How a protest against COVID sparked debate in Italy over its fascist past



When protests in Rome against the extension of Italy’s COVID pass to all workplaces turned violent, it reopened a dark chapter in the country’s history.

As the protest spiraled out of control on October 9, a mob destroyed a union headquarters.

For some, it was a reminder of the 1920s and the birth of fascism, which saw Benito Mussolini take power in a coup and wage war on the unions. This, coupled with the arrest of Roberto Fiore – the leader of a small neo-fascist party – as the protests turned violent, sparked a debate about the rise of fascism.

For others, however, such claims are an exaggerated amalgamation designed to distract from what they see as the real issues to be addressed – namely their concerns about Italy’s COVID pass and its alleged violation of their rights.

What is the Italian Green Pass and why is it controversial?

The Italian Green Pass was rolled out in August. It provides proof that a person has been vaccinated against COVID-19, recovered from the disease in the past six months, or has tested negative for the disease in recent days.

It was needed for eating indoors, visiting museums and theaters, and on long-distance trains.

But, since Friday (October 15), it is compulsory in all workplaces, even for the self-employed.

Employees who refuse to comply with the system face fines of up to € 1,500. Employers can also face financial penalties if they do not carry out the appropriate checks.

This means unvaccinated workers will have to spit up for regular COVID testing in order to gain access to their workplace. Although these employees are protected against dismissal, they risk suspension and a salary freeze if they miss more than five days of work for Green Pass reasons.

With over 80% of Italians over the age of 12 fully vaccinated, the Green Pass has been widely praised.

But it has also generated a significant degree of controversy. Politicians from the center-right bloc (formed mainly from the populist Northern League and the Nationalist Brothers of Italy) accused him of undermining individual freedoms and harming the economy.

Leader of the Brothers of Italy Giorgia Meloni – whose party is currently approaching first place in opinion polls – said the Green Pass program was an “inefficient and economical measure that damages [Italy’s] tourism”.

The Italian General Confederation of Transport and Logistics is also concerned, which has warned that goods deliveries could drop by a third under the new Green Pass rules.

In recent weeks, there have been a growing number of large protests against the extension of the COVID pass to workplaces. The most controversial took place in Rome on October 9. She saw around 10,000 people congregating in the city’s huge Piazza del Popolo. There were acts of vandalism and violent clashes after the crowd dispersed.

Italy and fascism: a lasting influence?

Italian fascist leader Benito Mussolini came to power in 1922 and then brought the country into World War II as an ally of Nazi Germany.

At the end of the war, Italy tried to deal with this period of its history by prohibiting the creation of new fascist parties. Then, in 1952, Christian Democrat Prime Minister Mario Scelba introduced a law banning apologists for the Italian fascist regime or its propaganda, with penalties including a fine of between € 206 and € 516, or six months to two years of imprisonment.

Despite such legislation, neo-fascist groups continue to exist in Italy, and many academics and critics have accused various politicians, even on the moderate right, of revisionism as they approach the country’s fascist era.

Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League and former Deputy Prime Minister, has repeatedly undermined the importance of fascist vestiges in Italy, seeing fascism as something “from the past” which “will never return” and which has been “Conquered by history”.

Among those who demonstrated against the Green Pass program in Rome last Saturday were members of Forza Nuova, a minor neofascist party founded in 1997. Its leader, Roberto Fiore, was among those arrested amid the violence. Their presence sparked accusations from critics who claimed the Green Pass protests were infiltrated or led by the far right.

“Not enough has been done”

Viewing the October 9 violence as a symptom of a growing far-right threat that must be eradicated, many commentators and politicians have called for the closure of fascist movements like Forza Nuova.

“What happened [on October 9] was an unprecedented incident, “Gianfranco Pagliarulo, president of the National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI), told Euronews.” We have not seen such a violent attack since the end of the war. 1920s to attend the squadristi [fascist militias] looting offices and committing similar crimes.

