Fascist Victory in Italy Signals Rise of “Transnational” Far Right Across Europe

Italy’s first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini, Giorgia Meloni, has declared victory. Her Brothers of Italy party is allied with Spain’s far-right Vox party, Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice party and the Sweden Democrats party, which emerged out of its neo-Nazi movement. We look at “the return of fascism in Italy” with professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of “Strongmen: Mussolini to the Present,” who says that Meloni, a self-declared conservative, “really sees her party as carrying the heritage of fascism into today.” Ben-Ghiat also describes why Meloni is part of a “transnational design” to create a far-right political culture across Europe.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be final.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.

We begin today’s show in Italy, where the country’s first far-right leader since Benito Mussolini, Giorgia Meloni, has declared victory, as the right-wing alliance led by her Brothers of Italy party looks set to win a clear majority in the next Parliament. Meloni is also allied with Spain’s far-right Vox party, Poland’s ruling nationalist Law and Justice party, Sweden’s newly formed coalition government led by the anti-immigrant, far-right Sweden Democrats party, which emerged out of Sweden’s neo-Nazi movement. Far-right French politician Marine Le Pen’s party hailed Meloni’s strong showing as a lesson in humility to the European Union. Meloni has vowed to shift the EU’s politics sharply to the right.

The pan-European progressive movement, co-founded by former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, said in a statement on the Italian election, quote, “Italians must now repeat what their ancestors once did: defeat fascism. But not for the return of the politics-as-usual that brought the fascists to power in the first place,” he said.

As the leader of the biggest party in the winning alliance from Sunday’s election, Meloni is expected to become Italy’s first woman prime minister after the new government is sworn in. Sunday night, she addressed supporters.

GIORGIA MELONI: [translated]For many, this is a night to be proud, surely a time of payback, surely an evening of tears, hugs and dreams.

AMY GOODMAN: During her campaign, Giorgia Meloni tried to downplay her party’s post-fascist roots and instead to portray it as a mainstream conservative party.

For more, we’re joined by Ruth Ben-Ghiat, expert on fascism and authoritarianism, whose new article For The Atlantic is headlined “The Return of Fascism in Italy,” author of Strongmen: Mussolini and the Present She is a New York University professor of history and Italian studies. She is a published author LucidThe newsletter “Anxiety to Democracy” is available at www.advanceddemocracy.com

Professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, we are glad to be back. Democracy Now! Can you just start off by talking about — well, Giorgia Meloni has declared victory. Talk about her and her party and what it represents.

RUTH BENGHIAT: Yeah, Meloni is somebody who was a hardcore neofascist, who was in the — at 15, she joined the party that was founded right after Benito Mussolini’s original party was banned in 1945. This party became the fourth-largest, the neofascist party called the Italian Social Movement. And she was not only a militant, she became by the ’90s the head of its student organization.

And the flame — if you look at the logo of her party, called Brothers of Italy today, which was founded in 2012, she insisted on keeping a tricolor flame in the logo. And that is the flame that’s the symbol of the original neofascist party. And over the years, many people have told her to get rid of that flame, but she won’t. This tells us much about her loyalty. And she really sees her party as carrying the heritage of fascism into today, so much so that Ignazio La Russa, who’s a party elder, let’s say, he said a few days ago, “We are all heirs of the Duce.”

AMY GOODMAN: Let me take you to a clip where Giorgia Meloni, a teenager, describes her support of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini.

GIORGIA MELONI: [translated]Mussolini was a great politician. This means that everything he did for Italy is true.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s take Ruth Ben-Ghiat from her teenage years to the present, to this victory and the party she represents.

RUTH BENGHIAT: So, she is as much a creation of Mussolini, let’s say, as Berlusconi. Silvio Berlusconi is her far-right coalition member. He was her minister of youth in the very far-right government he headed in 2008. And his party fused with the former, the other — it was— the Italian Social Movement renamed itself the National Alliance, and these two parties fused. And the reason Brothers of Italy was founded — and she was very active in the founding — is there was no more autonomous extreme-right party in Italy. So, that’s important to know.

And many of her positions, which she’s now trying to say she’s a conservative and a moderate, she has — she is a proponent of great replacement theory, the idea that nonwhite births are going to extinguish white births. But she’s so far right that — some people espouse this theory as a natural outcome of demographic change. She is a conspiracy thug. She believes, and there’s many tweets to this, many speeches, that there is a plot, a design, a plan, she calls it, by Soros, by the EU, to kind of force mass immigration onto Europe and Italy and extinguish everything that makes us who we are, she says.

AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about her views on immigration — as you talk about the great replacement theory — her views on reproductive rights, on her fierce opposition to the LGBTQ community.

RUTH BENGHIAT: Yes. So, a lot of what she espouses can seem very familiar if you follow the far right in Hungary — again, the obsession with George Soros, the opposition to what she calls LGBTQ She calls it gender ideology, and she says they are ruining civilization through their lobbying. And she’s an example of what political scientists call genderwashing, when women politicians say that they are for women and that they are going to improve female conditions, but actually they go after reproductive rights, and they have a very specific idea of womanhood and the family, and that is very much rooted in the far-right ideology.

If you follow, she will also seem familiar. GOP politics. An important — I want to mention that she’s very close with Steve Bannon. She’s very close with the GOP. She’s been to the National Prayer Breakfast. She’s been to CPAC. Her position on abortion rights, as well as reproductive rights, approaches all of the far-right parties.

AMY GOODMAN: The position of Italy on abortion, without Meloni, just its — overall, what the law is?

RUTH BENGHIAT: As you can imagine, it was a difficult battle. Italy is unusual because the Vatican can be found inside Italy. It’s a very Catholic country. 1978 was the year that abortion rights were allowed. And what her party has done — we can look at what’s happened in places where Brothers of Italy, her party, has already been governing, like Verona. And what she’s done is she’s made it more difficult to access abortion. She’s made it more complicated for women to exercise their reproductive right.

AMY GOODMAN: I would like to speak to Giorgia Meloni in Spanish and address the far-right Vox party in Spain.

GIORGIA MELONI: [translated]Unless it is confronted by a criminal foreigner, the left defends women. Their ideology is that the criminal foreigner is worth more than the woman. And they would say that you’re a dangerous extremist, racist, fascist, denier, homophobic. They would say you’re not presentable and have incapable leaders to govern. They would say it is useless to vote for you, because you don’t have a chance to win. But you know this: Don’t be afraid, because they don’t decide. The people decide. The party’s first strength is the people.

AMY GOODMAN: This is her more direct address to Vox party of Spain.

GIORGIA MELONI: [translated]It is not the right time to have weak thoughts. The threat to our roots is being posed by radical Islam and left-wing secularism today. There is no middle ground against this challenge. Either you say yes or you say no — yes to the natural family, no to the LGBTQ lobby; yes, to sex identification, no, to gender ideology; no, to the culture and life, not death; no, to the university at the cross, and no, to Islamist violence. Yes, to secure borders, yes, to mass migration. Yes, to the work done by our citizens, no big international finance. Yes, to sovereignty of individuals, no, to the bureaucrats of Brussels. And yes, to our civilization.

AMY GOODMAN: It was Giorgia Maloni, an Italian candidate for prime minister. She declared victory. Ruth Ben-Ghiat will now talk about the neofascist movement in Italy and how it impacts the Vox party o Spain. Also, how it effects Sweden, Poland, Hungary, and how it influences Sweden. All the leaders of these places congratulated Meloni for her win.

RUTH BENGHIAT: Yes, I will. I just want you to know the yes and the not and her style. She’s a demagogue. And at the close of my book Strong menI predicted that there would soon be a far-right, female-led authoritarian government in my book, machismo and male leaders. We assumed it would have been Le Pen. But you can hear her style of talking, which is very charismatic. They can also appear as a woman.

She is part of this far-right international, a kind of — you could call it a second fascist international. I studied and wrote about the first one in the ’30s and ’40s. You also know that Hungary is a node and a hub. And they’re very active in trying to have this kind of new political culture that is transnational. Fascism is transnational. And the fact that she’s polylingual — she speaks four languages — has always been a help to her. So she’s a real, you know, European politician. And she also speaks English — that’s going to help her with the GOP. But there is a transnational design to bring this new far-right culture into being, and it’s absolutely terrifying. You heard what she was saying. You know, it’s Islamaphobic. It’s racist. You’re going to expect a very draconian treatment of immigrants, boats turning back, you know, deaths.

We’ll have to see — we’ll have to see what she does in terms of how constrained she is. She holds a large majority in Parliament. So, in terms of what actually happens, we’ll have to see. But she is a female demagogue. Italy has been a political laboratory since its inception. Mussolini invents fascism. In the ’90s, Berlusconi brought fascists into the government, neofascists, for the first time. He broke a taboo. It now has the first ever female prime minister of far-right in Italy.

