Giorgia Meloni’s rise, Italian media and the EU elections 

By Angelo Boccato, freelance journalist 

Italy has never faced its fascist history.  This has created an environment which has facilitated a breeding ground for the rise to power of Giorgia Meloni exactly 100 years after Mussolini’s March on Rome. 

Meloni’s party, Brothers of Italy, follows its predecessors Alleanza Nazionale (National Alliance), the fascist party Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI in Italian also stood for “Mussolini, sei immortale” “Mussolini, you are immortal”), and Mussolini’s National Fascist Party. This makes Meloni and her party “Mussolini’s grandchildren”, to quote David Broder’s . book Mussolini’s Grandchildren; Fascism in Contemporary Italy (published by Verso Books). 

As prime minister, Meloni has been focused on her and her party’s “normalisation” in Europe and with the US, while Matteo Salvini, the former strong figure in the Italian far-right, has decided to bet his political future on a former obscure general turned far-right author, Roberto Vannacci.

Meloni’s supremacy on the Italian Right 

In the 2019 European elections , Salvini’s The League won 34.6% of the Italian vote, while Meloni’s Brothers of Italy stood at just over 6%. 

Five years later, Meloni is the prime minister and Salvini has never been in a weaker position. 

“l.There are internal and external factors in the current situation. The internal one is that Salvini has been wrong about everything since 2019 (when he was part of the so-called ‘Gialloverde’, yellow-green government with the Five Stars Movement). Back then, he tried to force his hand (calling for “full power” for himself) strong (on the back) of what he perceived to be an overwhelming support of the electorate. Since then, he has faced a constant decline, that finds evidence not only in the electoral results and polls, but also in the open rebellion against his leadership in the League” Leonardo Bianchi, journalist fact checker at Facta.News and author tells MDI

“In general, Salvini’s national political project has failed. He attempted to turn an ethnic-populist party like the Lega Nord (Northern League) into a contemporary far-right or radical populist right-wing party. As the project failed those votes benefitted Brothers of Italy, changing the balance of power within the Italian right.” 

The balance of power has changed to the disadvantage of Salvini also when it comes to Forza Italia, led now by former European Parliament President and current Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani. The case study for personalistic right-wing populist parties globally has not only survived Berusconi’s death but is expected to surpass Salvini’s League.  

“The external factors instead in this change within the Italian Right have to do with the pandemic and Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Salvini’s openly pro-Russian stance could find space in 2015, but after February 24, 2022, is utterly a no-go in the European Union. Meloni, on the other hand, did not hesitate on this front as her political family, the European far-right, has always had a pro-Atlanticism approach, first with an anti-Communist agenda, and after 9/11 with an Islamophobic one,” Bianchi adds. 

However, while the balance of power has changed within the Italian far-right, the keywords remain the same “on migration, urban security and Islamophobia”. 

The difference between Meloni and Salvini is more of a “cosmetic” persuasion, thanks to her focus on “normalisation”. President of the EU Commission Ursula Von Der Leyen,who played a pivotal role in this, is presenting Meloni as pro-Europe, the rhetoric of the two ais sometimes indistinguishable. 

What role has the Italian media been playing in the current scenario? 

The Italian media and the far-right 

Meloni has exhibited an extremely hostile attitude towards journalists since her time in office, with exceptions seen mainly within the aligned right-wing journalism sphere. 

This does not mean however that the Italian media did not play a role in the prime minister’s normalisation, as they did for Salvini. 

“An example to explain the normalisation of the far-right in the Italian media can be seen in the political-media campaign against the NGO rescues at sea. The acquittal of the defendants in the Jugend Retter NGO trial, linked to the seiure of the Juventa ship is telling. Back in 2017, the witch hunt against the NGOs was strongly based on this. Jugend Rettet’s crew was accused of working together with human traffickers or even members of Libya’s mafia,” explains Bianchi. 

Another element of this campaign was the mention of the pull factor, as Bianchi remembers, the debunked narrative according to which the very presence of NGO ships would push more departures from North African countries towards Europe.

“At the time Salvini or Meloni were not in power, there was instead a centre-left coalition government (led by the current European Commissioner for Economy, Paolo Gentiloni) however the arguments used at the time by the liberal and even the progressive press were the same used by Meloni and Salvini at the time.” 

“Meloni has not changed her approach; the general context has changed, shifting further to the Right. This change is also due to media campaigns like the one against the NGO rescues, campaigns that were not based on any facts, but despite that, they contributed to increasing the hostility against migrants, benefitting of course the political forces that had these narratives in their propaganda,” says Bianchi. 

Some of the keywords that ended up entering the debate in this context, as Bianchi underlines, were the likes of “The Great Replacement theory”, or ethnical substitution, a both racist and antisemitic conspiracy theory (referred to by both Salvini and Meloni on multiple occasions) which envisions a plot to replace white Europeans with Africans and sees figures like George Soros (hence the antisemitic angle) as puppet masters of such a plan.  

This language used by the parliamentary Italian far-right is not dissimilar not only from the one used by Neo-Nazis and Neo-fascists but also from one of the White supremacist terrorists, the subject of Bianchi’s last book “Le prime gocce della tempesta(The first drops of the storm, published by Solferino Editore), a title which is a reference to Anders Behring Breivik’s manifesto. 

In his book, Bianchi looks at Luca Traini, who attempted to commit a massacre of Black people in Macerata in 2018 (he was also a former local candidate of the League), and Gianluca Casseri, who murdered Samb Modou and Diop Mor, two Senegalese citizens in Florence in 2011 (Casseri was an activist of the neofascist CasaPound). 

According to the Reporters sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders) 2024 Index, Italy ranks 46th (the 2023 ranking was 41st) as “Press freedom in Italy continues to be threatened by mafia organisations, particularly in the south of the country, as well as by various small, violent extremist groups. Journalists also denounce attempts by politicians to obstruct their freedom to cover judicial cases using a “gag law” – “legge bavaglio” – on top of the Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation (SLAPPs) procedures that are common practice in Italy”. 

Italy remains the most troubling political laboratory in Western Europe, a mixture of the effects of Fascism and colonialism-induced “amnesia”, and a memento that the rise of the far-right can be facilitated when the media provides hate speech with a megaphone, rather than countering it. 


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