Meloni’s pretty face
4 years ago, British leftist newspaper The Guardian called Giorgia Meloni “the friendly face of the extreme right.” Such sexism was allowable only if expressed by a female journalist and only towards such conservative and dangerous politicians as the 41-year-old Meloni. At that time, Meloni has already been an MP for 12 years, a party leader with a service record of the youngest minister in Italian history.
But she is not just a pretty face. She is a strategist ready to strike. And her stars aligned in January 2021 when her parliamentary faction – 6% of the MPs – became the only one not to join a broad coalition of 94% MPs. Italy was exhausted by Covid-19 that was brought from China. It resorted to a desperate step of uniting the right and the left. The coalition handed over power not to a politician but to an economist, appointing Mario Draghi as the prime minister.
During the broad coalition, TV worked out well for Meloni. In Italy, political programs are entertainment shows with lots of conflicts of alternative points of views, sometimes expressed by odious persons and populists of different colors. Because of how the TV is set up in Italy, it is the only Western country where Putin agents of influence get invited to talk-shows to present “alternative” views, even though they are the falsehood and propaganda. More often than not, such conflictual personalities act as laughingstock for the audience.
But in the case of Meloni, her message, attractiveness and persuasiveness raised her rating 4 times, from 6% to 24%. The broad coalition cracked in July 2022 because of disagreements among populists whether to provide weapons to Ukraine. The polls quoted by Politico, a newspaper from within the Capital Beltway, reveal that half of the Italian voters do not support further weapons supplies to Ukraine. Keeping eyes on the horizon and nose to the wind, some leftwing and rightwing populists began to flipflop between supporting Ukraine and quoting Russian propaganda. But Meloni’s Brothers of Italy appeared as principled and emphasized that their cause was the independence of Italy, including from Putin and his energy resources, and that the words that begin the Italian anthem –”Brothers of Italy, Italy has woken!” – are their vows for independence.
Meloni is Merkel on steroids
Young females Merkel and Meloni joined politics dominated by older males. Merkel became a minister of youth when she was 34 in 1990, and Meloni, at the age 30 in 2008. Merkel was born into a family of a Protestant priest in a miserable West Germany just four years after the occupation.
Her dad received a priest appointment in East Germany when it was already known for several years that the unification with West Germany would not happen any time soon.
Angela was a chemical engineer, just like the star of British conservative policy Margaret Thatcher. In the 1980s, when Thatcher was the PM, Merkel did PhD and then worked at a research institute in Berlin. Angela was an active young woman who served as the institute’s secretary of the East-German political organization for the youth. Aged 32, she attended a multiweek language course in Donetsk in 1986, not yet knowing that the place would become a symbol of war when she would be 60 in 2014.
Young Angela was underestimated in politics. She was nicknamed a milkmaid for her blush and simple look when she became an East German government minister in 1990. She used it to her advantage. Merkel was among the first to criticize the East German prime minister, democratically elected one, who brought her to power when he got implicated in a public scandal in 1990. Merkel did the same in 1999 when her boss Helmut Kohl – the chancellor who united Germany and served as the head of the government the longest time in modern history (only Prussian and imperial politician von Bismarck had a longer tenure in the 19th century). Kohl left politics in disgrace because of a campaign financing scandal, clearing the way for chancellor Angela to rise to the leader of the EU and the free world and the first female chancellor.
Meloni’s career is like Merkel’s but on steroids. She became a Roman city councilor in 1998, when she turned 21.
She wanted to be a linguist and a journalist, but these majors were available only in private colleges which her family could not afford. So, she went to a public school in Rome and had good grades at Amerigo Vespucci Food, Wine and Hospitality Community College. But Giorgia did not dream of combining PhD in chemistry with an established leftwing youth organization, and instead joined politics through a new rightwing youth organization. Using the city council as a springboard, at the age of 23, Giorgia joined the rightwing political structures of Silvio Berlusconi at the national level. In 2006, at 29, she became an MP, the youngest in her parliamentary convocation. She got elected on a regional party list, and after 2 years, the 71-year-old PM Berlusconi invited her to join his government, the 4th and the last one, as it turned out.
Minister of Youth Meloni initiates the boycott of the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics for China’s human rights abuses in Tibet, the mountainous province twice as large as Italy. Other famous personalities who criticized the People’s Republic of China as an Olympics host were Prince Charles, who ascended to the UK throne in 2022, and US film director Stephen Spielberg.
The Italian government and athletes did not support Giorgia Meloni, forcing her to make excuses that she just wanted to draw attention to the grabbed territory where China carried out active sinicization. Tibet and Mongolia proclaimed independence after the 1912 Chinese Revolution that overthrew the emperor but it was only Mongolia that fortunate to slip out of China.
The 2008 Beijing Olympics brough Italy 8 gold medals (2.5% of all Olympic gold) that was the 9th place in the world.
Opposition MP Meloni criticized the government when in 2019, Italy became the first large industrialized country to join the China’s Belt and Road initiative.
MP Meloni did not call for a boycott of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics where Italy showed the 13th result in the world. Ten countries, including the US and India, did not send official delegations to visit the Games, using the same reasons as their motivation as Meloni did in 2008. These Games were also controversial because The New York Times reported that China asked Russia to postpone the full-scale invasion of Ukraine to after the end of the Olympics in order not to harm the public image of Games. Meloni promised to challenge Chinese and Russian expansionist ambitions in August 2022, a few months after the Games. In particular, Meloni explained that she did not intend to abandon the current support to Ukraine and that she wanted to end a cliché where Italy is viewed as a frivolous nation of spaghetti and mandolins, i.e., she linked support to Ukraine with Italy’s independence.
