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Will the far-Right win Italy’s Covid war? Protesters feel scorned by their allies on the Left

“We believe that it’s an instrument of mass social segregation” (Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)

“We believe that it’s an instrument of mass social segregation” (Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)


October 21, 2021   7 mins

In Italy, there is only one mainstream political party outside Mario Draghi’s coalition government — Fratelli d’Italia (FdI, or the “Brothers of Italy”). The party is surging in the polls: its support has shot up from just over 4% in the 2018 General Election to around 20% today — and there’s an excitement in the ranks that “the brothers” may, paradoxically, gift Italy its first female Prime Minister in Giorgia Meloni.

It’s a party both proud of and reticent about its political ancestry: Fdl emerged — through a number of incarnations — from the post-war ashes of Benito Mussolini’s National Fascist Party. It’s something that still causes public embarrassment, though not enough to stop FdI putting forward Mussolini’s granddaughter, Rachele, in this month’s city council elections in Rome (she received the highest number of preferential votes of all councillors).

Meloni, meanwhile, is keen to emphasise that her party is merely importing the best of Italian nationalism into indecisive and dangerous times. She is bullish about performance in the polls — it has overtaken Matteo Salvini’s Lega — and, this summer, she published an autobiography which became an unexpected bestseller. The book’s title, I’m Giorgia, comes from a mantra she uses at rallies: “I’m Giorgia, I’m a woman, I’m a mother, I’m Italian, I’m a Christian: you won’t take that away from me!”

It’s a sign of how far the party has moved from its totalitarian ancestry that it is now trumpeting itself as the only party defending freedom and democracy. It has vociferously decried the democratic short-circuit of technocratic Prime Ministers; first the university law professor, Giuseppe Conte, and now Draghi, a career banker. “Italian democracy doesn’t need carers,” Andrea Delmastro, an FdI MP, tells me. “We’re resisting in the trenches for democracy.”

As a result of the pandemic, both of those unelected Prime Ministers have ruled through state-of-emergency decrees and inflicted unprecedented restrictions on civil liberties. Take Draghi’s Green Pass legislation, which came into force last week and requires a vaccination certificate (or a negative Covid test) to access all workplaces and social locations (restaurants, bars, libraries and so on). The legislation is draconian by Italian standards, and has led to nationwide “No Green Pass” (NGP) protests that have been scorned by the Left and listened to, and sometimes led, by the Right. “We believe”, says Delmastro, “that it’s an instrument of mass social segregation.”

But the NGP protests raise a problem as well as an opportunity for FdI. At one recent demonstration in Rome, a group of speakers from Forza Nuova (a genuine Fascist party) led a breakaway fringe in attacking the headquarters of one of the country’s largest unions, CGIL. In scenes reminiscent of the January 6 ransacking of the Capitol, Italy’s version of the “Proud Boys” smashed their way into the building with batons, helmets and flags.

The event brought to the surface the recurrent question always whirling around Fratelli d’Italia: how much ideological distance really exists between themselves and their fringe far-Right cousins? If that question is familiar, there’s another, more nuanced one: how much is the demonisation of FdI actually blinding commentators to any serious analysis of its policies and appeal?

***

Trieste, October 15. NGP protesters have gathered at the city’s port where workers (around 40% of whom are unvaccinated) are striking against the Pass. The pier has been turned into a cross between a stadium singalong and a seaside party. The chants are all from the ultra (hardcore football fans’) songbook: “la gente come noi non molla mai” — “people like us will never be moved.” Red-faced rogues are wheeling trolleys full of lager. There are megaphones, whistles, drums and plenty of pots and pans being banged. It’s noisy and fun.

The port-strikers are wearing Hi-Viz jackets, but like a music festival there’s so much fancy dress it’s hard to tell who is who. And that’s partly the point: it’s a movement so variegated that it’s impossible to label. Just as on the terraces, there’s a mixture of idealists, extremists and eccentrics, of accountants, lawyers, HGV drivers and nurses. After the violence at the rally in Rome, there have been efforts to avoid all political banners so the unions, the neo-Fascists, the ultras, the politicians and even plenty of police are now plainclothes.

It’s no coincidence that Trieste has become the epicentre of NGP protests. The port is a vital nexus of European logistics, sending eight container trains to Budapest every day, and 12 to Munich. And Trieste has always been a hot political cauldron. The city is hybrid (Austro-Hungarian and Italo-Slavic) and home to many minorities outside the Catholic majority (Jewish, Protestant and Orthodox). It’s renowned as a cultured, literary and liberal city, but it’s also known for its determined, frontier Fascism. It was here that, in 1938, Mussolini chose to announce his Race Laws and it was here that FdI held its second national conference.

Police use water cannon and tear gas to disperse protestors in Trieste. (STRINGER/ANSA/AFP via Getty Images)

Trieste politicians have made the 1943 Foibe killings — where Italians were murdered by Yugoslav partisans in the nearby mountain ravines — an inversion of the Fascist-equals-Baddie narrative: there’s now a national day of remembrance. Recently a statue of the proto-Fascist writer, Gabriele D’Annunzio, was added to the city’s streets. One city councillor has campaigned to name streets after famous Fascist combatants while the deputy mayor, in 2019, won national acclaim (and scorn) for putting the blankets of the homeless in a skip. It’s a city whose politicians have a taste for old-fashioned order.

Last weekend Roberto Dipiazza secured his fourth term as the city’s centre-right Mayor. A suave former businessman, he dismisses the port protests as “madness”. When I point out that many of the parties supporting his candidacy are mixing with the NGP crowds, he smiles: “Don’t confuse politics with common sense.”

Like the majority of the Italian Right, he’s vehemently dismissive of those concerned about a Fascist resurgence: “Every time there’s an election, the Left pulls out this thing about Fascism. It’s their attempt to compact their electorate by saying ‘watch out, Fascism’s coming back’,” he explains. “Basta,” he adds wearily, “basta.

Back at the port protests, meanwhile, it is clear how much Covid, just like post-industrialisation and mass immigration before it, has nudged many traditionally Left-wing voters into supporting emerging Right-wing movements. Whether or not their cause is rational — “We’re not flat-earthers,” one demonstrator tells me — it’s plain to see that these protesters feel scorned by their natural allies on the Left, who have offered only verbal slaps to the NGP movement. The protest, as a result, is a place where political silos dissolve. One unionist was quoted as Corriere della Sera as saying “I’m a Communist who feels more at home with the Fascists”.

The NGP movement may be a sub-plot to national Italian politics, but it remains an illuminating one. The actual industrial action will probably peter out — police moved in with tear gas and water cannons on Monday — but for this disgruntled minority, there’s a strong sense of political alienation, especially since the mainstream unions have recently argued against a minimum wage. “Politics is dead,” Stefano Puzzer, the stocky leader of the port protest, tells me. “These people haven’t voted for years.”

In some ways, this NGP protest is not dissimilar to that other coalition of disillusioned voters, the Five Star Movement (M5S). Once polling at close to 30%, the M5S is now imploding and fracturing, and FdI clearly sees those frustrated voters who followed Beppe Grillo as their route to power. It’s not as improbable as it might appear. After spending time with the protesters, I started to sense something melancholic.

Many are sitting alone and looking at their phones. When a song begins, they join in with a tangible euphoria that they’re finally part of something. It’s as if this protest has given them a cause and a fellowship, even an identity.

And if there is one thing Meloni is offering in spades it is “identity”. One of the most repeated words in her keynote speeches, “identity” is, she says, “the principle enemy of the global mainstream”. By identity, she means “family”, “nation” and “Christian” — all concepts which are “under attack” because of “the politically-correct dictatorship in the hands of Silicon Valley ”. This very broad-brush analysis contains more than trace levels of paranoia: BLM thugs are compared to the Taliban, while global financial speculators want to “disarticulate nation states to make them weak”.

But that paranoia appeals to those who feel marginalised and ignored. Like cheap lager, Meloni goes straight to the belly and the bloodstream. Once you’re tipsy, it’s easy to nudge “identity” into “identitarianism”, which is the closest thing our century has to Fascism.

Perhaps it’s unsurprising, then, that the accusation sheet against the Fdl is long and familiar: critics say that behind the façade of a moderate, democratic party, it still celebrates the personalities, iconography and even ideas of 1922-45. There are many examples of Fascist memorabilia being spotted in FdI homes, if not offices. The rasping Ignazio La Russa, who led the Fdl before Meloni, even had a meeting with Forza Nuova leaders in March this year, so Meloni’s perplexed response to the recent Rome violence (“I don’t know the matrix”) sounded decidedly disingenuous.

