As an American who has recently relocated to Italy, my reaction after the election won by Giorgia Meloni’s far right-wing party Fratelli d’Italia was, “This Mussolini reboot is terrible.” However, I wasn’t surprised.
Living in Tuscany seemed like a dream-come-true at first, but the election results have removed what was left of the wine-colored lenses.
As a combat veteran and a Chamorro woman–Indigenous to the Mariana Islands–I take this resurgence in Italian Fascism personally. Imperial Japan, an ally to Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, occupied the Marianas in the Second World War and held my grandfather in a concentration camp while my grandmother and other relatives survived on coconut water and wild animals in the mountains to evade capture.
Generational trauma added to my own PTSD has left me in a state of hypervigilance instead of being able to fully enjoy being here.
It started before the September election. In my first week in Florence, after relocating from London this past July, an IKEA employee screamed at me for speaking English with my children. She bellowed, “Here, we speak Italian!” My immediate thought was, “Ma’am, this is an IKEA– and you literally have Swedish words printed in bright yellow on your uniform.” I replied in Italian as she began mocking me in Spanish until I pulled my phone out to record her. Was there a “blackshirt” under her uniform?
On the bus ride back, an Italian woman in her sixties screamed at me for a bike placed near the door. I told her, in Italian, that it wasn’t mine. She continued to scream at me and stomp on the bike. My children were in shock, and Istruggled not to let my PTSD influence a harsh response.
With economic woes and failed governance, Italy is having an existential crisis, an ideal climate for far-right rhetoric and scapegoating. Enter Giorgia Meloni.
Meloni is the leader of Italy’s far-right Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, or FdI),which has its roots in Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party. Note that she’ll never use the word out loud, because it is constitutionally illegal to define a party as fascist in Italy.
After an election in which a third of Italian voters did not vote– which the New York Times called “a staggering result in a country where voter participation traditionally has been high”–Fratelli d’Italia crushed the election and, together with the Lega Nord and Forza Italia, while Il Partito Democratico (PD), the Democratic Party, emerged as the first party of the center-left.
Some locals in traditionally leftist Tuscany try to reassure me that it’s not as scary as it seems. After all, even if Fratelli d’Italia reeks of cryptofascist, brain-dead zombies sporting the flag on a crucifix, they won’t be able to get any of those policies through. A new friend of ours shared their sentiments that this may be an opportunity for the Left to reorganize, as there are doubts that the far-right will make it past two years. After all, in the past 79 years there have been 73 governments. They also noted that many of these votes were the result of “protest votes” and the natural swing of the political pendulum. However, I’m skeptical.
The rise of far-right populism is a global phenomenon, and it is especially worrying in Italy because of Italian history.
Meloni didn’t get to where she is without support, which includes from political operative Steve Bannon. Bannon had previously attempted to open a right-wing political academy, south of Rome in an effort to train European populist leaders in the art of political warfare, though Italy evicted his movement from its potential headquarters in 2021. Bannon’s ties to Meloni since 2018 assisted her in bringing Fratelli d’Italia from only 1.7% of the vote in Italy to 45% with the coalition in this recent election. Although her being the first woman set to be prime minister in Italy since the birth of the republic would otherwise be call for celebration, Meloni is a dangerous woman with an agenda that will harm women and marginalized communities across the country. She is now in a position of power where she can turn those ideas–from anti-abortion, anti-LGBTQIA+, tax cuts for the wealthy, destroying social safety net programs, to other far-right policies–into reality. In the past, Meloni has echoed the anti-immigration stance of former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, though right now she seems more focused on the typical “Christian Nationalist” agenda; her victory speech assailed “international financiers,” a not very subtle anti-Semitic dog whistle.
The future looks bleak– but only so long as everyone left of center stays fragmented, disorganized, and complacent. Although a right-wing coalition won this past election, if the Left and center-Left were able to work together, they could potentially surpass the right wing by several points. My hope is that Italians can find a way to come together and fight back against the rising tide of right-wing populism. Otherwise, I fear that the history of Italy will repeat itself.
The reasons I love Italy are all what make it beautiful: the work of Artemisia Gentileschi and Leonardo Da Vinci; the architecture of the Romans that makes me want to shout Io Saturnalia!; and the food! Don’t even get me started on Nonna’s dishes or the culinary gems of each region that speak of a passion for leaving every taste bud mesmerized. From Dante to Gramsci to Ferrante, haunting words to which we should all pay attention. There is the beautiful and melodic language, with so many dialects and hilarious sayings that speak to my Chamorro soul. I discovered new creative realms in color-saturated films that led me to the treasure trove of Italian music. And last but not least, the love of my life is Italian and has been pro-Indigenous and supportive of us in fighting back against the infamous Doctrine of Discovery that propelled exploitation of people around the world. Because in loving one another, neither of us had to lose our identity.
Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernières contains one of my all-time favorite quotes:
Love is a temporary madness; it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of eternal passion. That is just being in love, which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Those that truly love have roots that grow towards each other underground, and when all the pretty blossoms have fallen from their branches, they find that they are one tree and not two.
Everything that makes Italy great has nothing to do with gazing back at the Second World War with longing. Silver-tongued Meloni’s ascent has made me see Italy less as the creative Goddess I was attracted to and more like patriarchal troglodyte Mussolini 2.0. If Italians love their country, they can’t give way to fear and superficial desire to blame everyone else but themselves. Because true love, including love for country, is about being honest. Being in love with fascist scapegoating is a romance that ends terribly, and as Louis de Bernières states, “Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away.”
Contrary to Meloni’s persistent whining and anti-immigrant rhetoric, Italian identity is not under attack. Italy is cherished throughout the world for its food, music, literature, art, sensuality, romance, and breathtaking landscapes, all things that are better left to the actual creatives than to fascist ghosts. Its global influence and soft power are under attack and no one responds better with fantasy than fascists.
This is the problem with fascism. Its adherents pretend to be ardent cultural custodians, sheepdog guardians of heritage, but its citizens have no idea of the damage it does by peddling fear, hatred, and discord, further alienating Italy from the world and tarnishing all that makes it so beautiful.
If you want to make Italy great again, you won’t do it through repackaged Mussolini MIGA spazzatura. You do it through a culturally rich future that seeks to build upon the hospitable warmth that Italy has become famous for, rather than an uptight colonizer who doesn’t sufficiently remember the past–let alone Piazzale Loreto.
Right now, I won’t ask why leftist coalitions have compromised their values in favor of bribes or how the Italian Communist Party went from holding a 34.4% share of the popular vote to being on the fringes today. I do know that it’s time for everyone to get to work, put aside differences, and focus on eradicating fascism. Sure, this Mussolini reboot is terrible, but we all know how it ends. The longer we sit on our hands, the more likely we are to see a grim alternate ending.