Italians are not flirting with fascism

Italians, on the contrary, endorsed sovereignty from the North and attempted to meet the needs of the impoverished in the South.

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By Mariella Radaelli & Jon Van Housen

Published: Sun 11 Mar 2018, 8:00 PM

Last updated: Sun 11 Mar 2018, 10:32 PM

Despite a range of stories in the overseas Press, Italy did not take a hard right turn in its March 4 national election. Sure, it voted for change but the result was far from flirting with fascism. In the country that gave the world this term, fascism remains an anathema.
Italians, on the contrary, endorsed sovereignty from the North and attempted to meet the needs of the impoverished in the South.
What exactly do we mean by the right, the far-right and populist? Certainly Silvio Berlusconi, whose Forza Italia party received 14 per cent of the vote, is not on the far-right. It would be seen as centrist in most countries.
In fact the Forza Italia now belongs to the European People's Party, a political family on the centre-right whose roots run deep, traced all the way back to Europe's founding fathers Robert Schuman, Alcide De Gasperi and Konrad Adenauer.
Even Matteo Salvini's party, The League, which claimed 17 per cent of the vote, falls short of the far-right designation. Started as a separatist party to protect the interests of northern Italy, it attempted to go national but its support remains limited to the wealthier North. Salvini has an anti-immigration, Euroskeptic stance but does that really equate it with "extreme rightwing"?
"Some foreign political commentators do not have a clear understanding of our country, history and reality," says Gianfranco Pasquino, Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Bologna.
Truly far-right parties, Casa Pound and Forza Nuova, each received less than one per cent of the vote, far short of the three per cent threshold needed for entry into the Italian parliament. "Casa Pound and Forza Nuova consider themselves heirs to Mussolini but they clearly flopped," notes Pasquino.
The Five Star Movement (M5S), characterised as populist, has emerged as the single largest party in the elections. But that label might be misleading. Pasquino says, "There is only a streak of populism in them."
"Overall, the M5S is an anti-establishment party. It is very critical of Italian politics and politicians, both of which are very condemnable. So there is no slide to populism in Italy," says Pasquino. "The Italian electorate didn't choose a populist way. Populist parties don't form political alliances and coalition governments. They don't make agreements in parliament. Both Salvini and Luigi Di Maio (M5S leader) will play the ordinary parliamentary game."
The term populist in Latin means supporting the commoners - the "populus" or people, a very Rousseauian view of democracy.
"Italy does not ride the far-right wave that exists in Hungary, Austria, Poland and even the Netherlands," says Pasquino. "Italy is not Hungary where the Press faces censorship or the judicial system manipulation."
By comparison Italy's far-right parties continue to be opposed, sometimes violently. The big question now facing the country and President Sergio Mattarella, who must mediate efforts to form a coalition, is whether the three main blocs can somehow find common ground to reach the 40 per cent majority needed to govern.
Pasquino thinks the next prime minister will not be a firebrand. "Salvini has no chance of becoming Italy's next prime minister," he says. The conservative bloc did not win enough votes to form a government.
The League leader "robustly and vigorously represents a specific part of the country, the interests of the people of the North", he says, but for the first time The League left a mark in Central Italy, especially in Macerata. The brutal murder of Pamela Mastropietro in Macerata, allegedly by illegal immigrants, affected Salvini's results in the region.
Whether the strange bedfellows of Italian politics can find common ground remains to be seen, but anything seems possible in a country whose capital is known as the Eternal City. Fractious, with regional animosities that date back centuries, the country's politics are as labyrinthine as its winding medieval lanes. The country has had 64 governments in 72 years following WWII, and another is coming soon. But in their usual way, Italians will find a way out.
Compared to the 2,000 years ago, it is just another curve in the road.
What is certain is that Italy will never be on its way to legitimising fascism. Italian Constitution bans it.
Mariella Radaelli and Jon Van Housen are editors at the Luminosity Italia news agency in Milan

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