Four days of voting started yesterday across the 28-nation EU bloc amid the emergence of fascist symbols and rhetoric in this year’s European election campaign. In Italy, fascist salutes, long a public taboo, have made their way out of the hooligan sections of soccer stadiums and into city streets, as demonstrated by a couple of dozen of the Roman football squad Lazio’s historically right-wing and fascist “ultra” fans on visitors’ turf in Milan. Fringe far-right political parties are emboldened to shout fascist slogans and raise one-armed salutes in protests against placing Roma families, a minority persecuted in World War II, in Rome public housing.
A publishing house tied to the far-right group Casapound was evicted from the prestigious Turin International Book Fair following protests, including from the Auschwitz Holocaust Memorial, which threatened to boycott the event. The leader of the right-wing party leading in the Italian polls, Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, has faced criticism for perceived complacency toward neo-fascist extremists in his bid to see his once regionally based League party finish No. 1 in Italy, and perhaps Europe, when Italians vote Sunday. Salvini, who has attracted the admiration of European far-right leaders for his anti-immigrant, anti-Islam stances, makes a show of dismissing extremist labels and the existence of fascist ideology on the Italian political spectrum. He drew criticism last month when he skipped April 25 Liberation Day commemorations in Rome marking Italy’s 1945 liberation from the fascist rule of Benito Mussolini, who spent the last two years of World War II overseeing a puppet republic in Nazi-occupied northern Italy. Salvini, recognizing the power of Mussolini’s image, recently addressed a European election rally in the northern city of Forli from a balcony once used by the fascist dictator.
Salvini’s wink at the far-right goes beyond Italy’s borders, to far-right leaders in Germany, Italy and Hungary he hopes to unite in a single parliamentary group following the European elections. “Our goal is to change Europe, to become the first group in the European Parliament,” Salvini said. “For the first time, we could be decisive to change Europe. That’s what I care about.”
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen promised the far-right “will perform a historic feat,” saying they could end up as high as the second-biggest political group in the EU Parliament. Yesterday morning, U.K. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn released a message with a warning that “the far-right is on the rise” and adding that “the actions we take now will have huge consequences for our future.”
The elections, which end Sunday night, come as support is surging for populists and nationalists who want to rein in the EU’s powers, while traditional powerhouses like France and Germany insist that unity is the best buffer against the shifting economic and security interests of an emerging new world order.
Polls opened first in the Netherlands, and half an hour later the election began across the U.K., the only other country voting yesterday, and a nation still wrestling with its plans to leave the EU altogether and the leadership of embattled Prime Minister Theresa May.