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L’AQUILA, Italy — At a meeting in L’Aquila, a medieval university town surrounded by mountain peaks, Giorgia Meloni roared with zeal. “On September 25, you will decide whether this country is ready to be free.”
The crowd cheered in response, waving tricolor flags as Meloni — flanked by local mayors — sang the national anthem from which her far-right party, Brothers of Italy, takes its name.Read:Groom shocks wedding by playing video of his bride cheating with her brother-in-law
Polls suggest the Brothers will win the support of one in four Italian voters in the September 25 election, putting Meloni on track to lead a right-wing coalition as Italy’s next prime minister.
Following Mario Draghi’s resignation in July, a Meloni victory would mark a sharp change of course for Italy at a critical time for the country’s economy as Europe grapples with the double threat of war ahead and skyrocketing inflation.
Meloni’s choice of L’Aquila, the capital of the Abruzzo region, for last week’s rally was no accident. Traditionally meandering between center left and right, Abruzzo is now a part of the country where the policies of the Brothers can be seen in action. It was the first region to come under party control in 2019, turning it into a laboratory for far-right rule.Read:Russia-Ukraine war live news: Ukraine invites UN nuclear inspectors after discredited ‘dirty bomb’ claim | Ukraine
So far, the results seem popular enough. L’Aquila has been ruled by a mayor of the Brothers of Italy since 2017, and he was re-elected in June, winning 54 percent of the vote in the first round.
Meloni told the crowd that she chose to run for parliament in this city because she sees the region as “a symbolic area” for her party. “This is the first country we governed and the symbol of our good governance… This is how we want to rule Italy.”
According to those gathered at the meeting, the brothers demonstrated their prowess in responding to two major crises in the region: the coronavirus pandemic and the ongoing need for reconstruction following a 2009 earthquake that left more than 300 dead and 60,000 dead. left homeless. Locals also praised the authorities for securing a recent visit from the Pope.
Antonio Pace, a shepherd turned police officer, supported Meloni and criticized the left-wing authorities’ handling of the earthquake’s aftermath. “If the right hadn’t come in, we’d still be living in containers,” he said.
Giacomo Soccorsi, a firefighter, said he had come to see Meloni speak to decide whether to vote for her. “Since the right is there, the city gets better every year. The construction sites are working and the city has come back to life.”Read:Ukraine news – live: Russia tells civilians to flee Kherson as Kyiv forces advance
The locals seemed to like it? Meloni’s authenticity and working-class qualifications, noting her ‘grit’, the fact that she speaks clearly and shows determination. According to a recent GDC Sondaggi poll, 25 percent of voters in Abruzzo plan to vote for Brothers of Italy.
According to Pierluigi Testa of the Rome-based think tank Trinità dei Monti, far-right populism has gained national support after largely technocratic leadership since 2011 led to economic decline and undermined the legitimacy of traditional party politics. That meant that Meloni could take advantage of her status as a political outsider.
“For a decade, Meloni stayed out of government and never got her hands dirty in coalitions,” Testa said. “More recently, she has reinvented herself as conservative rather than Eurosceptic, backing NATO and partnering with Draghi and this has helped her gain the support of more sophisticated voters.”
Stefano Gardelli, the owner of a beach club in Pescara, has long been a supporter of Meloni, who believes the brothers’ success in Abruzzo prepares her well for taking national control. “The region on the right won because they ran L’Aquila well and showed that the Brothers of Italy can rule,” he said. “Now Abruzzo can set an example for the country.”
But not everyone thinks Abruzzo is a good template for Italy. In reality, it was the ninth worst region for the number of COVID-19 deaths per capita, outperforming comparable central regions such as Marche and Umbria. Opponents complain that health care is increasingly in the hands of the corporate sector, while the rights of women and minorities are being undermined.
At both urban and regional levels, the Brothers have taken measures that make it more difficult for migrants to access social housing. This is a point of pride for the party. “Thanks to the Brothers of Italy, the fast track for foreigners for social housing has been eliminated in Abruzzo,” Meloni wrote in 2019. “Italians first is not just a slogan.”
Activists also took legal action against the city of L’Aquila after it refused food stamps to immigrants during the pandemic.
‘Criminal and short-sighted’
Pierluigi Iannarelli, leader of the local center-left Democratic Party, denounced what he called “unacceptable discrimination” as “criminal and short-sighted, in a historic emergency.” He told POLITICO: “The treatment of immigrants has definitely gotten worse since they took power.”
Campaigners are also concerned that local authorities’ policies are weakening women’s reproductive rights.
The region’s health authority has ignored national government guidelines that allow women to undergo pharmaceutical abortion without hospitalization. Last year, three regional politicians from the Brothers of Italy proposed a law to bury aborted fetuses in a cemetery, even without the woman’s request.
According to activists, forced hospitalizations prevent some women from having abortions as they may have to take time off from work or arrange childcare, while creating cemeteries for aborted fetuses aims to shame women who abort.
Sara Marcozzi, a regional councilor in the centrist Impegno Civico group, successfully opposed the proposals for such a cemetery. In Abruzzo one doesn’t breathe fascism in the air, she said, but this proposal ‘stank of fascism’.
Left-wing parties and minority representatives are concerned that the right will be further encouraged if they come to power at the national level.
Patrick Guobadia, an immigrant rights activist in Abruzzo of Nigerian descent, said that Abruzzo is not a racist place, but “where the right rule in Italy, immigrant issues come second. We know they don’t want immigrants in Italy.”
While Abruzzo may be the home of the Brothers, not everyone expects the success of the right in Abruzzo or at the national level to last long.
Marcozzi, the councilor, warned that it is “easy to make promises and go along with a wave of fear among the people. But then you have to do things.” Referring to the flame in the logo of the Brothers of Italy, she said: “I think the flame will go out soon.”