When protests in Rome against the extension of Italy’s COVID pass to all workplaces turned violent, a dark chapter in the country’s history was reopened.
When the demonstration got out of control on October 9, a mob vandalized a union headquarters.
For some, it was a reminder of the 1920s and the birth of fascism, which saw Benito Mussolini win power through a coup and wage war against the unions. This, along with the arrest of Roberto Fiore, the leader of a small neo-fascist party, when protests turned violent, sparked a debate over whether fascism is on the rise.
For others, however, such claims are an exaggerated combination designed to distract from what they consider to be the real issues at hand, namely their concerns about Italy’s COVID pass and their alleged infringement of their rights.
What is the Italy Green Pass and why is it controversial?
Italy’s Green Pass was launched in August. Provides evidence that someone has been vaccinated against COVID-19, recovered from the disease in the past six months, or tested negative for the disease in the past few days.
It has been required for indoor dining, visiting museums and theaters, and on long-distance trains.
But, since Friday (October 15), it is mandatory in all workplaces, even for the self-employed.
Employees who refuse to comply with the plan run the risk of fines of up to € 1,500. Employers can also face financial penalties if they do not carry out the proper checks.
It means that unvaccinated workers will have to cough for periodic COVID tests in order to access their workplace. Although such employees are protected from dismissal, they risk being suspended and frozen if they miss more than five days of work for Green Pass-related reasons.
With over 80% of Italians over the age of 12 fully vaccinated, the Green Pass has been very well received.
But it has also generated a significant degree of controversy. Politicians from the center-right bloc (made up mainly of the populist Northern League and the nationalist Brothers of Italy) have accused him of undermining individual freedoms and damaging the economy.
The leader of the Brothers of Italy, Giorgia Meloni, whose party is currently advancing towards the first place in opinion polls, has said the Green Pass scheme was an “ineffective and destructive measure of the economy that damages [Italy’s] sightseeing”.
It also worries the Italian General Confederation of Transport and Logistics, which 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 was in Rome on October 9. About 10,000 people gathered in the city’s huge Piazza del Popolo. There was vandalism and violent brawls after the crowd dispersed.
Italy and fascism: a lasting influence?
Italy’s fascist leader, Benito Mussolini, came to power in 1922 and later led the country into World War II as an ally of Nazi Germany.
At the end of the war, Italy tried to cope with this period of its history by prohibiting the creation of new fascist parties. Then, in 1952, Christian Democratic Prime Minister Mario Scelba introduced a law banning apologists for Italy’s fascist regime or its propaganda, with penalties including a fine of between 206 and 516 euros, or six months to two years in prison. .
Despite such legislation, neo-fascist groups continue to exist in Italy, and numerous academics and critics have accused various politicians, including from the moderate right, of revisionism in addressing the country’s fascist era.
Matteo Salvini, leader of the Northern League and former deputy prime minister, has repeatedly undermined the importance of fascist remnants in Italy, regarding fascism as something “of the past” that “will never return” and that has been “defeated by history.” .
Among those who demonstrated against the Green Pass scheme in Rome last Saturday were members of Forza Nuova, a minor neo-fascist party founded in 1997. Its leader, Roberto Fiore, was among those arrested amid the violence. His presence sparked accusations from critics who claimed that the Green Pass protests were infiltrated or spearheaded by the far right.
‘Not enough has been done’
Seeing the violence on October 9 as a symptom of a growing far-right threat that must be eradicated, numerous commentators and politicians have called for fascist movements like Forza Nuova to be shut down.
“What happened [on October 9] it was an unprecedented disturbing 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. You’d have to go back to the 1920s to witness the squadristi [fascist militias] looting offices and committing crimes of a similar nature ”.
ANPI was founded by Italian resistance fighters in 1944, when the war was coming to an end. For nearly eight decades, the association has been at the forefront of anti-fascist activism in the country.
For Pagliarulo, Saturday’s violent fight has much deeper roots.
“Not enough has been done,” he said. “In the last thirty years, governments have underestimated the growing power of far-right movements, which have not only become important political forces, but have also influenced the main parliamentary parties.”
Coinciding with Pagliarulo’s sentiment is Simone Alliva, a progressive journalist and writer, who writes about LGBT + rights. Speaking to Euronews, he stated that the growing threat from the extreme right is at the heart of Italian society.
“Neo-fascists have not infiltrated these protests against the Green Pass, but they have been part of them from the beginning. You have neo-fascists who have found their refuge in large and moderate parties, such as the League and the Brothers of Italy ”.
For Mattia Santori, head of the anti-populist Sardines, the grassroots movement that made headlines in 2019 when he took a stand against Matteo Salvini, the only solution for such a growing far-right presence is to take clear action.
“There can be no half measures about a clear stance against these attacks on the stability and values of our country,” Santori told Euronews. “The democratic and anti-fascist forces must call together for the dissolution of Forza Nuova, of all the extreme right groups that have made the apology of fascism their bulwark.”
“Nazism takes hold in times of crisis,” concluded Pagliarulo. “And while we are no longer in the middle of war, we are living in a crisis caused by the post-2007 recession and COVID. In the midst of this malaise, the fascists have emerged triumphant ”.
‘Fascist violence, a red herring’
For many, most prominently, though not exclusively, on the political right, the power of the neo-fascist forces in Italy has been exaggerated and represents a distraction from what they consider valid criticisms of the country’s Green Pass scheme.
Umberto La Morgia, a former councilor for the Northern League and now a member of the Brothers of Italy, condemned the violence but considered its ideological nature irrelevant.
“While the rioters at the protest in Rome were openly neo-fascist, the skirmishes that occurred in similar protests in other Italian cities were orchestrated by communist and anarchist groups,” La Morgia told Euronews, echoing a similar statement made by Giorgia Meloni. . In fact, anarchist sympathizers have been found in protests in Italian cities and around half of the 57 arrested at a recent demonstration against the Green Pass in Milan.
La Morgia says that fascist violence is a red herring. The fact that the Green Pass conflicts with “certain constitutional rights and creates an important precedent” is more noteworthy.
“It is certainly true that small neo-fascist groups and criminals are trying to exploit the social unrest related to Green Pass as a way to improve their profile in the media,” he added. But I don’t think 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 lacks fascist ties. However, he is currently part of the electoral committee of Rachele Mussolini, granddaughter of the fascist dictator Benito Mussolini. Rachele once claimed to carry her last name “with pride.” In a blog post earlier this month, La Morgia said voters did not choose Rachele “because of her last name … but despite it.” However, critics have viewed her electoral success, ranking as Rome’s most popular municipal candidate, as a symptom of the enduring appeal of fascist imagery and politics in Italy.
Within the movement that opposes the Green Pass, many have openly distanced themselves from any fascist association, and have even denounced links as media constructions aimed at sowing discord among the public.
Students Against the Green Pass (Studenti Contro Il Green Pass), a youth movement with more than 20,000 followers on Facebook, is one such organization. He resists any association with far-right politics.
Gloria Mancini, a spokeswoman for the group, told Euronews that the organization “does not accept that the anti-Green Pass movement should be combined with fascism.” He further claimed that such associations are exaggerated fabrications of the press aimed at “exacerbating tensions and discrediting a sacrosanct battle that we, as a student movement, have waged in a totally peaceful manner.”
Guido Cappelli, a professor of Italian literature at the University of the East of Naples and a vocal critic of the Green Pass plan, went even further, telling Euronews that it was “damaging” to speak of a “significant neo-fascist presence” in the anti-Green. Pass. marches – a presence he described as “a few hundred idiots.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism