Last month Italy elected a fascist prime minister, just weeks after a far right party received a fifth of the total vote in Sweden’s election. This is warning sign that in the absence of sizeable left movements, racists and far-right populism can win over disillusioned voters who are desperate for change.
Sweden’s election on 11 September saw the far right Sweden Democrats party become the second largest party in parliament.
They were formed in the 1980s from violent neo-Nazi groups.
The party has worked hard to disguise its blatantly fascist roots, and have run on a far-right populist basis, blaming refugees and immigration for all the problems in society and espousing the need to “Make Sweden Great Again”.
Their racist policies have been legitimised by the major parties, who tightened Sweden’s immigration policies following an increase in refugee arrivals in 2015 and adopted their claims there was a link between immigration and crime.
Until this election the other mainstream parties had always treated them as pariahs and refused to consider them as coalition partners.
But the new government will be a coalition of right-wing parties reliant on the support of the Sweden Democrats in parliament. Their more moderate allies the Liberals have ruled out allowing them Ministerial positions in the new cabinet.
But as the largest party in the coalition they are in a position to demand the new government embrace many of their policies. Their massive presence in parliament has also granted them an even bigger platform from which they can spread their xenophobic, antisemitic, and ultra-nationalist filth.
They have already presented a list of 100 policy demands. These include banning all immigration, criminalising homelessness, and deporting immigrants who are convicted of a crime.
The Sweden Democrats were able to present themselves as an alternative to the mainstream political parties. The previous longstanding and dominant force in Sweden’s parliaments, the Social Democrats, have overseen the gradual stripping away of social welfare, and a push towards privatisation in health and education sectors. Disaffected workers are hard-pressed for a viable alternative.
In Italy, Giorgia Meloni from the Brothers of Italy party has been elected as the new prime minister. Her party’s vote surged from just over 4 per cent at the previous election to 26 per cent, mainly at the expense of the other right-wing parties.
She is a personal admirer of Mussolini and has espoused anti-immigrant rhetoric. In her youth, she was a member of the explicitly fascist MSI party, which was formed by Mussolini’s former supporters.
Meloni’s victory came off the back of disillusionment with all of the mainstream parties, accompanied by the highest rate of voter abstention on record with 36 per cent of the electorate not bothering to vote, particularly poorer and younger voters, who have borne the brunt of Italy’s dire economy.
Italy has some of the worst economic inequality in Europe, a cost of living crisis with inflation at 9 per cent, increasing power costs, and widespread unemployment. Around 25 per cent of young people are out of work.
The previous government was headed by Mario Draghi, a banker who was parachuted in to try to force through austerity demanded by the European Union in exchange for a rescue package worth $300 billion.
All the major parties on both left and right supported him in a bid to nurse Italy’s economy post-pandemic back to health.
The only party to refuse to back his government was Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, allowing her to present the party as an alternative. All the other parties were discredited by their support for cuts.
She has blamed immigrants for unemployment and promotes extreme racism, claiming that Italy is letting in, “hundreds of thousands of people to deal drugs, controlled by organised crime, or to prostitute themselves”. She also espouses the “great replacement theory”, which claims that white Europeans are being replaced by immigrants due to “the financial elites” agenda of open borders.
She also presents herself as a defender of Christian values and the nuclear family, says she is against the “LGBT lobby” and her party’s program opposes marriage equality and gay parents adopting children.
The electoral success of the far right shows the danger of anger at the cost of living and unemployment being turned in a racist direction.
Meloni’s success in Italy creates the conditions where racist attacks and more openly violent fascist groupings can grow. A fighting left which can channel the anger at the real culprits in the bosses and the rich is badly needed.
By Maeve Larkins