia. The US government released only parts of the information it has, which includes the fact that the money flows into more than two dozen countries. If Italy was among them, Russian money, i.e. Dark Money, would have intervened and perhaps even helped shape the outcome of the recent parliamentary election in Rome.

In this recent Italian election, the extremely right-wing and neo-fascist coalition of Forza Italia & Lega, and the election winner: Fratelli d’Italia are very likely to rule over Italy very soon. Even the aspiring Prime Minister, the fascist Giorgia Meloni, vehemently denies that she has ever received Russian money.

In her case, this may even seem a touch more credible than in Salvini’s case. Meloni has not been noticed in the past by the Kremlin. Rather, she publicly declared that she would continue to stand on the side of the Ukraine.

Given fascism’s long history of lies in Italy, such announcements may be taken as a little bit more than a pinch of salt. After all, propaganda was invented in Italy as Congregatio de Propaganda Fide by an organisation that was – in the early 20th century – not too far away from Italian fascism: the Catholic Church.

Beyond all this, it remains to be seen whether their public statements on the Ukraine will translate into concrete actions. Meanwhile, the two mini-Führers of Meloni’s two coalition partners – Lega’s Führer Salvini and Forza’s boss Silvio Berlusconi – are known for their closeness to Russia, and in particular to President Vladimir Putin.

Of course, Putin-stooge Salvini – just like Berlusconi – likes to pose on Red Square in Moscow (2014) – dressed rather appropriately in a Putin T-shirt. Worse was to follow. In 2017, a cooperation agreement for mutual exchange was concluded between Salvini’s Lega and Putin’s party United Russia.

With the entry of Russian troops into Ukraine this spring, the open enthusiasm had suddenly – at least publicly – disappeared. Nobody can ever say, neo-fascists aren’t good in propaganda. They have learned their lessons from their great hero: Mussolini.

At least publicly, Salvini criticized the war of aggression, even staged himself on the Polish-Ukrainian border as a refugee helper. However, he also and repeatedly questioned EU sanctions against Putin.

This puts him on a par with Berlusconi. The 85-year-old even defended Putin in the Italian election campaign saying Putin was pushed by the Russian people, by his party, and by his ministers to come up with this special operation. This does not sound like a clear break with their Russian idol: Putin.

Just as in Italy, many extreme right-wing parties in Europe are following the very same propaganda move. They have become a bit uncomfortable with their former support for Putin and with their open display of ideological attachment to the Kremlin. Since Russia’s war of aggression, they now like to reject the attack on the Ukraine – more or less.

Before the escalation of the Ukrainian war, the Führers of the European right-wing parties almost gave themselves the door-handle, hand-in-hand in a constant stream of visiting European mini-Führers to Moscow. In the case of Germany’s semi-fascist  AfD for example, its “let’s see Putin’s” travel list of top officials is very extensive.

The two AfD party Führers – East-German right-winger Tino Churpalla and Swiss-based lesbian Alice Weidel (what a team!) – were guests in Moscow just recently in 2021 when also meeting with Putin’s government representatives. In 2017, the then party boss – Frauke Petry – was also in the Russian capital.

Worse, AfD party functionaries were engaged by the Russian state as “election observers” in order to legitimize votes. This remained the case even after the OSCE election observers had cancelled their mission to the Russian parliamentary elections in 2021 due to extremely restrictive conditions.

Meanwhile, the AfD has become a bit more cautious at its lower party level. Yet, three members went to Russia only weeks prior, also travelling to the partly-occupied eastern Ukraine. For propaganda reasons, party bosses tried to keep the greatest possible distance from the aborted project of the three AfD mini-Führers: Hans-Thomas Tillschneider, Daniel Wald, and Christian Blex.

In any case, Germany’s AfD – like most European extreme right-wing parties – is currently trying to downplay their all too open sympathies with Putin’s Russia. While trying to get away from Putin, the ideological focus has moved towards stoking fear of the consequences of the Russian war on the domestic population.

The well-worn propaganda slogans used are Germany First as in Meloni’s Italy First, and as in Trump’s America First. Our country first! is considered “the” nationalistic slogan of the neo-fascist right throughout Europe, whether in Germany, France’s Rassemblement National, Austria’s FPÖ, and Spain’s Vox.

Worse, the neo-fascist brothers of Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia as well as Matteo Salvini’s equally neo-fascist Lega have repeatedly rallied against what they believe to be a Brussels-Paris-Berlin dictatorship. Moreover, Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia is in the European Parliament. While the recent election in Italy may have been a choice against Europe, surprisingly, the EU and the EU currency – the Euro (€) – hardly featured at all in Meloni’s neo-fascist election campaign.