Certainly there have been many recent examples of squadrismo (street-thuggery), often with the aim of strike-breaking. Every few years, a radicalised far-Right gunman launches an attack, while Paolo Berizzi, an investigative journalist who has written extensively about the far-Right, has been forced to live under armed protection. The alarms warning against contemporary Fascism clearly aren’t, as right-wing politicians say, “all cry-wolf”.

Nor is it a phenomenon confined to the far-Right. Enrico Michetti, the centre-Right candidate who ran to be Mayor of Rome, recently wondered whether there was more sympathy for the murder of Jews in the Holocaust than for victims of the Foibe because the Jews owned banks and “belonged to a lobby able to decide the destiny of the planet”. Doubtless the recordings were released with cynical timing by his political opponents, but they still revealed a man who draws, unconsciously or otherwise, on far-Right tropes.

The problem for the Left, however, is that they don’t have the courage to offer their own cheap lager. Nothing they say ever speaks to the belly. The Italian Left is very good at being against things (Fascism), but it offers no narrative and no cause, neither a sense of struggle nor a direction. It doesn’t dare propose legislation which its rank-and-file have been clamouring for, such as “Ius Soli” (granting Italian citizenship to all born in Italy) or the proposed anti-homophobia law. The party has studiously avoided commenting on the recent referendum to decriminalise cannabis.

Leaders on the centre-Left point to successful mayoral elections in Milan, Bologna and Naples earlier this month as evidence that their sober, centrist strategy is working. This week, the Left also won mayoral run-offs in Rome and Turin with around 60% of the vote, and even won in the Right-wing strongholds of Varese and Latina. Only in Trieste did the centre-Right predictably win.

But the real victor in Italy’s recent elections was the anti-political non-vote: turnout was only 44%, down 9% from five years ago. “Very, very many people no longer believe that it’s possible to change things with the vote,” Marcello De Angelis, a former National Alliance senator, tells me. “Abstentionism is the degenerative illness of democracy.”

Whether it’s terminal or not remains to be seen. But if Meloni wants to become Prime Minister, she knows she will have to court that sceptical minority who now believe, like the NGP protesters, that democratic change is an illusion.


Tobias Jones lives in Parma. His Ultra: The Underworld of Italian Football won the 2020 Telegraph Football book of the Year.

Tobias_Italia

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Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
2 years ago

“By identity, she means “family”, “nation” and “Christian” — all concepts which are “under attack” because of “the politically-correct dictatorship in the hands of Silicon Valley ”. This very broad-brush analysis contains more than trace levels of paranoia:”

Paranoia? The writer is very sure of what is true and what is not – the makings of a good Google ‘Fact Checker’, but maybe not such a great reporter.

Is it really paranoia to think the Liberal/Left Silicon Valley Social Media, entertainment, MSM, Politicals, and Tech companies, are anti ‘Family’, ‘Nation’, and ‘Christianity’? Because they very much are.

Italy walks a wire across an abyss of chaos and destruction. The economy shattered, the people being replaced and not having children, Becoming a subject country to the Brussels Swamp, China buying up more and more of it, and the covid response turning Italy into a broke totalitarian depression. Unless the people discover Nationalism and a will to accept hardship; Freedom instead of a false Safety, they are done for – as most of the West are.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

For me, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. When the technocrats impose these non-sensical vaccine passports, self-defeating and tyrannical, then the argument is won in the favour of Meloni.

Andrea X
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Yet they all seem to like it.
But it is also true that a small swing in Meloni’s favour could actually give her power.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Covid passports, masking, psychologically abusing people to make them feel ashamed of who they are because of the colour of their skin or their gender, shutting down of genuinely diverse voices in the media, confusing children and young people by denying the ability to think and find out who they are for themselves, dismissing people with valid and real concerns as deplorables and fruitcakes, unwillingness or inability to do anything about decaying living standards, rising inequality, digital creep, and the very real transhumanist threat to life, family, and liberty … all while claiming to represent a sensible centrist middle ground of mildly progressive opinion that is sensibly following the science. We know they are lying, and I suspect they know it too.

But whether they know it or not, the former centre left and centre right are political toast unless their representatives find the courage to leave behind the lies, the lazy labels, the self-delusions of utopian technocracy. Here’a a question for any serving vaguely centrist politician who has the curiosity and awareness required to be reading comments below this article: would it not be better to do this now, positioning yourself to be leading your party and your country out of the quagmire of extremism into which it is inevitably headed when the technocratic nonsense collapses under the weight of its own contradictions, rather than waiting meekly and silently for the dam to break and to be flushed away with the rest of your colleagues? You’ll be likely to find that lifeboats will be in very short supply, but that the public knows what real courage looks like when they see it.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

Well said

Dennis Boylon
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Horsman

They count the votes so the voters don’t matter. They are paid well and guaranteed a life of luxury as long as they stay on message but I guess I’m just paranoid. They want to recreate the USSR. A technocratic elite consuming all the resources and the masses living a subsistence life. Bread lines are coming.

