Over the weekend, Italy elected its first far-right government since the Second World War. Meanwhile, in Cuba, voters have adopted sweeping measures to the nation’s family code, including legalizing same-sex marriage and adoption while also promoting “equal sharing of domestic rights and responsibilities between men and women,” according to Reuters.
The results of both votes cast doubt on the long-held assumption that the west is the champion of freedom, human rights, and civil liberties. Indeed, as democratic backsliding and a curtailing of rights continues unabated in so-called first world democracies like the United States (which recently stripped women of the right to an abortion), countries like Cuba — long vilified in the West as oppressive and authoritarian — are extending rights and delivering for their citizens.
Italy is, for now, a liberal democracy. With the election of Giorgia Meloni of the Brothers of Italy, however, that could stand to change.
Meloni’s party has its roots in the Italian Social Movement, which itself emerged in the 1940s to fill the void left by Mussolini’s banned National Fascist Party. Their fascism is apparent in the tricolor flame they incorporate into their party logo – the same tricolor flame that was the emblem of the Italian Social Movement. You don’t have to take my word for it, though. Ignazio La Russa, who preceded Meloni as the leader of the Brothers of Italy, said — and this is a direct quote — “We are all heirs of Il Duce.” (Il Duce is a nickname for Mussolini, for those who don’t know.) It’s important to note, of course, that Meloni herself has said “Fascism is history” and distanced herself from those who openly support fascism. She is not a self-identifying fascist by any means. But many are skeptical about her claim that her party believes fascism belongs entirely in the past, especially considering the content of some of her more recent speeches.
A core tenant of fascism, according to Jason Stanley — an expert in fascism and the author of the book “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them” — is stoking anxiety over sex and family. “‘We support and protect the family,’” he says the logic goes, while “’they’ are deviant and threatening.” Another tenant posits an urban versus rural dichotomy in which the urban is equated with depravity and immorality.
It is understandable that gay parents in Italy are terrified about what a Meloni government will mean for them. She has already promised to crack down on LGBT adoptions and surrogacy, to the point that she wants to amend the constitution to ban gay parenting. While I have my own qualms with commercial surrogacy (which stem from my support for radical feminism), targeting gay parents specifically and especially targeting the families already created, including the children in those families, is beyond the pale. It’s a ghastly proposition.
There is also a fear that Meloni’s homophobic and transphobic policies will further legitimize hate. There is reason to believe that. When Russian President Vladimir Putin began scapegoating LGBT people, hate crimes and vigilantism against gay men increased under the guise of targeting pedophiles. In Hungary, where authoritarian strongman Viktor Orban has governed since 2010, anti-gay laws passed by the far-right have led to an increase in homophobic hate crimes. Orban has also curtailed free speech and expression, including arresting dissidents.
A close ally of Orban, there is no reason to believe that Meloni won’t do the same. Every single freedom-loving believer in democracy should be terrified by what is happening in Italy. Alarms should be blaring across the world.
That includes here in America. It should horrify any American who values their freedom and our democracy — and yes, we are a democracy, despite what the far-right in our own country insists — to find out that Republicans have been openly celebrating the resurrection of Italian fascism. “Italy voted for a strong right-wing government,” Republican Representative Lauren Boebert tweeted. “The entire world is beginning to understand that the Woke Left [sic] does nothing but destroy. Nov 8 is coming soon & the USA will fix our House and Senate! Let freedom reign!”
“Italy deserves and needs strong conservative leadership,” former Trump administration Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tweeted, wishing Meloni “buona fortuna” — or good luck.
“America is stronger when Italy is strong, sovereign, prosperous, and free,” Senator Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, said in celebration of Meloni’s victory.
For LGBT Italians and anyone who disagrees with Meloni or her far-right, extreme policies, freedom has dimmed a little with her election. That Republicans are celebrating her rise to power is them telling on themselves. They are cheering on a woman whose party traces its roots to Mussolini and referring to her victory as a triumph. That should, to be frank, scare the s**t out of all of us.
But now let’s turn to Cuba, where a very different social revolution is taking place. Americans have a one-sided perspective of Cuba. A 2020 study by the Pew Research Center found that 58 percent of Cuban-American voters identify as Republicans. This is unsurprising, given that most of those who left Cuba in the 1950s and 1960s were capitalists and conservatives fleeing the communist revolution of Fidel Castro.
Consider how American conservatives talk about Cuba. “The evil regime in Cuba is still alive, but it has been fatally wounded,” Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican from Florida and himself the son of Cuban immigrants, tweeted earlier this year following protests in the country. Contrast that with how he speaks of protestors in his own country. “Just like the riots of 2020,” he tweeted about Black Lives Matter demonstrations, “the marxist [sic] left will always excuse, justify and even support lawlessness and violence if it is being committed in the name of causes they agree with.” In another tweet, he said that his office “stands ready to help the leaders of the Black Lives Matter organization emigrate to Cuba” which, given his views on that country, is nothing but hostile.
However, that’s not to say I have some rosy view of Cuba or that Rubio is not right in some ways. The country is known for its restrictions on free speech and free expression, including a free press. It rigidly controls access to information. As recently as last year, the Cuban authorities were arresting dissidents in order to prevent planned protests, which the government alleges were instigated by the United States to destabilize the government. The human rights group Amnesty has identified several “prisoners of conscience” being held for their political beliefs, while noting that this was but a symbolic gesture that does not account for “the many hundreds more who likely deserve that designation.”
Yet Cuba also has universal healthcare, free at the point of access. Life expectancy is higher and malnutrition lower than in the US. The nation has high levels of human development, low levels of inequality, and a crime rate that is lower than many comparable countries. Notably, they achieved all this while under a decades-long trade embargo from the United States, one of their nearest neighbors and a massive market the nation had no access to for over half-a-century. There’s a reason you see so many old cars in Havana — it’s what was left when the United States froze the Cuban people out of the global economy.
Italy, on the other hand, has all the modern technology and conveniences of a first world capitalist nation. And look what it’s chosen to do with them.
Our nations face a straightforward choice. We can continue to make progress on human rights and freedom, or we can backslide into fascism and subservience to far-right political parties. The election results in Italy indicate we may be making the wrong choice.