AMY GOODMAN: Especially for young people — and you teach, Ruth Ben-Ghiat, young people at New York University — can you talk about who Mussolini was, to understand what she is embracing, and Mussolini and Hitler’s connection?

RUTH BENGHIAT: Yeah, it’s really important that — the reason I mentioned Berlusconi also is, when he brought back neofascists into the government, he also did a whole rehab whitewashing job, which affected generations of Italians. He actually told the then-journalist Boris Johnson in 2003, “Mussolini never killed anyone.” Now, instead, Mussolini’s dictatorship committed genocide in Libya, mass war crimes in Ethiopia, used gas in its colonies, participated in the Holocaust.

It was the first dictatorship, and he was so successful in his repression and his propaganda — he was a big star in America, he had a syndicated column in Hearst newspapers — that Hitler worshiped him through the entire 1920s. Hitler learned a lot from him, Mussolini being a big fan of great substitution theory. He gets little credit. Hitler is the most well-known, but Mussolini is very, very important and very innovative. We see that Meloni is a part of this heritage.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about those who say, “No, she is not fascist, she’s conservative”? And then let’s talk about not only her influence in Europe, but also in the United States, and her relationship with Donald Trump.

RUTH BENGHIAT: Yeah, well, you know, this is — what do we call these things today? Are they fascists? And, you know, there is this whitewashing that’s going on, where Viktor Orbán has said for years that his is an illiberal democracy, when, honestly, there’s nothing democratic about what goes on in Hungary today. It sounds good. And, you know, there’s these people like Orbán — he’s trying to have it both ways. He receives EU funds, and then he is an electoral autocrat.

So, Meloni is an extreme case, because she’s calling herself a conservative, which is what we’re hearing from the MAGA Our country also has Republicans. They continue to call themselves conservatives. But as we see — just go back to that speech, that demagogic speech — there’s nothing conservative about Meloni. There’s nothing conservative about her party. I repeat, her party was formed because there was no independent extremist party to continue fascism’s legacy.

AMY GOODMAN: So, again, if you can go to today, what’s happening in the United States? Talk about the violence that occurred on January 6. Talk about Trump advocating all things QAnon and the Proud Boys. And then we’re going to be speaking with the author of a new book on the Proud Boys.

RUTH BENGHIAT: Yeah, it’s a good segue, because the GOP, I’ve been saying for a long time, has to be seen as a far-right authoritarian party in the model of European parties. And what’s going on right now, we’re having — history is being made before our eyes. The party is changing to support any form of illiberal rule in the United States. And, of course, we’re seeing this at the state level, in Texas and especially in Florida.

And so, when a party is remaking itself, it pushes some people out, and these are, let’s say, moderates, like Cheney, Kinzinger, all these — all the people who were anti-Trump. Who is being invited? People who are violent or lawless. That’s why, if you want to get ahead in the GOPYour campaign ad should feature you and an assault weapon. People who participated in January 6th — criminals — are being invited to run for office, and actual extremists, like Mark Finchem in Arizona. He is an Oath Keeper. He is proud. He’s very public about being an Oath Keeper, a member of the violent extremist group. So, he is now Arizona’s secretary of state. So, getting ahead in today’s GOPExtremism is a benefit to this because they are trying to rebrand themselves as a far right party. So there are going to be, I predict, a lot of interchange between Meloni’s neofascists and the GOP.

AMY GOODMAN: Ruth Ben-Ghiat is an expert on fascism, authoritarianism and author of the book. Strongmen: Mussolini and the PresentProfessor of history and Italian Studies at New York University. We’ll connect to Professor Ben-Ghiat’s new article For The Atlantic titled “The Return of Fascism in Italy.” She also publishes LucidThe newsletter “Anxiety to Democracy” is available at www.advanceddemocracy.com

Next we’ll be continuing with fascism (or neofascism) to the far right in our country. The House committee that is investigating the attack on January 6th Capitol will hold a second public hearing Wednesday. We’ll be looking at one of the key groups responsible: the Proud Boys. We’ll speak with the author of the new book, We are Proud Boys: How a Right Wing Street Gang Used American Extremism in a New Era. Stay with Us

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AMY GOODMAN: “The Creator Has a Master Plan,” performed by Pharoah Sanders. Saturday was the passing of the legendary saxophonist at the age 81.