Rebels, Gunslingers, and Italy's Farage: Euroscepticism, and Italian Fascisms Reframed

It is telling that, in the same week, The Daily Express can publish both a gushy review proclaiming Churchill the ‘saviour of the Western world’ and an article lauding the Italian politician, Matteo Salvini, as a ‘FIREBRAND’ and ‘rebel’. This celebration of both the symptom of contemporary fascism’s entry into the Italian mainstream and the supposed vanquisher of this political movement’s ancestor is hardly surprising. One suspects that The Express would express its sympathy for anything right-wing and vaguely Eurosceptic.

The paper’s obsession with Europe has led to its hero-worship of this man it calls ‘Italy’s Farage’, Salvini, whose Euroscepticism is largely auxiliary to his cultivation of a rampant racist nationalism.

This comparison conveys a number of wacky distortions – that our dear Nigel is some messianic rebel single-handedly battling an evil bureaucracy – but it also betrays an underlying impulse to whitewash more problematic international concerns with the language of specifically British preoccupations.

While he has given several expletive-ridden anti-EU interviews, Euroscepticism is neither Salvini’s, his party’s nor his coalition’s priority; it is rather the corollary of their desire to close up their borders, and to leave migrants presumably to drown in the ocean.

However, in their blinkered coverage of Italian politics, UK papers, from the Financial Times to The Telegraph, play a dangerous game. Calling Salvini’s allies ‘anti-euro rebels’ or ‘far-right Eurosceptics’ does not do justice to the politics that they espouse. Framing this merely as Euroscepticism obscures the rather more compelling force at work: fascism.

The term ‘fascism’ is far from hyperbolic in this context

Next Sunday, Italians will go to the polls in an election predicted to be won by a coalition of the ‘centre-right’. Led by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, and comprising Salvini’s Lega and Giorgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (FdI), this is a coalition whose relation to any ‘centre’ is increasingly difficult to discern.

The term ‘fascism’ is far from hyperbolic in this context: ‘immigration’ and ‘the Euro’ might be the new ciphers of this phenomenon, but the histories of these parties demonstrate a lack of qualms regarding their own identification with this term.

The fascist elements of this coalition have been present, under different names, in Berlusconi’s various governments. The FdI, led by Meloni – whom The Guardianprofiled sympathetically – held government ministries in Berlusconi’s first government, in its previous incarnation as the Alleanza Nazionale – itself the ‘credible’ repackaging of the post-fascist Movimento Sociale Italiano, a party formed by Mussolini’s staff.

Salvini’s Lega has been there too, propping up all four of Berlusconi’s governments. Then under different leadership, named Lega Nord (‘Northern League’) and directing its anti-immigrant sentiment toward southerners, the party focused on autonomy, and even independence, for the fantastical north Italian region of ‘Padania’ – an independence, by the way, within the European Union.

Under Salvini’s more belligerently populistic leadership, the party has taken advantage of Berlusconi’s notoriously opportunistic politicking, and forced him further to the anti-immigrant right. Meanwhile, it has sought alliances with unashamedly fascist groups, including CasaPound whom overtly celebrate Mussolini.

Rebellious and anti-establishment Salvini’s Lega isn’t, and his own blasé homages to Il Duce have not been picked up by his fans in right-wing Britain.

the reluctance to name as fascist even self-identifying fascists lends this political prevarication an absurdity that is lethal

The events that preceded and, for some, appeared to legitimise the attack are simply irrelevant, and it goes without questioning what the response would have been if the ethnicities of victim and perpetrator were reversed. This was - and can be nothing other than - fascist terrorism, committed with the ostentatious cladding of fascist symbolism.

However, this point went ignored by most politicians in Italy: the leader of the ‘left-wing’ Partito Democratico (PD), Matteo Renzi, referred to the attacker as a ‘pistolero’, or cowboyish ‘gunslinger’, and the whole episode was subsumed into an increasingly fraught conversation about immigration: Salvini blamed the victims, Meloni the left, and Berlusconi promised to deport all immigrants immediately.

Meanwhile, the similar rhetoric of a depoliticised ‘lone gunman’ led rather scarce reports here, whilst the reference to an ‘alt-right nationalist’ was a similar prettifying distortion. In the midst of all this, it became clear that Traini had been a candidate for Lega in last year’s municipal elections, and it certainly wasn’t Euroscepticism that motivated him.

In a world in which we struggle to speak the word ‘terror’ of a white man, the reluctance to name as fascist even self-identifying fascists lends this political prevarication an absurdity that is lethal.

Laura Boldrini of the ex-PD splinter party, Liberi e Uguali, stated the obvious when she said after Macerata that ‘inciting hatred and whitewashing fascism, as Salvini does, has consequences.

The reappearance of fascism in Italy is not Salvini’s responsibility alone. It is getting a free pass, though, from a weak and dithering domestic left, and from an international media too focused on Europe.

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