The future Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni is a militant neo-fascist who hopes to return those values to Italian society, according to professor Ruth Ben-Ghiat, professor at New York University and author of the book "Strong Men: From Mussolini to Today". In an exclusive interview for N1, Ben-Ghiat analyzes what Meloni's victory will mean for Italy and the EU, how it will affect regions such as the Western Balkans, how much danger there is from the return of Donald Trump and his radical wing of the Republican Party in the USA, and whether Vladimir Putin is a strong leader or just a paper tiger?
N1: Giorgia Meloni should become Italy's first female prime minister since the founding of that country, but also the first far-right Italian prime minister since Benito Mussolini in 1946. How worrying is this trend and what can you tell us about Giorgia Meloni. In recent days I have heard descriptions of conservative, ultra conservative, fascist, neo-fascist, so many different descriptions of her. What do you know about her?
BEN-GHIAT: Yes, thank you. She comes from the Neo-Fascist Party, which literally means the party that was founded right after World War II when the official fascist party was banned after Mussolini's death in the war. And she became a die-hard militant in this party. She became the head of the youth group, which is a big deal. And if you look at her current party, which is called Brothers of Italy, it was founded in 2012 because at that time there was no independent far-right party in Italy because the existing party merged with Silvio Berlusconi's party – Forza Italia. And that's why it's important because she was very involved in the founding and soon became the head of the party. And if you look at the party logo, it has a tricolor flame. Therefore, today she says that she is a conservative, and many others present her as a conservative. They say, Oh, those flames in the logo are just the colors of the Italian flag. But that flame is the original logo of the original neo-fascist party. And she insisted that it remain, because for her, I repeat, as a militant of neo-fascism, it formed her. And she sees the mission of her party to transfer the legacy and values of neo-fascism to the present day. That's how I see it. Now, we see her presented as a conservative mainly from the far right, because just like Viktor Orbán says, he has an illiberal democracy, and I don't think there is much democracy in Victor Orbán in Hungary, nor in the EU, we will see this presentation of Meloni's conservatism as a way of covering up of its neo-fascist heritage.
N1: Another very important part of this movement is that we see more and more connections between the extreme right and politicians in countries like Bosnia, Croatia and Slovenia, but also Montenegro. We know that the President of Serbia, Aleksandar Vučić, has strong ties with Viktor Orban, a member of the Presidency of Bosnia and Herzegovina, Mr. Dodik, who also has ties to Viktor Orban. How these trends can affect politics in unstable regions like the Western Balkans, especially because we have a whole mix of different religions and ethnic groups and different social groups. Here in the Western Balkans, a member of the BiH Presidency, Mr. Dodik, recently stated that Christians and Muslims cannot live together and that Bosnia is one of the examples of this on the global stage.
BEN-GHIAT: Yes, this is very worrying because every time a far-right party that represents a white Christian identity wins an election, it gives more momentum and more legitimacy to the others. And there is now this very, very well developed, I call it extreme right international. It's very interesting because fascism originally in the 1930s and 40s was very hyper-nationalist of course, but it was always transnational. And in the thirties and forties, there was that kind of fascist international that wanted to have a new order in Europe built on the sovereignty of white Christians, so to speak, supremacy. As someone who studies fascism, I've been watching this develop for years in Europe and you could call it fascism 2.0, you could call it far-right international, but Viktor Orbán is at the center of this. Budapest has become a very important center, all the more so because Vladimir Putin has become somewhat toxic because he financed all these, all these far-right parties, all these networks. But now Orbán has emerged as, shall we say, a kind of leader of this new political cultural order, and Meloni fits into that. And what's worrying is that as these people create a tighter alliance, it's very anti-EU. It is explicitly against the EU, often against NATO. And some of these people are agents of chaos. They are interested in destabilization or even, there are people who are now benefiting from Putin's weakness like Erdogan in Turkey who has become more imperialistic. He starts talking about the Greek islands as if they are actually part of Turkey and we can expect Turkey to move in as Putin gets weaker. And so all this destabilizes. And that's why we have to watch very carefully also because of immigration, what is happening, what will happen in terms of the alliance? Will there be some sort of agreement for blocking immigration and with severe consequences for human rights in the region? We'll have to see.
Watch the video to see Professor Ben-Ghiat's take on the potential return of Donald Trump to the presidency of the USA, but also about Vladimir Putin and the possible end of his regime.