24th Mar 2023


Italy on edge as neo-fascists stir violence

  • The 'Colosseo Quadrato', a Mussolini-era fascist monument in Rome (Photo: Javier Enjuto)
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Last weekend, Italy erupted in protests against the imminent requirement for the coronavirus health pass in workplaces.

In Rome, the initially peaceful demonstrations quickly descended into violence as far-right supporters attacked public buildings and clashed with police. Next Saturday (16 October), they are planning new protests.

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It has prompted calls for neo-fascist groups in Italy to be abolished.

From 15 October, workplaces in Italy will require employees to show proof of vaccination, a negative swab taken in the last 48 hours, or a recovery certificate from the last six months.

If workers are not in possession of what is dubbed the "green pass", they risk suspension without pay.

The move sparked widespread demonstrations across the country over the weekend, including in Milan and Turin.

But in Rome, the marches, hijacked by supporters of the extreme right, turned violent. Protestors forced their way into and trashed a left-wing union headquarters using sticks and metal bars, which Democratic Party leader Enrico Letta compared to the storming of the Capitol in Washington in January.

Demonstrators also attacked an A&E department injuring several hospital workers.

And rioters clashed with police as they attempted to force their way towards the Palazzo Chigi, the official residence of the Italian prime minister Mario Draghi. They were rebuffed using tear gas and a water cannon.

The protests in Rome left 38 police officers injured and resulted in the arrests of 12 protesters.

Among those arrested were the leaders of the neo-fascist movement Forza Nuova who, it later emerged, had been responsible for orchestrating the rioting.

The extreme-right group does not permit vaccinated people to join and, as with anti-mask and lockdown protests last year, seized on the anti-vax anger during demonstrations to instigate violence.

The leader of the Forza Nuova party, Giuliano Castellino, was reportedly responsible for inciting the rioters to trash the offices of the union building despite already being banned from protesting in the capital.

The events led politicians from Italy's Democratic party to present a motion in parliament on Monday calling for neo-fascist movements like Forza Nuova to be disbanded, in what they called an essential push to "end ambiguity about fascism".

Supporters of the motion said events over the weekend displayed the same violence used by Mussolini's armed squads who targeted workers' unions and press offices in the 1920s.

Forza nuova

A law from 1952 forbids the formation of fascist parties in Italy, so Forza Nuova could be dissolved if identified as contravening this law.

With a philosophy that recalls Mussolini's fascist regime, the group is openly xenophobic, staunchly Roman Catholic, and opposed to homosexuality and abortion. The party was founded in 1997 by Roberto Fiore, who had earlier been charged with founding an extreme-right armed movement in the 1980s.

Forza Nuova upholds a rigid anti-immigration stance and frequently makes headlines for inciting or supporting violence towards immigrants and police.

In 2018, for example, the group celebrated the shooting of five immigrants in a racially motivated attack in Macerata in central Italy.

The dissolution of this group would be a significant move at a moment when Italians' views on immigration have become increasingly polarised and extreme right-wing views are becoming dangerously mainstream.

Italy's geographical position means it bears the brunt of European migrant arrivals, but a study conducted by Instituto Cattaneo, a think-tank in Bologna, in 2018 revealed that Italians were also prone to overestimating the number of non-EU immigrants in Italy.

The report found Italians identifying as right-wing were the most likely to overestimate the number.

For his part, Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing League party, has stoked this concern over the number of arrivals to help push through his hard-line anti-immigration policies.

In 2018, the United Nations accused Salvini and other right-wing politicians of "unashamedly embracing racist and xenophobic anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner rhetoric" to garner support for their policies.

Mussolini's back

Just last week, Mussolini's granddaughter Rachele Mussolini also topped the votes for city councillor in Rome while running for the far-right party Brothers of Italy.

It is an environment in which the extreme views of parties like Forza Nuova are amassing support.

The pandemic, too, has proved a boon for groups like Forza Nuova, who have taken advantage of the desperation of those who were slow to receive government assistance by delivering economic aid and food parcels.

As a political party, Forza Nuova poses little danger as it rarely receives significant support at the polls. But it helps foster extreme views in the public consciousness.

Other right-wing groups, such as the League or CasaPound, have frustrated supporters by revising their stance towards the centre, so Forza Nuova has begun to appeal to those seeking a "real" right-wing party.

In the latest developments, Forza Nuova's website has been suspended while the motion to disband the group is debated in parliament and, on Saturday, anti-fascist groups and unions have planned a demonstration in defence of democracy and calling for an end to neo-fascist movements.

Author bio

Rebecca Ann Hughes is a freelance journalist in Venice.

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