Italian politics has been shaken by recent events surrounding neo-fascism. Giorgia Meloni’s radical right Fratelli d’Italia (Brothers of Italy) Party has been adopting an ambiguous stance on the issue of neo-fascism, with Meloni failing to distance her party from these recent events. This has sparked a furore in Italy and at the same time raises important questions about the (a) legacy of fascism within modern Italian politics, particularly with (b) the increasing political significance that radical right parties such as the Brothers of Italy Party have alongside broader right-wing movements in contemporary Italian politics.
In recent weeks, Italy has witnessed a series of disturbing events united by the resurgence of issues related to neo-fascism. First, an academic at the University of Bologna, Professor Andrea Morrone was recorded and accused of having labeled the Brothers of Italy party, led by Giorgia Meloni, as “fascist” or “neo-fascist”, provoking the wrath of the party’s MPs, who are now seeking to open a parliamentary debate on what happened.
Subsequently, an Italian newspaper, Fanpage, revealed the results of a long investigation named “Lobby Nera”, conducted through a journalist who infiltrated top circles of the radical-right and extreme-right wing in Milan, in particular related to Brothers of Italy. Crucially, this led to the discovery of a number of members of the Fratelli d’Italia party, including a member of the European Parliament Carlo Fidanza, who praised Adolf Hitler and anti-Semitism. Furthermore, Fidanza also displayed the Roman salute and made direct fun of Paolo Berizzi, a journalist of La Republica, famous for his important investigations and books against neo-fascist groups and movements, and currently the only journalist in Europe under escort for neo-Nazi threats.
Most recently, on the 9th October in Rome, a no-vax demonstration of people against the green-pass certification led by the extreme right-wing neo-fascist party Forza Nuova (New Force) attacked the headquarters of the main Italian trade union, the Italian General Confederation of Labour (CGIL), completely devastating it. This latest event caused great shock in Italy and led to the subsequent arrest of twelve people, including the two leaders of Forza Nuova, Roberto Fiore and Giuliano Castellino.
In addition, some MPs from the Democratic Party and the Five Star Movement, such as Emanuele Fiano have said that they intend to bring a motion in the Italian Parliament for the dissolution of Forza Nuova and other neo-fascist parties. The Brothers of Italy party has not distanced itself from these three recent events. The party’s leader Giorgia Meloni has outlined that she will conduct an “internal investigation” to understand why these events occurred in her party (in the meantime Carlo Fidanza has self-suspended himself from the party). Meloni has spoken of a conspiracy by poteri forti (“strong powers”) behind the recent investigations against her party, which appeared just before the municipal elections in Italy.
Consequently, the debate in Italian politics around the existence of (neo) fascism has been fueled by the aforementioned events and with Giorgia Meloni’s party at the core of this debate. It is evident that Brothers of Italy party has been adopting an increasingly ambiguous stance towards its fascist heritage. First of all, at the national level, the party does not seem to abandon any opportunity to employ aggressive strategies in attacking members of the academia through a barrage of criticism and parliamentary questions because they dared to define Brothers of Italy a “fascist” or “neo-fascist” party. Secondly, at the local level, the party has never failed to flaunt its sympathy towards nostalgia of fascism during (online) public assemblies of representative bodies. For instance, the municipal councilor Nicola Franco, Group leader of Fratelli d’Italia in Rome’s Municipality VI, used to show his library at the background with manuscripts that glorify the fascist and Nazi periods – he has also obtained in the last municipal election the highest number of votes in Rome reaching the 43.18% for a total of 30,964 preferences. Finally, the same leader, Giorgia Meloni, reinforces the ambiguity of this party about fascism supporting candidates with the name of Mussolini and choosing the tricolor flame, which used to be the symbol of the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), the veterans of the Italian Social Republic, within the logo of the party.
If the Brothers of Italy self-identify as a post-fascist party, what is the need to include this clear reference to the party’s specific historical and political experience? The tricolor flame has always been a symbol, so evocative and powerful, that has passed through the years and the minds of the Italian electorate on par with the crusader shield of the Christian Democracy party and the hammer and sickle of the Communist party. This logo is, indeed, recognized by the Italian electorate (1) as ‘tacit connection with the fascist regime while referring to the “cult of the dead” and the funerary imagery […] providing a potential space both for memory investments and emotional projections’.
However, when Brothers of Italy was founded in 2012, Giorgia Meloni did not use the tricolor flame in the party’s logo. Perhaps, similar to other far-right parties in Western Europe, the reason to avoid this symbol was to overcome the stigma (2) of being associated with right-wing totalitarian regimes and attempting to be, rather, perceived as “normal” or mainstream in the eyes of its electorate. Yet, Brothers of Italy employed (by stealth) this symbol in 2014 with a “matryoshka” style (an old party logo with the flame, within the current party logo) and, then, it clearly showed the tricolor flame in the logo of the party since 2017. In short, considering the historical and political background of the tricolor flame, what we are asking in Italy and abroad is the following question: “So why this flame, Mrs. Giorgia Meloni?”
Dr Valerio Alfonso Bruno is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) and a Deputy Head of the Populism Research Unit and Fellow at the Centre for European Futures (CEF). He currently cooperates with the Alta Scuola di Economia e Relazioni Internazionali (ASERI) of Milan and the Observatoire de la Finance (Obsfin), based in Geneva. You can find his profile here.
Dr James F. Downes is a Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR) and Head of the Populism Research Unit. James is a Lecturer in Comparative Politics and serves on the Programme Management Committee of the MPUP in Public Policy, in the Department of Government & Public Administration at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK). James is Head (Chair) of the Undergraduate Admissions Panel at CUHK. He is also an Associate Research Fellow at CeRSP (Italy) and at The Global Europe Centre (Brussels School of International Studies/The University of Kent). You can find his profile here.
Alessio Scopelliti is a Doctoral Fellow at CARR and a member of the Populism Research Unit. Alessio is also a Doctoral candidate in the School of Sociology, Politics and International Studies at the University of Bristol. You can find his profile here.
© Valerio Alfonso Bruno, James F. Downes, & Alessio Scopelliti. Views expressed on this website are individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect that of the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right (CARR). We are pleased to share previously unpublished materials with the community under creative commons license 4.0 (Attribution-NoDerivatives).