A 15-year-old student who belonged to the Youth Front, a far-right student organisation in Rome, rang the doorbell and requested entry in July 1992. She presented her application to join their cause, to the amusement of the all-male radical group inside. But as she rose through the ranks, the girl gradually won their acceptance by assuming one leadership position after another. Thirty years later, Giorgia Meloni, the leader of a right-wing coalition that polls indicate will take the lead in Sunday’s election, is on track to become Italy’s first female prime minister.
After the collapse of the administration led by Mario Draghi, the founding father of Europe’s economic establishment, her rise is the tale of a nation choosing an outsider. It will be a huge national gamble at a risky time if Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party wins the most votes on Sunday. Italy’s economic dashboard is flashing warning lights as Europe teeters on the verge of recession and war rages at the EU’s border.
Meloni, who oversees the third-largest economy in the EU, will play a significant part in determining how the bloc responds to these crises as they develop. Many people in Brussels and other capitals will be curious to learn more about who she is. What shaped her values? Where does she come from? How does Meloni think?
Her friends and allies from those early days in Rome’s Youth Front may hold some of the key to the solution. Many of the original group’s members are now prominent Brothers of Italy members. Some intend to assist Meloni in leading the nation. Meloni must have seemed an unlikely right-wing radical on that hot summer day in 1992. She was a native of Rome’s adamantly left-wing Garbatella neighbourhood. Universities close by and schools like hers were heavily influenced by the left. Being a member of the right was already revolutionary.
“None of us could have ever, even momentarily, imagined what the polls say could happen,” said Nicola Procaccini, Brothers of Italy MEP who had joined the youth front contemporaneously.
Meloni claims that the murder of anti-mafia prosecutor Paolo Borsellino on that same day was the catalyst for her decision to join the Youth Front. Her allies claimed that their ardent patriotism and urge to rebel, however, were what ultimately solidified their dedication to the cause.
The author of “I Am Giorgia. My roots, my ideas,” Meloni claims that her leftist professors forced her to take a political show trial for her final year exam until she threatened to sue. Since most students were on the left, it was obvious that we were rebelling, Procaccini said. The motivations behind them, however, were “the same as today, even though more radical… love and anger for our country, and the way it has been diminished.”
After Richard Bach’s cult novella “Jonathan Livingston Seagull,” the local branch of the Youth Front organisation adopted the moniker “The Seagulls.” They joined forces for a greater goal because, like Jonathan, they were outsiders.
Meloni believed that many of the seagulls were searching for a new family because their current relationships were complicated. Her own father, a Communist voter, had left their family. The Seagulls did not allow part-timers to join. Relationships, as well as your entire life, were completely consumed by their politics. Activists were instructed to call friends who were not involved in politics for one event, Procaccini recalled. We all had friends who were involved in politics, but none of us had any of their phone numbers.
The group frequently caused serious injuries to its members during its violent turf wars with leftist activists. One of Meloni’s closest advisers, Giovanbattista Fazzolari, who is currently a senator, said: “All of our generations ended up spending a few days in the hospital. My broken arm and wounds were treated. This was a typical occurrence for us.” Procaccini claimed that despite the activists’ best efforts to protect the girls, Meloni had never demanded special treatment.
However, fantasy novels that frequently feature underdogs banding together to defeat evil had a greater influence on them than political texts. Stephen King’s “The Stand” and Tolkien’s books, whose works had been appropriated by a previous generation of the Italian far right, were among Meloni’s favourites.