European news without borders. In your language.


Italian society remains ‘untamed’ by the most rightwing government in decades

On 25 October 2022, in her inaugural speech to Italy’s lower house of parliament, newly elected prime minister Giorgia Meloni declared: “I will find it difficult not to feel a touch of sympathy for those who take to the streets to challenge the policies of our government.”

As she admits herself, protests were a part of Meloni’s political education. Recalling her past as an activist in the youth organisations of Italy’s post-fascist right, Meloni was emphatic: “I have taken part in and organised so many demonstrations in my life, and I think this has taught me much more than most other things”.

But when put to the test, that “sympathy” for protesters has turned out to be what it is: rhetoric. In fact, since the very outset, Meloni’s government and the parliamentary majority led by the Fratelli d’Italia have sought to repress and criminalise dissent.

The government’s first official measure was the so-called “anti-rave decree” of 31 October 2022. Taking advantage of a controversial rave party in the northern city of Modena, the government introduced a new offence with tough penalties – up to six years’ imprisonment – for those who organise and promote “gatherings dangerous to public order”.

Faced with criticism from the opposition and legal experts, Meloni declared that “we are no longer a banana republic” and that “it is possible to do things while respecting the rules and laws of the Italian state”.

There followed a succession of similar measures. One after the other, decrees were signed to curb immigration and further restrict the avenues for arriving legally in Italy, to hinder NGO ships carrying out rescues in the central Mediterranean, and to crack down on climate activists. Not least, there was a “security package” that sharply increased the penalties for various minor offences, including the blocking of roads.

Next came a number of proposals by Fratelli d’Italia MPs that go further still. One would create the crime of “street terrorism” for the most heated demonstrations. Another would water down of the offence of torture, only introduced in 2017 and now considered an obstacle to law enforcement.

The LGBTQ+ community has been a particular target. One example is a ban on registering the children of same-sex couples, the result of a circular issued by interior minister Matteo Piantedosi. In practice this means that same-sex couples may not transcribe the birth certificates of their children conceived abroad through surrogacy, which the government and its majority want to make a universal offence.

In short, the Meloni government has been on the front foot against any group it perceives as an enemy or which might represent an obstacle to its political programme.

What do the “enemies” say?

In Italy the government and the far right have been the target of no single mass movement, as seen in Germany against Alternative für Deutschland. Nonetheless, opposition has emerged in various forms.

“There have been general anti-government protests as well as protests on specific policies, such as on labour issues or violence against women,” said Donatella Della Porta, assistant professor at the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa and director of the interdisciplinary research group Cosmos (Centre on Social Movement Studies), to Voxeurop. “Such initiatives are not new, but with an administration like Meloni’s they have become more explicitly anti-government than in the past.”

An example is the annual march on 25 November organised by the feminist group Non Una Di Meno to mark the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Its two most recent editions made a particular target of the Meloni government, which was denounced for doing nothing to combat Italy’s patriarchal culture and for having cut state funding for women’s protection.

Meanwhile, the government’s inaction on the climate crisis has been the focus of movements such as Ultima Generazione, whose tactics are inspired by the non-violent actions of Just Stop Oil. They demand, among other things, a faster move towards renewable energy and the cancellation of plans for new gas drilling.

In response, the executive and its parliamentary majority passed a special law against so-called “eco-vandals“, which imposes heavy penalties (up to six years in prison) on those who cause damage to cultural or landscape heritage. This directly targeted the main modus operandi of Ultima Generazione, which consisted of actions to raise public awareness, including stunts in museums and the defacement of monuments and statues. Thus has the crackdown been waged through ad-hoc laws, criminal charges and prosecutions. To protect itself, the climate movement has been forced to use less radical tactics.

Things have turned out better for a group of so-called rainbow families – i.e. same-sex couples – in the northeastern city of Padua. After they waged a legal battle to guarantee the rights of their children, in early March 2024 the court there recognised the validity of the birth certificates of 35 minors. The public prosecutor’s office had sought to cancel the documents on the basis of the interior minister’s aforementioned circular.

The Meloni government has been on the front foot against any group it perceives as an enemy or which might represent an obstacle to its political programme

Outside the courtroom, the most heavily attended protests have undoubtedly been those over the Israel-Palestine conflict. According to data from the interior ministry, since 7 October there have been over 1,000 demonstrations in support of Palestine and calling for a ceasefire.

For Professor Della Porta, “these would have happened even if there were a centre-left government”, but the existence of a rightist government has caused “different actors to network”. They include Italy’s Palestinian associations, leftwing social movements, trade unions, political parties and students.

Students in particular have had a particularly high profile over the last few months – and on occasion have been on the receiving end of police abuses. The most controversial such case occurred on 23 February 2024 in Pisa, when a march of high-school students – including several minors – was brutally put down by the police.

Public opinion was deeply shocked by the videos of the teenage students being truncheoned by officers in riot gear. The incident prompted an intervention by Italy’s president, Sergio Mattarella, who declared in an official note that “with young people, truncheons express a failure”.

Professor Della Porta believes the events in Pisa were “the culmination of an attempt to see how far one could go” with repression. But the protests show no sign of dying out. On the contrary.

“The new generation is very sensitive to political and social issues”, says Della Porta. ‘This is not a moment of low mobilisation.” Italian civil society, in short, has “not been tamed” by the most rightwing Italian government since the war.

Go to top