BY Vadzim Malatok
In recent years, the Italian streets have witnessed an increase in the usage of fascist symbols and rhetoric being used by protesters and right-wing politicians, alike. One of the perpetrators of reviving Italy’s “traumatic” past has been said to be none other than Matteo Salvini. And for good reason. The 46-year-old leader of the Italy’s right-wing populist party Northern League was recently involved in yet another daring venture that generated much debate over his supposed admiration for the Italian dictator of the 20th century, Benito Mussolini.
On October 19, 2019, thousands of Italians gathered together in Rome to protest against the newly formed coalition between the center-left Democratic Party and a populist Five-Star Movement. The so-called “Italian Pride,” led by the centre-right coalition leaders, reminded many of the infamous “march on Rome” that took place on October 27, 1922, and marked Mussolini’s rise to power.
Not only does the date proximity evokes connotations to the march, but also the overall message of protesters that was delivered by Giorgia Meloni, leader of Brothers of Italy, who said: “[w]e’ll be a strong opposition and won’t let anything go with this government.” Similarly, Mussolini once stated that “[e]ither the Government will be given to us or we shall seize it by marching on Rome.”
Of course, Meloni, unlike Mussolini, chose a softer tone in her rhetoric because an overly aggressive approach wouldn’t be tolerated by the international community of the 21st century – at least not yet. But the message was loud and clear.
What is unclear is to what extent the Italians will entertain this idea of having their fascistic past revived while allowing one of the country’s leaders to imitate Il Duce. The fact is, Salvini has been the center of criticism over his appeal to fascism in the past but without any serious harm to his reputation among the electorate.
On March 4, 2019, Salvini, a de facto Italian Interior Minister, posted a tweet quoting an American poet, Ezra Pound, in an attempt to address his neo-fascist followers.
The tweet, which reads out as “[i]f a man is not willing to take some risk for his own ideas, either his ideas are worthless, or he is worthless,” received a backlash due to its linkage to the author who’s been criticized for his anti-Semitic remarks and fascist appeal.
On another occasion, Salvini tweeted: “Tanti nemici, tanto onore!” in response to criticism that was directed at him over his racist and xenophobic remarks. The quote, which means “so many enemies, so much honor” was not only borrowed from Mussolini’s famous “[m]olti nemici, molto onore,” but was also posted on the late dictator’s birthday.
On May 5, 2019, Salvini addressed his supporters from the balcony in the town of Forli – the same balcony where Mussolini witnessed the execution of four partisans in 1944.
One may wonder why Salvini is so obsessed with the late dictator and the answer is: it is not just because he is Italian. In fact, Salvini and Mussolini have more in common than one might think.
Salvini, just like Mussolini, began his political career on the far-left before moving to the opposite side of the political spectrum. In 2015, he commented by saying that “I’m an old fashioned communist, I know more factories than bankers do.”
Most importantly, however, Salvini has shown his ability to attract masses, exploit popular discontent, and sway public opinion – the talents that Europeans have witnessed before in Fascist Italy and Nazi Germany.
Of course, other right-wing politicians across the globe share similar prowess in using the language of political populism to influence public opinion, but only Salvini has taken it to the new extremes. Another populist with neo-fascist inclinations is the 2017 French presidential candidate Marie Le Pen, who works side-by-side with Salvini on a number of issues.
While the likes of Salvini and Le Pen haven’t exactly gone the same route as their predecessors such as Mussolini and Hitler, they have been heavily criticized for influencing the rebirth of fascist movements. In Italy, the fascist-like attitudes have been on the rise and will continue to rise while Matteo Salvini is at the center of the Italian political turmoil.