ANPI was founded by Italian resistance fighters in 1944, as the war was drawing to a close. For nearly eight decades, the association has been at the forefront of anti-fascist activism in the country.

For Pagliarulo, Saturday’s violent brawl has much deeper roots.

“We haven’t done enough,” he said. “Over the past three decades, governments have underestimated the rise of far-right movements, which have not only become important political forces, but have also influenced the main parliamentary parties.”

Simone Alliva, journalist and progressive author, shares the sentiment of Pagliarulo, who writes about LGBT + rights. Speaking to Euronews, he said the growing threat from the far right is at the heart of Italian society.

“The neo-fascists did not infiltrate these anti-Green Pass protests, but have been part of them from the start. You have neo-fascists who have found refuge in large and moderate parties, such as the League and the Brothers of Italy.

For Mattia Santori, leader of the anti-populist Sardines – the popular movement that made headlines in 2019 when it took a stand against Matteo Salvini – the only solution to such a growing far-right presence is to take clear measures.

“There can be no half-measures on taking a clear stand against these attacks on the stability and values ​​of our country,” Santori told Euronews. “The democratic and anti-fascist forces must together demand the dissolution of Forza Nuova, of all the extreme right groups which have made the defense of fascism their bulwark.”

“Nazism takes hold in times of crisis,” Pagliarulo concluded. “And although we are no longer in the midst of war, we are living in a crisis caused by the post-2007 recession and COVID. In the midst of this unease, the fascists came out triumphant. “

“Fascist violence a red herring”

For many, especially – though far from exclusively – on the political right, the power of neo-fascist forces in Italy has been overstated and represents a distraction from what they see as valid critiques of the country’s Green Pass program. .

Umberto La Morgia, former advisor to the Northern League and now a member of the Brothers of Italy, condemned the violence but felt that its ideological nature was irrelevant.

“While the troublemakers at the protest in Rome were openly neo-fascist, the clashes that occurred at similar protests in other Italian cities were orchestrated by communist and anarchist groups,” La Morgia said. to Euronews – echoing a similar statement made by Giorgia Meloni. Indeed, anarchist supporters have been found during protests in Italian cities and made up about half of the 57 people arrested during a protest against the Green Pass in Milan recently.

La Morgia says fascist violence is a red herring. More noteworthy is the fact that the Green Pass conflicts with “certain constitutional rights and sets an important precedent”.

“It is certainly true that tiny neo-fascist and criminal groups are trying to exploit social discontent over the Green Pass as a way to bolster their media profile,” he added. “But I don’t believe that fascism has a real influence in Italy today. These groups have nothing to do with the Italian institutional right.

La Morgia insisted that the “institutional law” to which it belongs is devoid of any fascist link. However, he is currently on the electoral committee of Rachele Mussolini, the granddaughter of fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Rachele once claimed to wear his last name “with pride”. In a blog post published earlier this month, La Morgia said voters did not choose Rachele “because of his last name … but despite it”. Nonetheless, critics viewed her electoral success – ranked as Rome’s most popular municipal candidate – as symptomatic of the lingering appeal of fascist imagery and politics in Italy.

Within the opposition movement to the Green Pass, many have openly distanced themselves from any fascist association, and have even denounced links such as media constructions intended to sow discord in the public.

Students Against the Green Pass (Studenti Contro Il Green Pass), a youth movement with over 20,000 Facebook followers, is one such organization. He resists any association with far-right politics.

Gloria Mancini, spokesperson for the group, told Euronews that the organization “does not accept that the anti-Green Pass movement is mistaken for fascism”. She further asserted that such associations are exaggerated fabrications of the press intended to “exacerbate tensions and discredit a sacrosanct battle that we, as a student movement, have waged in an entirely non-violent manner.”

Guido Cappelli, professor of Italian literature at the Oriental University of Naples and outspoken critic of the Green Pass program, went even further, telling Euronews that it was “detrimental” to speak of a “significant neofascist presence” to anti -Green Pass. steps – a presence he described as “a few hundred idiots”.

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