The Italian politics guide: the many tiles of a big mosaic
If you find it hard to understand Italian politics, you should consider how composite this country is in every aspect. From North to South and even from region to region, accents, dialects, cuisine and lifestyle change dramatically. Italy is like a mosaic, from a distance it may appear as a whole image, but as you get closer you can see its thousand tiles and their uneven edges. So, no wonder its politics is a complex mosaic too.
Although it is generally possible to make a distinction between two major forces, the left and the right wings – occasionally joined by the so-called centre – a more careful look will reveal how these forces are fragmented inside. In addition, in the last twelve years, a new political movement has shuffled the tiles, giving rise to the anti-politics policy and the post-ideological ideology.
If you are even more confused now, don’t worry. In this article, we’re clarifying this intricate scenery.
What’s on the left side?
The most influential party is the Partito Democratico (PD), which belongs to the centre-left wing, a moderate leftist force. To simplify this concept we could say it is a bit like the American Democratic Party. Actually, it was created by merging what was left of the Italian communist and socialist parties, plus other reformist and Christian forces. Today, however, the PD is the largest party that fully embraces all the progressive and pro-Europe values and policy in the Italian spectrum. Notable members are the European Commissioner for Economy Paolo Gentiloni and the President of the European Parliament David Sassoli. Its current secretary is the academic and ex-Prime Minister Enrico Letta.
Other small parties represent the legacy of Italian communism and socialism, but they all remain under the 5% of seats in the Parliament. Two parties were born out of a split from the PD: Azione with its leader Carlo Calenda, and Italia Viva with its leader Matteo Renzi, who, in the last years, seems to have moved more and more to the centrist area.
What’s on the right side?
While the left-wing keeps on splitting and reconnecting, the right-wing takes on board any possible force in order to win, even when they’re ideologically very distant. We can identify three major parties:
Forza Italia (FI), the realm of Silvio Berlusconi, the man of the countless trials and scandals. After having squandered his electoral worth, he is still the bonding element of the right-wing coalition. And what is ironic is that FI is now the most moderate and pro-Europe force in this area.
The Lega, a party founded to achieve the independence of the North from the rest of Italy, now it’s a nationalist force. Its current leader Matteo Salvini uses every populist tool available, first of all the identification of common antagonists for its electorate to fear. In the past years, they were the terroni (a racist way to call people from southern Italy), now they’re the immigrants, the EU bureaucrats, the pro-Green Pass, and those who demand more rights for the LGBTQ+ community.
Exactly the same goes for Fratelli d’Italia (FdI) and its leader Giorgia Meloni. This party, named after the first verse of the Italian national anthem, has in its logo the flame that refers to Mussolini’s grave and takes the legacy from the dissolved Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), the heir to the Fascist party. Just like Salvini, Meloni is friends with some illiberal leaders like Viktor Orbán or Trump’s strategist Steve Bannon. Meloni also made a nationalist speech at the Congress of the Spanish far-right party Vox.
The connection of FdI and Lega with the far-right goes further. A recent journalistic investigation made by the online newspaper Fanpage.it revealed that within these parties there are some corrupted and fascist elements. The two-part video inquiry showed the relationship with neo-fascist movements, jokes about the Jewish people, the use of the Roman salute, a candidate bragging about being a fascist, and a man called the Black Baron who discussed getting funding with laundered cash.
Both Salvini and Meloni deny any link to the fascist ideology. And we want to believe that the use of some “nostalgic” mottos and references are just coincidental and that the people involved in the investigation will be expelled from their respective parties. Eventually.
What’s in between?
After the major centrist party – the Democrazia Cristiana – exploded amid the Tangentopoli investigation in the 90s, a galaxy made of very small parties has born. However, new forces have now joined this area, aspiring to re-create the so-called third pole. Among them, some politicians from Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, Azione and Italia Viva. In particular, Matteo Renzi. Despite his party’s little electoral value (c. 2.6%), Renzi has influenced the birth of the Draghi Cabinet and now he hopes to play a prominent role in the “Game of Thrones” that will lead to the election of the next president of Italy in a few months.
But there’s another party which is not leftist or rightist or even centrist: the Movimento 5 Stelle. It was born as a movement carried out by the comedian Beppe Grillo – yes, a comedian – who brought the idea of the anti-politics policy: the aim was to regain citizens’ sovereignty by sending new people to the Parliament «to open it like a can of tuna». Of course, when the movement landed in Parliament it became a regular party like any other, and today it has a more institutional nature, especially under the leadership of the former Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. What remains of the spirit of the early days is the post-ideological ideology, the theory that considers obsolete and anachronistic any distinction between left and right. They put their theory into practice by governing first with the Lega and now with the Partito Democratico.
Article written by Valeria (@Aira on Twitter).