Angela Merkel looked at the independence of Germany, e.g., energy security, as a bargaining chip. Merkel negotiated cheaper natural gas from Putin, thinking that she’d pay for it with Polish, Ukrainian and Eastern Europe sovereignty. Prior to that, she bargained with the US and China by negotiating Germany’s involvement in counterterrorist measures, human rights of Uighur and Tibetan autonomy within the People’s Republic of China, etc. But year 2022 started revealing flaws in the business model of bargains where sovereignty was for sale.
Thus, the chances of Giorgia Meloni to become the leader of Europe and the Free World may even be higher than those of Angela Merkel, notwithstanding the lack of the muscles of the German economy that were available to Merkel.
Meloni and her political alliances
If at home in Italy, Meloni was the only opposition, she was building alliances in the EU politics. Since 2020, she has led European Conservatives and Reformists Party that has 64 votes (9%) in the European Parliament. The core of the faction consists of Law and Justice, the ruling party of Poland, as well as conservative deputies of the Netherlands, Sweden, etc. The launch of this European party was co-organized by the British Conservatives prior to Brexit as an alternative to the right-of-the-center European People’s Party. If 10 years ago the EPP was the Establishment, now its national member parties became sidelined in the domestic policy of Germany and France.
One can see in Meloni the symbol of consolidation of the European right that had surfed the waves of populism and access to new information delivery channels through blogs and social media, but grew up since then and became ready to roll seriously now.
Meloni’s two natural rightwing political allies within Italy, the “League” party leader Matteo Salvini and the “Forward Italy!” party leader of Silvio Berlusconi, questioned the rationale for sending weapons to Kyiv by Rome. This position is more of a kneejerk reaction to pain, the unwillingness to accept the new reality, and the illusion that everything could be back in the 2000s when the Russian oligarchs were roaming around Milan, Nice, Monte Carlo and all over the Mediterranean. But both Salvini who is in his mid-50s and Berlusconi who is in his mid-80s will eventually realize that it is impossible to enter the same river twice.
And yes, Italy will have to be part of dealing with the coalition of dictators, headed by Putin and supported by Iran, North Korea and China. Italy’s right cannot help looking forward.
The Italian anthem – that begins with the words “Brothers of Italy” taken into the name of Meloni’s party – restores the value of independence and autonomy as opposed to the earlier culture of wheeling and dealing with dictators interested to legitimize their usurpation of power. The Italian anthem was officially introduced into mandatory school curriculum in 2012, when Meloni’s party was created, although it gained the official anthem status in 2017. The 5th verse of the anthem recounts the oppressions of Italy and Poland by the Austrian and Russian empires. Yet, the Russian Empire is mentioned as the Cossacks, a historical symbol of Ukraine and the steppe freedom, some of whom served to the Russian tsar at the time when the anthem verses were written. Hence, understanding the nuances of history, both of the Tibetan Autonomous District and the Ukrainian Cossacks, will be an important milestone in buttressing independence of the Italy of the 21st century with new faces on the rightwing and the leftwing of politics.
Meloni’s foray into politics began with a number of resonant statements. At a “Brothers of Italy” rally in 2012, she positioned herself as a defender of conservative values and proudly announced that she was pregnant and that she would not want her baby to be gay. Her daughter has been in good healthy and growing up in the family of Meloni and her male partner, a journalist at Berlusconi’s media group. The fact that Meloni was not married tells us that life corrects idealistic views about marriage, its sanctity, and kids out of wedlock. It is also admirable that politician Meloni was not keen to do something crazy as the former Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl did, inviting Putin to her wedding, taking advantage of public office in order to make it to the frontpages of yellow press.
Some Italian rightwingers believe that Mussolini was not so bad and that historians are too hard on him because of the background of Nazism and World War 2 overall tragedy. In 2018, Meloni, a representative of the right, responded that she and her millennial peers should come together for the sake of the future and should not drag history into the present. Her choice of reply about joining forces for achieving common goals is a sign of her growing up. If the comment about sexual minorities was intended to position herself and to parcel out segments of the society, the comment about Mussolini was aimed at finding formulas acceptable to the wider society, and not just to her segment. This is very important for a European leader where history is a source of segmentation and divisiveness. This understanding has come to Meloni, and it can be seen in her 2022 election campaign. That is why she gained support from voters who used to prefer other candidates several years ago. And that is why it is likely that Italy will soon join the club of European countries with women as prime ministers. Although the left politicians do not like it…
You can only compare political stars of this caliber up to a certain point. But we do know now that Merkel was making virtually no tactical mistakes throughout her career. Yet strategically, she lost part of Germany’s sovereignty. This is a quite useful lesson for Meloni.
Following this lesson may be an important step of the future leader of Italy. Giorgia Meloni sent her trusted associate, Adolfo Urso, chair of the parliamentary national security committee, to visit Kyiv, three weeks before the elections. After Kyiv, his next business trip is announced to be Washington DC, USA.
It seems that Meloni pragmatically chooses to support Ukraine as a way to strengthen the union and decision autonomy in Europe, thus refusing to Putin’s bargains. Perhaps because she understands that Ukraine’s victory will be Europe’s victory as a geopolitical power.