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Don’t be fooled: ‘Soft’ Meloni could still Orban-ise Italy

Far-right strongwoman Giorgia Meloni has emerged as the undisputed winner of Italy’s general election held last Sunday. She is likely to become the next prime minister and her government will likely gain the confidence of parliament.

Given his credentials and his party’s ties to neo-fascist movements, two questions are particularly pressing. Has Meloni been moderating his positions, as many Italian and international media reports seem to suggest? Or is there a serious risk that Italy under his rule could follow in the footsteps of Viktor Orban’s Hungary, with serious attacks on civil rights and an increase in hatred and violence against migrants, refugees, people of color and LGBTQ+ people?

The idea that Meloni is a respectable option for Italy and internationally tends to center on the fact that he has firmly sided with NATO in the war between Russia and Ukraine, and has given repeated assurances that he does not want to break the rules. budget of the European Union. Of course, he has called for adjustments to former Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s plan for EU recovery funds.

It is true that Meloni and his party, the Brothers of Italy, have gone through a certain mainstream television appearances, whether it be the almost mandatory suit and tie for the male-dominated party leadership apart from Meloni, or a generally conciliatory tone on strategic matters. .

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However, when it comes to how Meloni communicates with her followers, there is little evidence of significant change. A distinctive high-decibel tone style has been a hallmark of his campaign rallies. His speeches have been full of far-right and populist tropes.

Her primary target has been what she calls “the left,” by which she actually means the center-left Democratic Party. “They” supposedly have so much power that if you are “one of them” or their friend, it is much easier to get ahead in life and find a job. The few policy points that have made it palatable to moderates, for example adherence to EU budget rules, are mentioned in passing to the crowd, only to be quickly drowned out in emotional language.

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The most disturbing parts are reserved for migrants and refugees, who are often disparagingly referred to as illegal immigrants (“illegal”). For her, it is a “fact” that undocumented immigrants in Italy end up as drug dealers or sex workers. Building on years of anti-immigration propaganda, she has proposed a naval blockade of the Mediterranean.

The attacks on LGBTQ+ communities are more veiled but no less obvious, since one of the priorities of his campaign has been to support the “traditional family” and Italians who want to have children. With a reversal of leftist tropes, she has used the language of equality and rights to emphasize women’s “right not to abort.”

Referring to the country’s demographic decline, he has made the dramatic claim that Italy could soon “disappear”. The implication is that Meloni’s economic nationalism, where Italian-owned businesses and Italian workers will be protected at the expense of everyone else, may reverse that trend. Showing parallels with Trumpian thinking, Meloni mixes extreme protectionism with a free-market discourse that favors tax cuts and an economy supposedly led by merit, as opposed to the “corrupt” system of the left.

Meloni’s speeches provide Italians with a variety of scapegoats for the country’s ills. This could lead to an explosive situation if people’s frustrations and social tensions increase in the coming months, as economic circumstances worsen due to the intensifying energy crisis. Intimidation and violence against migrants, refugees, people of color and sexual minorities could increase, in an already deteriorating environment marred by the populist propaganda culture wars that brought to power the post-ideological Five Star Movement and the League of far right in 2018.

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Will we also witness a more systematic attack on democratic institutions and constitutional rights? Meloni’s victory must be understood within a broader systemic transformation that has been underway for more than a decade: most parties across the political spectrum, from left to right, have adopted populist rhetoric and tactics.

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In this context, many on the progressive front are willing to downplay or simply remain silent about the dangers of rampant anti-immigrant nationalism and growing anti-LGBTQ+ rights zealotry, in order to appease the “will of the people.”

The Five Star Movement managed to halt the dramatic decline in its popularity in recent months by returning to its populist origins, withdrawing support for the Draghi government and reneging on its previous alliance with the Democrats. Now it is trying to reposition itself as a viable populist progressive force that could effectively replace the Democrats as the standard-bearers of the left. Indeed, many leftist intellectuals and politicians have welcomed and endorsed this movement.

The liberal, centrist Action party betrayed its earlier electoral deal with the Democrats, joining forces with ex-Democrat Matteo Renzi’s Italia viva and campaigning on the populist message that the left and the right are political categories of the past.

On the right, former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia party has been branding itself as the “centre” that can control the characteristic populism of Meloni and League leader Matteo Salvini. However, the differences between the three are becoming thinner, not to mention that Berlusconi is considered by many to have been among Italy’s first populist leaders.

Meloni campaigned against little opposition, with the exception of the Democratic Party and its center-left allies. The rest of the left and center parties have been more concerned with keeping their distance from the Democrats than with opposing the right-wing coalition that they lead, which includes Berlusconi and Salvini.

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Nor has there been any mass mobilization in the streets against his impending government. The few protesters who have risen up against Meloni have been harshly criticized by her.

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Whether he wants to label Meloni a fascist or not, there is a real danger that his government will make things significantly worse for some of Italy’s most vulnerable communities, as well as progressive activists and politicians who are unwilling to compromise their values. for electoral gains. .

Sadly, many of the same organizations and media institutions that have raised concerns about the implications of his victory for market stability and Italy’s relationship with the EU seem less concerned about what should matter most: these existential threats to democracy and human rights.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.

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