Posted on December 5, 2007

Echoes of Fascism As Populism Grows

Robert Fox, The First Post (Cheltenham), December 5, 2007

Against a background of economic delusion and concern about immigration, there is a new shift towards populism in European politics. In Denmark, the only party of the ruling coalition to actually gain a seat in November’s election was the Denmark People’s Party, which campaigns on immigration control. Elsewhere in Scandinavia and the Benelux countries, racist parties are gaining ground. In Germany, the neo-Nazi NPD party is winning increasing support in poor rural areas.

But it is in Italy, always one of the great laboratories of European politics, where populism has become the new rallying cry.

A poster has appeared for Forza Nuova—a right-wing party shamelessly cashing in on the martial imagery of Mussolini’s Fascism—which uses a photo montage of Amanda Knox and Rudy Hermann Guede, the two foreigners

The polls say the next election will be a shoo-in for Berlusconi and no doubt for some unsavoury allies to the right being held by police over the recent murder of British student Meredith Kercher in Perugia, to sell the line ‘Against all drugs’.

The FN calls for a return to the old values of ‘God, Fatherland and Family’ and an end to distinctions between hard and soft drugs. It disapproves of inter-racial sex and demands the “immediate repatriation by force of every foreigner who is not in Italy for work useful to our nation”. The echoes of the old regime are obvious.

Forza Nuova doesn’t yet have a great draw at the polls—though it does have plenty of adherents prepared to use violence on Italy’s football terraces—but two mainstream parties have been launched in Italy in the past six weeks that are also making populist appeals. Both are borrowing the slogans and appeals to fear of the more extremist parties, though dressing them up with greater subtlety—the great trick of Mussolini, who knew how to press the populist buttons and maintain the illusion of democracy. the heart of Romano Prodi’s coalition government, the Democratic Left (DS) and the unfortunately named rainbow grouping, the Daisy (Margherita).

The Democratic Party is led by the popular and populist Mayor of Rome, Walter Veltroni, who readily blames immigration for Rome’s rise in crime. But he will be hard-pressed to beat off the challenge of the new political confection of media tycoon and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

He has just launched a new party to replace his old Forza Italia party, with which he has been having his differences. Berlusconi held a festa in Milan’s Piazza Duomo, complete with rippling life-size images of the leader, to launch the party and then, in true populist style, invited its members—of which he claims more than 1m already—to name it themselves.

On Sunday night he announced that the members had chosen to call it the People of Freedom party. “We have reached a historic turning point, nearly a revolution,” he said. “Instead of making pacts between the heads of parties, we have decided to start off with the citizens”.

According to the polls, the next election, whenever it comes, will be a shoo-in for Berlusconi and no doubt for some unsavoury allies to the right.

Unless Italian stand-up comedian and satirist Beppe Grillo gets his way. He declared September 8 ‘V’ Day—standing for Vaffanculo Day, literally ‘Fuck-off Day’. A huge rally in Bologna was a wild success, and within a couple of days 400,000 voters had signed a petition against Italy’s entire political class.

Grillo’s manifesto called for all 25 Italian MPs currently claiming immunity to stand trial, and for the party secretaries to be prevented from nominating government ministers in a coalition, in which their voice is more powerful than that of the prime minister. Grillo is trying to stop the creeping return of the bad old ways of fascism, and the rule by authority based on conformismo, and garantismo—conformity and guarantee of position underpinned by thuggish force. Fat chance.