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Meloni puts critical intellectuals on the bench | Culture

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The extreme right in Italy, but also throughout Europe, concluded that it lost the political and electoral battle for years because it was not able to construct a hegemonic cultural narrative. This idea, put forward by the communist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, has become the great workhorse of parties like Vox in Spain in the last five years; Reconquista, by Éric Zemmour, in France, or Brothers of Italy. The objective is defined, and the path to get there is heterogeneous. In Italy, Giorgia Meloni has decided to colonize the country’s media—public television—and cultural space with programs and directors related to her ideological agenda. But, in addition, she and those close to her have put on the bench all the critical intellectuals who point out the indisputable post-fascist origin of her party, an uncomfortable fact for this new dominant cultural narrative. Five of these intellectuals, from Roberto Saviano to the philosopher Donatella di Cesare, have passed through a tribunal and believe that they will not be the last.

The first to experience this kind of lawfare against critical culture was Saviano. The author of Gomorrah He emerged as one of the few critical voices seven years ago against the populist and right-wing government that formed the League with the 5 Star Movement (M5S), a period in which the leader of the League, Matteo Salvini, began to apply a policy inhumane action against migrants arriving on the Italian coast, blocking the ports of entry and forcing rescue ships to remain on the high seas for weeks. The Neapolitan author already had to deal with the man who was Minister of the Interior at the time. But in 2020, in a television program, Saviano referred to one of those shipwrecks in which a child died. “Everything you have said about NGOs will come back to your mind: sea taxis, cruise ships (…). All that remains is to call you bastards. To Meloni, to Salvini, how could you? How was this possible?”

Meloni’s complaint—for calling them “bastards”—ended in Saviano being convicted of defamation last October and a fine of 1,000 euros, but also wear and tear, suffering and money on lawyers, he says. “Their goal is to isolate critical voices. And he succeeded, because at first the other intellectuals, except for a few friends like Michela Murgia, considered it a personal battle between Meloni and me. She also wants you to spend a lot of money on lawyers, because she doesn’t pay for hers. His lawyer, in fact, later became Deputy Minister of Justice. He imagines what pressure it could be on a judge who, while conducting this process, saw how Meloni’s lawyer became someone who could determine his career. “She wants to show with all this what the fate of those who attack her is,” she points to the phone.

The writer Roberto Saviano speaks to various media in relation to the trial against him for defamation of Giorgia Meloni, on October 12 in Rome.

Cecilia Fabiano (LaPresse)

The mud machine against intellectuals always shoots against the money they can earn with their work. “They ridicule us saying that we win at the expense of this. Antonio Scurati (the author of the monumental biography about Benito Mussolini was censored in a Rai program two weeks ago because he was going to read a monologue critical of the government) is now told that he makes money at the expense of fascism, they accused me of the same thing for 20 years in relation to the mafia. It is a way of saying: ‘you can continue with your work only if you remain silent, if you obey and do not make noise’. The objective is always a few of us, but we serve so that they can show our heads to others. And it seems that they have understood the lesson,” he laments.

The list has been expanding. Francesco Lollobrigida, Meloni’s brother-in-law and Minister of Agriculture, who had no qualms about talking about “ethnic substitution” during a press conference, complained against the philosopher Donatella di Cesare when she called him a “neo-Hitler” for those words. The idea of ​​ethnic substitution directly alludes to the theory of the Great Replacement, of French origin and according to which white Catholics and the European Christian population are gradually being replaced by people of non-European origin. Specifically by Arabs and Africans. The idea, a conspiracy theory championed by far-right politicians like Éric Zemmour, who won nearly 2.5 million votes in the first round of last year’s French presidential election, is the workhorse of white supremacists and one of the intellectual foundations of many of the attacks that have occurred in recent years. And the judge who dealt with the case must have known something about that.

The thinker was acquitted this Wednesday by a judge who considered that the complaint was not appropriate. “My lawyer gave a long and well-articulated speech. He explained the climate in Italy, the atmosphere of censorship, the criminalization of dissent… And he also explained very well what ethnic substitution is, a formula that has a long history. He was born in France, but developed with the Nazi ideology with Hitler, who said that white European populations could not be accepted. And the most important thing is that it is a key to Meloni’s ideology, if one reads her books as I am Giorgiaalso in their rallies… Their entire policy on the demographic issue and immigration in the end leads to ethnic substitution: more children so that immigrants do not come to replace us,” he points out.

Di Cesare, like Saviano, believes that these complaints are due to a clear strategy. “The plan consists of locating an individual who has taken a strong critical position to isolate and beat him. And that is intimidation, but also a message to the rest who intend to do it. A way of drawing a line: you will not go beyond here to get to where I am. So they see how far that cultural hegemony goes that they do not have naturally and that they try to impose in Italy. They test the waters and see how far they can go, and that is also what other European right-wing parties do: survey public opinion, explore their limits. Now, at the very least, it will not be possible to speak so lightly of ‘ethnic substitution,’ he points out with undisguised joy at his victory in the courts.

Philosophers are a recurring target. But also historians. Luciano Canfora, one of the greatest living Italian intellectuals, was denounced by Meloni for having defined her as a “neo-Nazi at heart.” He did so in connection with a discussion about the war in Ukraine but, above all, he explains, referring to the concepts that this current upholds: “Supremacism, the rejection of migrants, the superiority of whites…”. Canfora, she relates on the phone, was referring to the fact that the party she leads, Fratelli d’Italia, has its historical origins in the Republic of Salò (1943-1945), a kind of Nazi protectorate ruled by a Mussolini. Gauleiter of the Third Reich, which brought to northern Italy a regime of terror that Italians commonly refer to as Nazi fascism.

Fascism as the “ultimate goal”

This connection cannot be denied. In fact, Fratelli d’Italia continues to fly the tricolor flame of the Italian Social Movement (MSI), whose origin would be the one symbolically burned on Mussolini’s tomb. Its founder, Giorgio Almirante (1914-1988), still stated in 1987 that fascism was the “ultimate objective” (The goal) of his party. These origins have never been denied by Meloni. “Neo-Nazi is for some an offense and for others a praise. I have used a political category that some appreciate and others do not. It is a judgment, not an insult. And if the political trials end up in court, I find it worrying,” insists Canfora. Nor could the connection between Pino Rauti and Ordinde Nuovo (a cultural organization that became terrorist) that he founded be denied. But for writing that, the Secretary of State for Defense, Isabela Rauti (daughter of the founder of Ordine Nuovo), denounced the historian Davide Conti.

The idea of ​​ethnic substitution, its rhetorical use within the party, was also answered in an article by the university’s rector Tomaso Montanari. Like Di Cesare, he was denounced by Meloni’s brother-in-law. “Italy is going towards Hungary. It is an authoritarian model, Meloni’s political DNA. We are the only European democracy with a neo-fascist or fascist-based party in the government. Questions must be asked about this political force. The EU should look at Italy as a dangerous place. Historically, everything starts from here, we are a laboratory for this type of thing. The problem is that it is not analyzed because it has been very skillful in pleasing them in foreign and economic policy.” The European Union, however, has recently become interested in the Meloni government’s relationship with the public media.

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