Dennis Boylon
DB
Dennis Boylon
2 years ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

You replied so I don’t have to. LOL. Yeah. You know. It is far far far right and paranoid to be pro Family, Nation, and Christianity. Clown world.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
2 years ago

We’re in a weird state of affairs where totalitarianism is considered liberal and any movements challenging this new world order are stigmatized as fascist.

Graham Stull
GS
Graham Stull
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Succinctly put.

Chauncey Gardiner
CG
Chauncey Gardiner
2 years ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Right on, Brother.
The author does point out — at least twice in this essay — something that is hard not to note about movements everywhere, right now, around the world: a whole bunch of different people are coming together. There must surely be a lot of diversity of policy preferences among such people, but they are expressing a consistent preference in one respect. They want the Administrative State just eph off and leave them alone. Live-and-let-live and all that. Perhaps folks are rediscovering constitutionalism.

Paul Smithson
PO
Paul Smithson
2 years ago

The constant references to far-right and saying things like:

‘In scenes reminiscent of the January 6 ransacking of the Capitol, Italy’s version of the “Proud Boys” smashed their way into the building with batons, helmets and flags’

made this a challenging article to read. It raised some valid points, but begged as many questions.

This constant use of ‘far-right’ by commentators has diluted the term to such an extent then anyone not waving an LGBT flag, kneeling for BLM, or cheering-on immigrants arriving in inflatable boats seems to be in risk of being labelled far-right.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paul Smithson
Andrea X
AA
Andrea X
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Well, Forza Nuova is hardly a bridge club filled with older ladies.

Last edited 2 years ago by Andrea X
Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrea X

Indeed but Forza Nuova are far from the only ones out protesting. It is just the same when our media report that far-right EDL thugs were out in force marching against vaccine mandates, when the reality is that it is always a mixed group of peaceful protesters from a wide political spectrum and made up of people of all races, genders and sexual leanings. One only has to watch the live streams of the protests going on throughout the world to see that what the media report and the reality are poles apart.

Last edited 2 years ago by Paul Smithson
Jonathan Weil
JW
Jonathan Weil
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Or, you could say, when a “centre-right“ mayoral candidate speculates about the international Jewish conspiracy to elicit sympathy for the Holocaust, that the use of the term term “far right” needs to be expanded a bit!

A Spetzari
AS
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

To be fair I think this is correct in Italy’s case.
Like many other European countries their right (and left) are a bit extreme for UK tastes. By our metrics they are probably far-right.

Paul Smithson
PO
Paul Smithson
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

Possibly, but due to the term ‘far-rght’ being used so flippabtly means that their is no longer a term to describe people who are genuinely far right, as just objecting to uncontrolled immigration, or even protesting peacefully for any causes other than black rights or the climate now seems to get one labelled as a far right fascist. Weird times.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Completely agree as a general point. But felt in this case it wasn’t pushing that definition

Paul Smithson
Paul Smithson
2 years ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

You’re right.

Lloyd Byler
LB
Lloyd Byler
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Maybe, just maybe these affective movements are Far Freedom?

Ian Cooper
IC
Ian Cooper
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

Let’s all join the far, far, far, far right. Right?

Chauncey Gardiner
Chauncey Gardiner
2 years ago
Reply to  Paul Smithson

We appreciate your point. Every empty incantation of “far right” does make one wonder what game the author might be putting on. Gaslighting and more gaslighting. So tedious.

Dan Croitoru
Dan Croitoru
2 years ago

Regarding the Italian left the author forgot one thing that is the Italian left is utterly and truly fascist

A Spetzari
AS
A Spetzari
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Croitoru

Indeed – routinely holding birthday honours for Chairman Mao (!!)

Samir Iker
SI
Samir Iker
2 years ago
Reply to  Dan Croitoru

What is deliberately covered up is that fascism and leftism is the same.

Cheryl Jones
CJ
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago

How the hell is it ‘far right’ to resist draconian government laws?????

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

Yup, anyone not in favour of universal vaccinations forevermore, permanent mask-wearing and vaccine passports is now always referred to as a far right anti-vaxxer.

