Tough, determined, fascinated by Mussolini: Rome neighbours recall Giorgia Meloni

Tough, determined, fascinated by Mussolini: Rome neighbours recall Giorgia Meloni

Residents in traditionally leftwing Garbatella district not surprised by rise of woman poised to be Italy’s next PM

The Brothers of Italy leader Giorgia Meloni

Half-torn posters, one with a still fairly legible slogan, are all that remain of a branch of the youth wing of the neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI) in Rome’s traditionally leftwing and working-class Garbatella district, where Giorgia Meloni, poised to become Italy’s prime minister after elections next weekend, grew up and charted her political path.

Undeterred by the at times violent confrontations between young left and rightwing militants in the early 1990s, and the messages to “kill the fascists” daubed on the walls of Garbatella, Meloni knocked on its door aged 15 and signed up.

Those in the neighbourhood who have recollections of the young Meloni, whose Brothers of Italy party emerged from the National Alliance, a descendant of MSI, say the toxic political atmosphere at the time was formative.

“I knew her grandmother,” said Francesca, who was standing on the street next to the former MSI unit. “Giorgia was a very intelligent, determined girl who stuck to her path and never relented. I will definitely vote for her.”

During a rally in Sicily in late August, Meloni said: “I try to be more calm, then they take pictures of me with swollen veins. I’m from Garbatella, and every now and then the soul comes out.”

Meloni moved to Garbatella with her mother and elder sister, Arianna, to be near her grandparents after the siblings accidentally set fire to the apartment in which they lived in the Camilluccia area of Rome when constructing a den in their bedroom filled with toys, snacks and candles for light.

She wrote in her book, Io Sono Giorgia (I am Giorgia), that she owes everything to her mother, Anna Paratore, who almost terminated her second pregnancy due to economic worries and a difficult relationship with Meloni’s father, who abandoned the family, fleeing to the Canary Islands on a boat called Cavallo pazzo (Crazy horse).

Meloni described herself as an irascible, defensive child, whose determination to fend off her enemies was spurred by a group of boys who wouldn’t allow her to participate in a game of beach volleyball because she was “too fat”. She responded by going on a diet and eventually joining a volleyball squad.

The second article of the Italian Constitution is seen painted on a building in Garbatella during the celebrations for the 76th anniversary of the proclamation of the Italian Republic.

The ex-wife of Valerio, a stallholder in a market close to Garbatella metro station, was among her teammates. “She remembered Meloni being dedicated to politics and fascinated with the history of the Mussolini period,” he said.

In an interview with a French TV network during the Garbatella municipal elections in 1996, Meloni described Mussolini as “a good politician”. In more recent years, she has endeavoured to spruce up her party’s image, remoulding the political force as a conservative champion of patriotism, and saying in a video in August that the Italian right had “handed fascism to history” decades ago.

Brothers of Italy, which barely scraped 4% in the 2018 general elections, now leads a coalition made up of Matteo Salvini’s far-right League and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, which is forecast to seize a comfortable victory in the 25 September ballot.

Such an outcome doesn’t sit well with many in Garbatella, where Roberto Gualtieri, from the centre-left Democratic party, obtained the most votes in mayoral elections last October. However, with the leftwing parties so divided in the upcoming election, some in the district are not sure who to back.

“Garbatella is historically to the left even if the left is difficult to define nowadays,” said Valerio. “I would never vote for the right, but the left is in pieces … first they need to resolve their own issues before being able to deal with ours.”

Pino Bocchino, who owns a bar close to where Meloni grew up, said: “There are some who will vote for the right, but not me. Meloni will take us down a risky path.”

Giovanni Morelli, who said his mother-in-law lived in the same building as Meloni’s mother, said: “I used to see Meloni and her sister coming home from school. She was tough. But I don’t think I would vote for her, especially with the challenges we face today. What I still don’t understand is why they got rid of Mario Draghi, one of the most respected Italians in the world.”

Anna Di Pasquale, who owns a haberdashery stall in the market, is in no doubt. “Garbatella was maybe more to the left when I was a child but today there’s more of a mix,” she said. “I’ve only ever seen Meloni on TV but I like her as a person. However, I hope it’s not just all talk. They usually end up getting into power, earning a lot of money and then doing absolutely nothing.”