The lasting legacy of Benito Mussolini: The election of far-right leader Giorgia Meloni 

The physical legacy of Benito Mussolini can be found across Italy, from the stunning Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana — the Fendi headquarters — to the fascist merchandise being sold at Predappio, Mussolini’s birthplace. While other countries have been quick to remove the remnants of their fascist past, Italy has not taken this step physically or ideologically. This is especially pertinent 100 years after Mussolini came into power, with the election of Giorgia Meloni, leader of the far-right party Brothers of Italy and Italy’s new Prime Minister

Mussolini’s rise to power and stint as dictator of Italy can best be described as violent and greed driven. Having come from a journalistic and socialist background, his quick turn against the Italian Socialist party, formation of a paramilitary group and consequent use of bullying to stamp out freedom of speech evokes the lack of direction and morality encapsulating Italian fascists of the early 1900s. Taking on the name of Il Duce, his aggressive rhetoric and hate-filled messages fuelled the Italian population to follow his lead and remove the previous government from power.

Though this approach to politics worked for a time, this aggression and relentless drive was the start of his downfall, using his xenophobic ideologies to wage violent wars against Ethiopia and Greece and threatening the stability of Italy domestically. Having angered the wrong group of People, Benito Mussolini was shot and killed on the 28th April 1945, his body hung up in the streets to appease a baying crowd. Although Mussolini faced an early death, his policies and speeches have held on to this day.

The Brothers of Italy do not shy away from the influence of Mussolini and his compatriots — taking on the logo of the Italian Social Movement, otherwise known as the MSI. The MSI was the product of rebranding the fascist movement after the downfall of Mussolini, taking on many of Mussolini’s former followers and policies. They took stock from Mussolini: advocating for increased birth rates among the citizens of Italy, continued support of Putin in Russia, and a harsh approach to immigrants. The party’s approach to immigration is evident from Minister of the Interior Matteo Piantedosi’s attempts to breach international law by preventing rescue migrant ships from docking at Italian ports.

Meloni herself looks to the former fascist glory days for inspiration, having participated in the youth group of MSI in 1992 as a teenager, she has been recorded complimenting the work and drive of Mussolini. She took this appreciation of Mussolini into her political career, working as youth minister for the far-right billionaire Silvio Berlusconi. Berlusconi has been a key defender of Mussolini, going so far as to deny fascist killings and claiming prisoners of Mussolini were actually sent on vacation.

One of the more dangerous aspects of Meloni is her deviation from the typical neofascist persona, she has moved away from Mussolini’s aggressive rhetoric and used her femininity to express extreme views. Her emphasis in speeches of her motherhood, and the use of more traditionally feminine clothes evokes an image of kindness and gentile — all while calling for less rights for migrants and the oppression of members of the LGBTQ+ community.

We should look to the lessons of history and keep a close eye on the development of Meloni’s policies…this isn’t a one-off situation in which the far-right have come across power as a fluke. This is the product of an underlying tension within Italy, an insight into the re-emergence of fascism among the Italian public. It also reflects a trend within international politics, far-right governments popping up across continents, looking to previous leaders and historical moments for inspiration.

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