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Mussolini fans get jobs in Meloni’s Italian government

Mussolini fans get jobs in Meloni’s Italian government

Giorgia Meloni is trying to prove she’s a moderate and reliable leader on the world stage.
Italian premier Giorgia Meloni has appointed fans of the Mussolini family, and a junior minister who was photographed in a swastika armband, as members of her new government team.

The episode triggered a wave of anger from anti-fascist campaigners and is likely to undermine Meloni’s attempts to build up her brand as a reliable and moderate leader on the world stage.

The controversy comes at a sensitive time for the new Italian prime minister, as she prepares for her first visit to meet EU leaders in Brussels this week.

Meloni named her new junior ministers on Monday and they will be sworn in on Wednesday. Speaking at a press conference, she insisted that they were chosen “on merit.” But several of the appointments provoked protests from opposition politicians and the anti-fascism organization ANPI.

Galeazzo Bignami, the new deputy minister for infrastructure, was photographed in a black shirt and a swastika armband. At the time when the photo first emerged in 2016, he said the picture had been taken as a joke during his stag party 10 years earlier.

Bignami said in a statement on Monday he wanted to reiterate the “profound shame” he feels for those images, which he said were taken in a private context, and expressed his “total and unconditional condemnation for any form of totalitarianism … and particularly the absolute evil which was Nazism.”

He is not the only controversial appointment. Another of Meloni’s picks, Claudio Durigon, of the anti-immigration League, resigned last year from the prior Draghi government, in which he held the role of junior minister at the Ministry of the Economy, after he suggested that a park named after assassinated anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino should be renamed after Benito Mussolini’s brother.

The new junior education minister, Paola Frassinetti, was pictured in 2017 attending a banned march honoring Italian SS volunteers at a cemetery in Milan.

Another junior minister, Augusta Montaruli, was pictured on a pilgrimage to Mussolini’s birthplace, with a group carrying the black cross flag used by neo-fascist white nationalist groups worldwide.

Meloni is the leader of Brothers of Italy, a party that traces its roots to the post-fascist Italian Social Movement (MSI), but she has distanced herself from fascism in recent months. Last week in her maiden speech to parliament, Meloni said she had “never sympathized with any anti-democratic regimes, including fascism.”

The leader of the Italian left, Nicola Fratoianni, said: “These are the people who have never sympathized with dictatorships? Please. Ridiculous and dangerous.”

Lorenzo Tombelli of the anti-fascist group ANED wrote on Twitter: “So a junior minister with a swastika on his arm can swear on the anti-fascist constitution? We have touched the bottom.”

The criticism is unlikely to damage Meloni’s poll ratings, which have risen since the election in September to 30 percent. Daniele Albertazzi, a professor of politics at the University of Surrey, said: “Within Italy [these kinds of episodes] doesn’t matter much. The vast majority of voters on the right assume that Mussolini is in the past and that these things are not going to be taken seriously and there is a forgiving approach. Theoretically, she has distanced herself from fascism.”

Outside Italy, these episodes are more problematic because they undermine the message that Meloni is moderate, Albertazzi said: “She needs the international community to be relaxed about Italy. But these episodes are constant because they do exist, they are not made up. I think she should take a much stronger stance, as they are very damaging to Meloni, more outside than inside Italy.”
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