MILAN — During the political convention last weekend of the Italian far-right party Fratelli D’Italia (FDI), leader Giorgia Meloni described its platform as “revolutionary.” She vowed to “change everything in Europe” and to move “Europe’s capital” to Rome. While FDI’s campaign for the upcoming European Parliament elections abounds in predictions for the future, the party also seems to have an eye fixed on the country’s past — more specifically, its fascist past under Benito Mussolini.
Earlier this month, Meloni announced in a Facebook video that Mussolini’s great-grandson, Caio Giulio Cesare Mussolini, will run with the party in the May 26 elections. The video was shot in front of Rome’s Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana, a well-known 1940s example of fascist architecture.
There’s little doubt that Mussolini was nominated because of — not despite — his relationship to Il Duce, who ruled from 1922 to 1943. Both Meloni and Mussolini avoided explicit references to fascist ideology, but Mussolini repeatedly hinted he views his great-grandfather as an inspiration.
In an interview with the newspaper Il Messaggero, Mussolini said that he “will always be proud” of his family name and that he hopes voters will appreciate the “Mussolini brand.” In his electoral billboards, he claims to represent Italy’s “history”, and the billboards use a controversial font popular with neo-fascist groups. His slogan is #scriviMussolini, or #writeMussolini.
Officials from FDI either declined to comment or didn’t respond to emails seeking comment.
A 50-year-old former navy officer, Caio Mussolini is the grandson of Vittorio, the second of Benito Mussolini’s five acknowledged children. (Il Duce is rumored to have fathered others outside of marriage.) Like some other descendants of the former Italian dictator, Caio maintained an ambivalent relationship with family history. In a recent interview with Il Corriere della Sera, he claimed that he is “not a fascist,” but on April 16 he was scheduled to hold a lecture about fascist doctrine at a Fratelli D’Italia event in Padua. The lecture was canceled after the local news outlet, Il Gazzettino, reported that Caio Mussolini was the “guest of honor” for the after-dinner lecture.
Caio Mussolini has other familial ties to right-wing politics, in addition to his infamous great-grandfather. Caio’s father, Guido, was an activist for Forza Nuova, an identitarian radical party. His second cousin, Alessandra Mussolini, has served both in the Italian and European parliaments, with different affiliations, ranging from the radical right Alternativa Sociale to Silvio Berlusconi’s self-described “center-right” Forza Italia.
The Fratelli D’Italia — or Brothers of Italy — party is the political heir of Movimento Sociale, the now-defunct neo-fascist party founded by veterans of the Italian Social Republic. Caio Mussolini’s nomination comes at a time when Italy’s politics are increasingly skewing to the right and Il Duce is no longer demonized as he once was.
Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini — who also serves as interior minister and made international headlines for his tough line on migrants — recently announced he will not take part in the celebrations of Liberation Day, commemorating the fall of Benito Mussolini’s regime, because he views it as a “fascists vs communists game.” Salvini has transformed his League from a small party pursuing the autonomy of northern regions into a nationalistic party that, according to polls, could get 32 percent of the vote.
“As the League has moved to the right, Fratelli D’Italia fears Salvini will cannibalize them,” says Matteo Cavallaro, a political analyst at Université Paris 13 who focuses on Italy’s far right. “So, choosing a guy named Mussolini is a way to get back the attention of its hardcore base that is mostly composed by fascism nostalgics.”
Cavallaro explains that those who romanticize the Benito Mussolini era “cannot be too outspoken about it” because Italian law prohibits promotion of the fascist party. But, he adds, they can “wink” at potential supporters about their approval of the former dictator. Latest polls suggest FDI could get around 5 percent of the vote.
Similarly threatened by the League’s popularity among conservatives, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, polling around 10 percent, is also highlighting the achievements of the former dictator and weighing whether to bring a different Mussolini into their political tent.
Last March, Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament and one of the moderate faces of Forza Italia, praised Il Duce in an interview, saying Mussolini “did positive things to create infrastructures for our country.” According to Il Giornale, a conservative newspaper owned by the Berlusconi family, Silvio Berlusconi is now considering including Alessandra Mussolini in Forza Italia’s electoral lists.
Unlike her cousin Caio, who was a relatively obscure figure before his nomination, Alessandra Mussolini is a well-known face in Italy. A niece of actress Sophia Loren on her mother’s side, Alessandra has been in politics since the 1990s and is a frequent guest on talk shows, where she often speaks against immigration. In 2014, her family was swept up by scandal when her husband, Mauro Floriani, a police officer, was accused of paying underage high-end prostitutes and then settled the case out of court. The case was widely mocked because Alessandra had been a vocal critic of pedophiles — an inspiration for the 2017 Netflix series “Baby.” Recently, Alessandra attacked Jim Carrey on Twitter because he posted a cartoon critical of Il Duce.
If Alessandra becomes part of Forza Italia’s slate for the European Parliament, this will mean that two of Benito Mussolini’s descendants will be candidates in south Italy in the upcoming elections. But it won’t necessarily be a happy family affair: Because they’d be aligned with different parties, they would have to run against each other.