Peter Branagan
Peter Branagan
2 years ago
Reply to  Cheryl Jones

In the West all semblance of (a) personal freedom of belief and expression of that belief and (b) right to bodily integrity has been utterly crushed by a combination of rampant Wokeism and fanatical medico-fascism. When push comes to shove there ain’t a smidgeon of difference between the West and the miscellaneous totalitarian regimes much decried by our commentariat.
I’ve been a middle-of-the-road kinda guy all my life believing in all the guff spouted out about our privileged freedoms we enjoy in the West – but in my middle 70s I’ve completely lost faith in so-called Western democracy – its just a con whose only beneficiaries are journalists in the MSM desperately trying to hold on to their power and influence over the masses and political events in general.

So I’ve lost my bearings. I don’t know any more what’s right, left or centre or if any one of those positions is any better than any other.
I give up.

Andrew Horsman
Andrew Horsman
2 years ago
Reply to  Peter Branagan

I feel the same. But please don’t give up. Stay grounded, speak to people, say how you feel – I have found that more people share our perspective than you might think. It’s all going to come crashing down soon and we are going to have to help pick up the pieces and rebuild our reality from the ground up.

Andrew Lale
AL
Andrew Lale
2 years ago

As soon as I see a reference to ‘far-right’, my suspicion levels climb into the red zone. By my reckoning, ‘far-right’ in 2021 means people who would have been centre right twenty years ago, but who must now be marginalised.

Cheryl Jones
Cheryl Jones
2 years ago
Reply to  Andrew Lale

Not even centre right, centrist and centre left (like me) are now far right too – I don’t think transwomen are women, and I am not a fan of Islam – BECAUSE I’m an old school liberal!!!

Leslie Cook
Leslie Cook
2 years ago

Kudos for reporting on Trieste. Don’t agree with all of the analysis but MSM blackout has been egregious.

Mark Gourley
Mark Gourley
2 years ago
Reply to  Leslie Cook

Agreed! Most MSM reporters cannot see beyond Rome and Milan ( or Naples occasionally if the Mafia are the issue.)

Peta Seel
Peta Seel
2 years ago

“Very, very many people no longer believe that it’s possible to change things with the vote,”
Does no-one see the dangers in this? If people don’t believe they can change things with a democratic vote eventually they will resort to other ways of doing so. Maybe civil wars are not so very far away.

hugh bennett
hugh bennett
2 years ago
Reply to  Peta Seel

i posted something similar in response to a previous piece.
Someone responded to me stating that the West`s leaders would have banned voting decades ago if it actually did work !.. made me smile!

Last edited 2 years ago by hugh bennett
Jim Cooper
JC
Jim Cooper
2 years ago

Can journalists – even thoughtful ones – not find a better term than “far right”? Today it means almost NOTHING ; hence so easily abused. As in Britain, are we not really talking here about the descendants of the pre-mass migration Industrial working class whose identity and concerns have been REDACTED from the political story told by the left Liberal hegemony? This us truly a dangerous state of affairs…

Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
2 years ago
Reply to  Jim Cooper

Modern journalists are by definition ‘busy bodies’

Lloyd Byler
Lloyd Byler
2 years ago

As for the technological creep.. blame the success of Windows 95 and .. Bill Gates..

I call this phenomenon, the ‘Averaging Factor of Progress’
.. ergo, without the success of the emblematic Windows 95 this tech creep would be impossible, Gates would have never rose with such power as he (thinks) that he has.

In a more dramatic example of the ‘averaging factor of progress’ In rush hour traffic, how much faster are we traveling than a bicycle, a horse and buggy or even walking for that matter? Yes, within an ‘average factor’ we indeed are traveling faster with the modern transports; but there are always averaging factors to all progress.

All technological tools of advancement will by definition have to become Public Utilities and/or heavily regulated in a democratic fashion similar to the airline and auto industry. Otherwise, the so called technological advancement in society will push humanity into the dark ages of tyranny and subversion and one can never fool all the people all the time, so this current slide towards despotism as promulgated by the success of ‘Windows 95’ will self-correct.

Would anyone in their right mind make a machine that self-destructs? What would be the purpose of designing, building and populating a device or system that self-destructs?
The only reason these technocrats and their medical minions are pushing forward with their technocracy is because they are drunk with power and because they do not understand history.

The day is coming when these unelected technological and medical morons will understand history… while languishing in prison.