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Opinion | What’s Happening in Italy Is Scary, and It’s Spreading

Opinion | What’s Happening in Italy Is Scary, and It’s Spreading

It’s a similar story with immigration. The agriculture minister, a longtime ally of Ms. Meloni’s who is also her brother-in-law, has taken the lead in appealing for resistance to “ethnic replacement.” Hardly averse to the slogan — she used it to successfully oppose a 2017 bill that would have granted citizenship to children born in Italy to noncitizen parents — Ms. Meloni has avoided employing the phrase herself since taking office. But her call for “births, not migrants” expresses the same sentiment, and aggressive opposition to migration has been the centerpiece of her administration. A law passed in April forces asylum seekers to live in state-run migrant centers while their claims are considered — a process that can last up to two years — all without legal advice or Italian-language classes. In recent weeks, Ms. Meloni spearheaded a European Union deal with Tunisia, whose authoritarian regime promotes the great replacement conspiracy theory, to curb migration in exchange for financial support.

As Amnesty International reports, outsourcing repression is not unique to this government: Past administrations built a similar relationship with Libya, and under Italian pressure, a new European Union migration pact strengthens the right of member states to expel asylum seekers. But in Italy, the line is hardening. In June, the authorities impounded two migrant rescue ships that were accused of flouting a new law designed to limit their activities. Legislation passed in February forbids vessels organized by NGOs from conducting multiple rescues, despite repeated cases of the Italian authorities failing to respond to distress calls from imperiled ships. The death toll of people drowning while trying to cross the Mediterranean usually surpasses 2,000 a year. The moves of the Meloni government ensure that people will keep dying.

Journalists, too, are under pressure. Sitting ministers have threatened — and in some cases pursued — a raft of libel suits against the Italian press in an apparent bid to intimidate critics. The public broadcaster RAI is also under threat, and not just because its mission for the next five years includes “promoting birthrates.” After its chief executive and leading presenters resigned citing political pressure from the new government, it now resembles “Tele-Meloni,” with rampant handpicking of personnel. The new director general, Giampaolo Rossi, is a pro-Meloni hard-liner who previously distinguished himself as an organizer of an annual Brothers of Italy festival. In the aftermath of his appointment, news outlets published scores of his anti-immigration social media posts and an interview with a neofascist journal in which he condemned the antifascist “caricature” hanging over public life.

This is not his concern alone. Burying the antifascist legacy of the wartime Resistance matters deeply to the Brothers of Italy, a party rooted in its fascist forefathers’ great defeat in 1945. As prime minister, Ms. Meloni has referred to Italy’s postwar antifascist culture as a repressive ideology, responsible even for the murder of right-wing militants in the political violence of the 1970s. It’s not just history to be rewritten. The postwar Constitution, drawn up by the Resistance-era parties, is also ripe for revision: The Brothers of Italy aims to create a directly elected head of government and a strong executive freer of constraint. No matter its novelty, Ms. Meloni’s administration has every chance of imposing enduring changes in the political order.

For all its Mussolinian roots, this government is no return to the past. Instead, in galvanizing the political right behind a resentful identity politics, it risks becoming something else entirely: Europe’s future. Conservatives in Britain echo Ms. Meloni’s obsession with favoring birthrates over migration; French anti-immigrant politicians like Éric Zemmour cite Italy as a model of how to “unite the forces of the right”; and even in Germany, the Christian Democrats’ long refusal to consider pacts with the Alternative for Germany is under strain.

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