Antonio Scurati: “A Meloni government could be as damaging to Italy as it is to Europe” | International
Antonio Scurati (Naples, 53 years old) is the author of M, a trilogy of novels about Benito Mussolini and his times that has already been translated into more than 40 languages. The third part has just been published in Italy. In an interview conducted in her Milanese studio, Scurati points out that the far-right candidate, Giorgia Meloni, is directly linked to Mussolini’s populism and fears that if she comes to power she will be “as harmful to Europe as it is to Italy.”
Ask. How did it occur to you to immerse yourself for so long in the life and times of Benito Mussolini?
Response. I was never fascinated by Mussolini. On the contrary. As a child he dreamed of writing a novel about partisans. I perhaps belong to the last generation that was educated in the values of anti-fascism. I already wrote my novel about partisans, The best time of our life. While researching for that novel, I realized that 20th-century anti-fascism was wearing thin. Political leaders like Matteo Salvini, from the League, began to use Mussolini’s phrases to win consensus, something that would have been unthinkable shortly before. I thought it was time to write a novel about Mussolini: until then there was a kind of cultural prohibition. It seemed to me that this novel could contribute to refounding anti-fascism on new bases.
P. While antifascism was losing strength, neofascism was gaining it.
R. Until recently, in Italy, anyone who wanted to participate in political, social or cultural life had to accept the condemnation of fascism, on which our Constitution is based. In Italy there was always a party, often the fourth in importance, the Italian Social Movement, clearly neo-fascist. But he was marginalized by the other forces. When the “anti-fascist prejudice” declined, it seemed to me that it might be time to settle accounts with fascism, to finally overcome the past. The Italians, unlike the Germans, never assumed that they had been fascists. The history of those years has been told from the perspective of the anti-fascists, who were relatively few. We didn’t have to reflect on the fact that most Italians had been fascists, executioners, not victims. And the little political militancy that there is now in the schools is neo-fascist in origin. The young people of Casa Pound, for example.
P. Fascism reappears as if it were new and rebellious.
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R. Just. The first to build bridges towards that youthful world of militant neo-fascism was Matteo Salvini, in the 2018 elections. He included people who came from that environment in his lists. And the one who organized that was his spokesperson, Gianluca Savoini, the same person who established contacts with the emissaries of Vladimir Putin and reached agreements with them. One of the points of contact between the new extreme right and Putin is the vision of Russia as a defender of something that can be defined as “white supremacism”: Christianity, race, the rejection of what they call “the great substitution” of whites Europeans by immigrants. The fall of the taboo on fascism has not involved a reflection on that, but a form of forgetting.
P. Silvio Berlusconi, in 1994, already introduced the neo-fascists in his government. Didn’t the “normalization” begin there?
R. Yes, but the entry into the Government of the National Alliance of Gianfranco Fini could be interpreted as a step towards historical revision. Fini went to Israel, he got down on one knee, defined fascism as “absolute evil.” The fact is that Fini’s project finally failed, that of the heirs of fascism who distanced themselves from his own past. And now neo-fascism is back in its purest form. Look at the symbols: Meloni has recovered the fascist tricolor flame. And slogans like “God, country, family”, which comes from the 19th century but was widely used in the fascist era.
P. There are differences with Mussolini’s fascism. There are no longer uniforms, nor militarism.
R. There are very big differences. The first, violence. In the seventies of the last century, violence was essential in neo-fascist groups. Now the violence is only verbal. Fixing attention on those extreme right-wing groups that continue to use violence is misleading because they are marginal. The heart of the problem lies in a less obvious continuity, which perhaps does not connect so much with fascism as with sovereignist populism. Mussolini was not only the inventor of fascism. He was the inventor of what we now call populism.
P. We speak then more of populism than of classic fascism.
R. Of a populism that is very similar to that of Mussolini. The first principle of populism is the total identification of the leader with the people. The second is that the leader does not precede the masses, but he goes after them. Mussolini lacked ideas and principles, he limited himself to sniffing out popular humor (which is always bad: fear, resentment, etc.) and fed it, to then tell the frightened not to be afraid, a passive feeling, but hate, a feeling active. Third, the populist reduces the unbearable complexity of modern life to a single problem: the enemy. The enemy is always presented as an invader, someone who must be expelled. With Mussolini were the socialists (from whose ranks he himself came), whom he defined as foreigners, “people from Moscow, carriers of the Asian plague.” Today, that role is assumed by immigrants.
P. Italian society a century ago had suffered the impact of the First World War and the Soviet revolution. But today in Italy you live well.
R. Western Europeans are today the most privileged people who have ever set foot on the planet. However, we have immersed ourselves in what two French psychiatrists brilliantly defined as the time of sad passions. The fear, the feeling of betrayal… It is a historical process that coincides with a certain decline. And with migrations, which generate big problems. A serious responsibility of what remains of the left has been to ignore the issue because it is an electoral weapon of the right. “Immigrants are necessary,” they say. They are. But they also create security problems, pressure on the welfare state, cultural conflict. That leaves the field open to those who, brutally simplifying reality, point to immigrants as the big problem and, in short, as the enemy.
P. What do you expect from the probable Government of Giorgia Meloni?
R. I am not afraid that they will suppress democracy. I fear that they will stop long historical processes, such as the recognition of women’s rights, and above all I fear that they will prevent European political unity when it is more necessary than ever, both to stop Putin and to achieve a certain independence from the American ally. A Meloni government can be as damaging to Italy as it is to Europe.
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