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Italy is all set to have its first far-right government since World War II

JUANA SUMMERS, HOST:

Italy has elected a hard-right coalition led by a party that descended from Benito Mussolini's fascist party in the aftermath of World War II. The party's leader, Giorgia Meloni, is set to be Italy's first female prime minister and one that's already rattling the European Union, of which Italy is a founding member. Her victory comes at a time when parties with fascist roots are making gains across Europe. We're joined now by NPR's Joanna Kakissis, who's in Rome. Hi, Joanna.

JOANNA KAKISSIS, BYLINE: Hi, Juana.

SUMMERS: Joanna, what can you tell us about this new government?

KAKISSIS: Sure. So the party that's leading the government is called the Brothers of Italy. And just four years ago, it was a small, rather fringe party. And it's partnered in the coalition with two smaller right-wing parties to form a right wing, a hard-right coalition. This party used to be known for its extreme views. But, you know, during this campaign, it's become something much more moderate. It supports NATO. It supports defending Ukraine. It supports, like, transatlanticism. And so voters didn't look into the past. Its past does have fascist roots. And it looked very much at what it's presenting right now during the campaign, something much more moderate.

SUMMERS: And what about its leader, Giorgia Meloni? What can you tell us about her?

KAKISSIS: So Giorgia Meloni - she's 45. She's young, but she has a pretty extreme past herself. When she was a teenager, she joined the youth group of a movement founded by Mussolini supporters. In the past, when she's been at political rallies, she's signaled to her base by, you know, slamming international bankers and global elites, threatening a naval blockade of Africa to keep out migrants and bemoaning what she calls political correctness or wokeness that's taking over - that she thinks is going to take over Europe.

And - but during this campaign, she's also presented this other face, you know, the strong but reasonable Italian mother, one who could protect Italian identity and get things done. And last night in her victory speech, you know, she sounded reassuring. She sounded like, you know, I'm going to try to unite Italy. And the political analysts I spoke to say, you know, that turn to moderation is a sign that right-wing populism is getting smarter. Meloni's, you know, coalition is a sign of that.

SUMMERS: How is this coalition's victory playing out across Italy?

KAKISSIS: I mean, there's a lot of concern. You know, Italy is a founding member of the European Union, as you mentioned, and Meloni has repeatedly criticized it. And the term fascism, you know, that was actually coined by Benito Mussolini. So a victory for a party connected in any way to fascism feels very momentous here. Enrico Letta, the leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, he called it a sad day for Italy.

SUMMERS: And what about in Europe? What has the reaction been elsewhere?

KAKISSIS: So there's a lot of concern in Europe because, you know, Italy is so important to the EU. It's the third largest economy. And this sharp turn to the right for Italy has been reflected elsewhere on the continent. The Sweden Democrats in Sweden, they have Nazi roots, and they had a significant showing in recent elections. And that's feels, obviously, very uncomfortable in a country long associated with progressive liberalism. And Meloni, Giorgia Meloni, has been congratulated by a who's who of the European far right, including France's Marine Le Pen and Spain's far-right Vox Party. And some of the happiest people in the EU right now are the leaders of Hungary and Poland. You know, they lead illiberal democracies, who are strong critics of the EU. And they see in Meloni - they see an ally in her, somebody who is going to fight what they call the Brussels bureaucrat.

SUMMERS: That's NPR's Joanna Kakissis in Rome. Joanna, thank you.

KAKISSIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Joanna Kakissis is a foreign correspondent based in Kyiv, Ukraine, where she reports poignant stories of a conflict that has upended millions of lives, affected global energy and food supplies and pitted NATO against Russia.