God, family, homeland – how Giorgia Meloni led Italy’s far-right to the brink of power | Italy

Determined, headstrong, sarcastic and with a shrewd knack for throwing off enemies, a trait developed after being bullied over her childhood weight, Giorgia Meloni, 45, is set to become the first female Prime Minister of ‘Italy.

His fascist-rooted Brothers of Italy party is leading opinion polls, advancing even further in the latest polls to widen the gap with the centre-left Democratic Party. The advance should give Meloni and his alliance, made up of Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, a comfortable victory in the September 25 legislative elections.

Born and raised in Garbatella, a popular district of Rome, Meloni became involved in politics at the age of 15 after enrolling in the Fronte della Gioventù, the youth wing of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), party created by Giorgio Almirante, who was a minister in the government of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. It was 1992 and Meloni’s interest in politics was piqued by the collapse of Italy’s post-war political order, or so-called First Republic, amid a series of scandals that revealed widespread corruption and mafia influence.

She writes in her biography, Io Sono Giorgia – I am Giorgia – that she was instinctively drawn to the MSI youth movement, where she said she found solidarity in a tight-knit, albeit marginalized, community of activists often portrayed as evil or violent, who dedicated everything their time in politics rather than clubbing or shopping like their peers.

On the first day she visited the MSI offices in Garbatella, she wrote that she had found herself in a room full of men listening to a lecture given by Marco Marsilio, the president of the Italian Brothers of Abruzzo, the first Italian region won by the party in 2019.

Three decades later, Marsilio still remembers his arrival. “I immediately noticed and appreciated its strong characteristics,” he told the Observer. “She is determined, committed and has always kept her word. When she takes on something, she concentrates deeply and sticks to it until the end.

Meloni honed her craft through student politics, handing out flyers in schools and putting up posters in the streets around Garbatella, while trying to gauge public sentiment by talking to people in markets, which she said to do again today. In 2004, she was elected president of the youth wing of the National Alliance, the party resulting from the MSI.

A mural painted by a street artist shows Giorgia Meloni and other Italian politicians in Rome. Photography: Fabio Frustaci/EPA

“Meloni is consistent, real and her [success] never went to her head,” said Giovanni Donzelli, a Brethren from Italy MP who met Meloni as a teenager when she went to Florence to help campaign for the MSI youth contingent. “In public, it is said that she laughs little and always seems angry. But in private, she’s nice.

Federico Mollicone, who has also known Meloni since her early years in politics, describes her as passionate, not angry. “Think of how cold and aloof other politicians are,” he said. “She’s true to herself – when she’s angry, you see, and when she’s joking she’s very funny – she has a typically Roman sarcasm.”

Meloni’s political rise was aided by the arrival of Berlusconi, who first came to power in 1994 in coalition with the revamped National Alliance and the Northern League. [now the League]. The government only survived for a year, but the alliance was back for a second term in 2001.

In 2006, she became the youngest Deputy Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies. Berlusconi returned for his third term as prime minister two years later, appointing Meloni as youth minister. The National Alliance was dissolved in 2009 and it later founded the Brothers of Italy in 2012.

Meloni’s new party languished at around 4% in the 2018 general election, but a small breakthrough came a year later when the party performed better than expected in the European parliamentary elections. Since then, Meloni has worked to lift the party from the margins by transforming it into a conservative champion of patriotism. This approach has helped drive the group forward, an image further shaped by Meloni’s election as chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformers party in 2020. However, her uncompromising views on issues such as illegal immigration – she has called on the navy to return migrants to Africa – abortion, same-sex marriage and parenthood remain.

The Italian Brothers-led coalition opposes granting Italian citizenship at birth to children born in Italy to foreign parents and wants to reduce access to social benefits for foreigners.

Meloni has said she is pro-European but, like Salvini, she shares a vision of Europe more in line with that of Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, saying EU policies should not replace those of the EU. ‘Italy.

Meloni has also attempted to cleanse his party of its neofascist image. In August, she posted a video, spoken in English, French and Spanish, in which she said “fascism has been consigned to history”. However, she has refused calls to remove the MSI tricolor from the Brethren of Italy logo and maintains the fascist motto “God, Family, Fatherland”.

Meloni, a single mother of one, does not describe herself as a feminist, instead saying she is against “pink quotas” and that roles should be achieved by merit, not gender. She illustrates this point by saying that hers is the only party that has multiple women in leadership positions. But her opponents argue that she has done little to promote the social and economic advancement of women. “She has done nothing to remove the barriers women face every day,” said Laura Boldrini, a Democratic Party politician.

Boldrini highlighted Meloni and Salvini’s presence at the controversial World Congress of Families in Verona in 2019. “This congress is a powerful international lobby that wants to change divorce laws, abortion laws and civil standards. The fact that Salvini and Meloni are there means that they share a vision that sees the clocks rolling back on women’s rights.

Another explanation for the rise of the Brotherhood in Italy is that it was the only party to remain outside the coalition government of Mario Draghi, which collapsed in July after three key components, including the League and Forza Italia, snubbed a vote of confidence.

“Meloni had a structural advantage,” said Lorenzo De Sio, a politics professor at Luiss University in Rome. “Of course she remained consistent because she was able to work calmly on her political project without paying the price of government policy on a daily basis.”

In the process, Meloni appears to have succeeded in attracting voters with leftist ideals. For example, De Sio conducted a survey of Brethren supporters in Italy and found that although many support right-wing policies such as limiting immigration, they want the right to abortion to be protected. and support the legalization of euthanasia.

“From this perspective, Meloni has an electorate that is not ideologically right-wing extremist,” he said.

If Meloni were to become prime minister, his would be the most right-wing government since the end of World War II.

“Leadership comes naturally to Meloni, she built that path,” Marsilio said. “We don’t come from nothing, we come from a solid school of training and political tradition. The Italians know how to know us and appreciate us. We can provide a guarantee that others cannot.

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