When people talked about Europe during the election, it was Italy’s progressives that repeatedly warned against electing the enemies of Europe, fearing that Italy will become isolated in the European Union under Meloni. And this is particularly the case since the right-wing ideology of Meloni’s neo-fascist brothers’ party lines up rather nicely with the ideology of Salvini’s League (Italy), Germany’s AfD, Poland’s right-wing government, and Orban’s Hungary.

Since the recent Euro crisis, the Covid-19 pandemic, Russian’s war and the subsequent rise of inflation, economic instability, and energy hardship, many Italians no longer believe the EU’s promise of prosperity of an ever-growing European Union. This made it easy for voters to fall for right-wing and neo-fascist propaganda slogans.

It was highly likely that such anti-EU and neo-fascist propaganda slogans fall on very fertile ground in Italy. The ground was fertilized by the constraints of austerity, the cuts in workers’ salaries and the precarization of Italy’s workforce. All this was implemented in Rome by the previous governments in which Italy’s progressives were – more or less – involved.

As a consequence, Giorgia Meloni likes to reiterate her anti-Europe program, the fun is over – she threatened Brussels while defending Italy’s so-called national interests – as defined by Meloni. She also believes that other EU states did the same: favoring their nationalistic interest. Not just hers but anti–Europeanism as such has always been a propagandistic neo-fascist trademark of virtually all right-wing extremist parties in the EU. Worse, there is an EU-wide trend of strengthening right-wing radical and neo-fascist parties all over Europe.

At the same time, the right-wing parties – in general – no longer openly question the existence of the EU. Yet, they complain about the bureaucratic monster EU – a hallucination given the comparatively rather moderate size of the EU’s administration. Next to the bureaucracy-monster myth, one of the most important propaganda tools against the EU remains the neo-fascist’s rejection of the EU’s migration and asylum policy. This is presented as too soft for Europe’s right-wing extremists.

Given all this, Meloni is on a highly confrontational course with the EU in several policy areas. During the election campaign, she announced that she would take tough actions against migrants crossing the Mediterranean. With such rejections of immigration and calls for tightening and potentially eliminating the right to asylum, Europe’s neo-fascist parties have become rather big players in Europe. Historically, the ideological master pioneer of all this has been Le Pens’ French Rassemblement National – formerly known as Front National.

While not being entirely new, European reactionary-populist parties, right-wing parties, and neo-fascist parties have been gaining electoral support by making foreigners as scapegoats. Yet, their overall success comes also because of three neighboring issues:

1.     The first is a socio-economic insecurity of the European middle-class skillfully linked to the fear of losing its social status when gliding downward into the aforementioned precariat;

2.     Secondly, there are electoral abstentions with large parts of a population having lost confidence in the democratic-parliamentary system; and finally,

3.     There is a normalization of right-wing discourse. In the words of Henry Giroux, it marks the mainstreaming for fascism. Increasingly, right-wing radicalism and even neo-fascism is accepted as part of the normal political spectrum.

Although the emergence and strengthening of European right-wing and neo-fascist parties have the same roots, yet their political cooperation across national borders has repeatedly failed. Their last – rather symbolic – appearance dates from December 2021.

On show were: Polish PiS leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski; Hungarian Prime Minister, Viktor Orbán; French lawyer and politician, Marine Le Pen; and Spanish Vox leader, Santiago Abascal. They had gathered in Warsaw to agree on closer cooperation in the European Parliament. With many of the EU’s right-wing extremists and neo-fascists absent, it was simply not enough – let alone the beginning of a European right-wing alliance.

This is not surprising. It is probably a paradoxical project to form an international right-wing force of staunchly nationalistic, i.e. anti-international, political parties. In addition, the ideological spectrum of right-wing and neo-fascist parties and their degree of right-wing ideological radicalization is very wide. It ranges from the openly fascist Golden Dawn in Greece to Germany’s somewhat more moderately presented parliamentarian, the AfD, and illiberal Fidesz (Hungary), as well as FPÖ (Austria). The latter two are rooted in the right-wing petit-bourgeois milieu and have or had government responsibility.

But above the ideological problems, there is also the EU’s money that flows from the EU pots to individual states. Yet, this has not deterred UK’s Brexit voters. Perhaps this is where the friendship among neo-fascist stops. For example, Finland’s and Sweden’s right-wing parties no longer support the poor with EU funds, while Italy is dependent on the approximately €200bn from the EU’s reconstruction fund for this.

All this means is that, the election win of Meloni and the seemingly empowered Europe’s neo-fascist parties face some very serious challenges that reach well beyond Meloni’s internal conflicts with two neo-fascist petti-Führers – Salvini and Berlusconi – who also like to play Il Duce on the big stage, but will lead Italy and Europe into further instability.

Thomas Klikauer is author of the Alternative für Deutschland – The AfD: Germany’s New Nazis or another Populist Party?

Originally published in BuzzFlash

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