It looks like Italian voters are ready to start over for Europe.
Giorgia Meloni, a candidate from the far right, is in the lead before Sunday’s election. If she wins, Italy could get its first leader whose party has roots in Fascism.
Giorgia Meloni, who is in charge of Italy’s extreme right, doesn’t like having to talk about Fascism. She has said in public and in more than one language that the Italian right has “given Fascism to history” for many years. She said that “the problem with fascism in Italy always starts with the election campaign.” She said that the Italian left uses “the black wave” to make its opponents look bad.
But, she said in an interview this month, none of that matters now because Italians don’t care. She gave a shrug and said, “Italians don’t believe in this nonsense anymore.”
Ms. Meloni might be right on Sunday, when she is expected to get the most votes in Italy’s elections. This would be a big win for far-right parties in Europe that they have been waiting for decades.
More than 70 years after Nazis and Fascists almost destroyed Europe, parties with Nazi or Fascist roots that have been on the fringes for a long time are now becoming more popular. Some are even getting ahead. It looks like a new page is being written in Europe’s history.
Last week, a hard-right group started by neo-Nazis and skinheads became the largest party in Sweden’s likely governing coalition. Marine Le Pen, who is on the far right, made it to the last round of French presidential elections for the second year in a row this year.
But Italy, which is where Fascism started, is likely to have its first female prime minister in Ms. Meloni and its first leader whose party can be traced back to the ruins of Italian Fascism.
John Foot, a historian of fascism and author of the new book “Blood and Power: The Rise and Fall of Italian Fascism,” said that people have gotten used to them. “The rule is no longer in place.”
The fact that Italian voters don’t care about the past, on the other hand, may have less to do with Ms. Meloni’s appeal or policies and more to do with Italy’s constant desire for change. But there is also another force at work: Italy’s long postwar process — even policy — of forgetting the past on purpose to bring the country together. This began almost as soon as World War II ended.
Today, that process has come to an end with Ms. Meloni on the verge of power. This comes after decades in which hard-right groups were slowly brought into politics, given legitimacy, and made known to Italian voters.
Roberto D’Alimonte, a political scientist at Luiss Guido Carli University in Rome, said, “The country has not moved to the right at all.” He said that voters didn’t know or care about Ms. Meloni’s history and just saw her as the new face of the center right. “They don’t think she’s dangerous.”
But because Italians have tried for a long time to forget their past, are they setting themselves up to repeat it? At a time when war is raging again in Europe and democracy seems to be in danger in many places around the world, the worry is not a theoretical one.
Germany, on the other hand, was clearly on the wrong side of history and made facing and remembering its Nazi past a national project that was woven into the institutions and society of the country after the war. Italy, on the other hand, had one foot on each side and switched allegiances during the war, so it could say that Fascism hurt it.
After the Allies took Rome, there was a civil war between the resistance and a Nazi puppet state in the north made up of Mussolini’s supporters. When the war was over, Italy made a Constitution that was clearly anti-fascist, but the political focus was on keeping the country together, since it had only been unified 100 years before.
In his 1995 essay “Ur Fascism,” or “Eternal Fascism,” the Italian author Umberto Eco wrote that there was a belief that “the memory of those terrible years should be repressed.” But, he said, “repression causes neurosis,” and “to forgive does not mean to forget,” even if real reconciliation happened.