Italy has been one of the countries that heavily suffered from the impacts of Covid-19. The serious consequences of this deadly disease were not only felt in the health sector, Italy’s economy and politics were also highly influenced and severely damaged. As of March 27, 2020, the country reported 80,589 Covid-19 cases, this number made them the third country worldwide in a total number of cases (Fadda et al. 2020). Deaths were reaching up to 1000 per day, 60 million Italians were subjected to mandatory isolation and travel bans.
With businesses closing down and tourism facing challenges, the economy took a great hit. Not to forget Italy possesses a very high number also in the field of unemployment especially the younger generation. As Statista reports the percentage of unemployment between the ages of 15 and 24 is 29.7. Italy is also the third-highest in number, among European Union members in terms of the unemployment rate. This dataset presents the dynamics within the country to focus on and gives a clear image of the voters for politicians to act upon. Italy has been under the regime of populist parties, the right-wing coalition of the Five Star Movement and The League. This coalition embodies right-wing ideologies, with a eurosceptic approach. They identify themselves as, anti-establishment, anti-global, anti-immigrant also it is possible to observe fascist elements in their party structure. Populist ideas are serious threats to maim the democracy with its strong ties to authoritarianism and approaches that do not work well with parliamentary systems. The power gain for populists is a damaging step for the democracy of Italy. The corrupt elite and the pure people ideology polarise the society. Also, slowly corrupts it due to their denial of opponent ideas. Populist ideology also does not embody trust in the established system, they claim to dive into the individual level and solve their crises like a ‘hero’. This creates a false sense of confidence in the citizens since usually, the promises given by the ‘strongman’ of the party cannot function within the framework of the country’s politics.
Matteo Salvini has been considered as one of the main characters of the populist wave in Italy, with this main ideology of ‘Italy first’ and his strong eurosceptic ideas with a dislike in the currency of the Euro. He is the federal secretary of the League, a strong organ in the right-wing. His desire to exit Eurozone has gained power during the hard times of the Covid disease. Also, other right-wing parties pointed at the absence of sufficient help from the Union, they felt ignored. Giorgia Meloni, leader of the right-wing party Brothers of Italy, also a populist stated, “When the coronavirus was just an Italian problem it didn’t interest anyone in the EU. They only did things when the virus arrived in Germany.”
Italian citizens mostly shared the same idea, they believed Europe could have helped them better thus leading masses more into the direction of populist parties. Additionally, the scepticism towards Europe strengthen the belief of ‘Italians first’, thus decreasing the support for globalisation and acknowledgement of the rest of the world as equals. Globalisation is an important aspect of democracies and the loss of it can cause the interaction between states to collapse, leading up to possible conflicts. Harming the dynamics of the world and turning Italy’s back to Europe is also a possible outcome of following the populist party ideas.
Populist parties have always had the habit to blame refugees for the unemployment rate, with the spread of Covid and the decrease in globalisation; their anti-immigrant approach gained power. Italian locals and mostly unemployed youth started to become more hostile towards the asylum seekers. The right-wing parties played their campaign based on the concept of younger generations’ loss of faith in the left-wing. Since the left is seen as insufficient to lower the rates and solve the immigration problem. Salvini’s desire to close all borders attract the interest of the younger voters. Especially the right-wing gained major votes from the Southern part of Italy where the unemployment rate is highest among the country. South also deals with most of the immigrants arriving in the country, those who believe immigration is to blame for political instability and economic crises were quick to be on board with the right-wing. In the 2018 elections, Five Star Movement also promised to help 4.7 Million Italians to better the conditions which made lower-income voters even more enthusiastic. It can clearly be seen that the voters mostly lose their faith in the established parliamentarians and seek help from anyone who promises any kind of help, even in the long run it means a step to severely damage the democracy. Populist right-wing parties are highly dangerous threats to decrease the quality of the democracy by embodying a ‘Italians First’ approach by being anti-globalism, anti-establishment and anti-immigrant along with trying to eliminate the opponents ideas. The anti-immigrant issue is a key here since voters stereotype he immigrants as criminals or thief who steal jobs, they turn more into the parties which possess anti-immigrant approaches, blames the EU for not being a corrupt elite. Along with economic issues and the historical elements that shaped an atmosphere for populist right-wing parties to rise, people lose faith in the established party system and look for a saviour, a charismatic leader thus turns politics into an issue-based one. In an unstable politics like that with high numbers of volatility, democracy faces with the serious issue of extreme Populist ideas that maim the democracy and equal representation. This system forces people to be under the mercy of a ‘strongman’ leader rather than being governed by a structural party ideology. The loss of faith in the party identification and societal factors caused the populist parties to shift their agenda accordingly and gain support with the promises they made especially from the lower income class.
By analysing how governments deal with the disease it is possible to see how corrupt their democracy is getting, by which methods they are embracing. With the strategy right-wing put on they were successful to impose their anti-immigrant and Euroscepticism, however not to forget as time went on according to the recent polls in 2021, the Five Star Movement is losing its dominance within the country.
In local elections, it is fair to say the left wing managed to gain its control over major cities. In Rome and Turin the results were bright for the centre-left, Democratic Party Braun, ’’In both cities, the candidates of the centre-left alliance led by the Partito Democratico (PD) triumphed with 60 per cent, while their right-wing opponents remained stuck at 40 per cent’’ (2021). It is not the end of the populist parties however a hopeful step for democracy.
Balmer, C., (2018) Italian Election Lays Bare Gaping North-South Divide. Reuters, Thomson
Braun, M., (2021) Is Italy’s right really in decline?. Democracy and Society
Guterbok, M., (2020) Italy Becomes More Anti-Immigrant and Anti-EU. Global Risk Insights: Know Your World
Mudde, C., (2015) The Problem With Populism. The Guardian.
Shah, R. (2018) Italian election dominated by immigration debate. BBC World, Tonight. Milan.
Vercesi, M., (year unknown) Why is Italy more populist than any other country in western Europe? The Loop ECPR’s Political Sciences Blog
The Covid-19 pandemic did take a great toll on the overall health of the Italian society. Not only were they one of the most affected countries with physical cases, but they were also affected through the multiple lockdowns they were put on. The pandemic has assisted with a rise in right wing politics in the country and with the younger population. This rise in right wing politics has mostly stemmed from pandemic responses and there can be many speculations made about the specifications of this movement. Although in the past there have been many populist parties that have placed the blame of unemployment on immigrants and refugees, there are multiple other reasons and ideologies that support this blame in Italy. Some Italians, especially those in the South, are raised to not support immigration because of their Italy centric views on politics and life in Italy. On the islands in southern Italy, there are extremely strict anti-immigrant police forces and many of the residents don’t want to get in trouble for supporting and helping immigrants and refugees who come from Africa. These ideas and policies have likely been heightened by the rise in right wing politics that has stemmed from the pandemic, but the pandemic is not the only factor that has influenced the anti-immigrant ideas
Thank you for your comment. The rise of populist right-wing parties are a very deep rooted, serious problem that has been pointed out by many experts as the source for various issues in the politics of Italy. I personally wrote a paper about the democratic backsliding Italy went through due to this. However, in this blog it is not claimed that Covid-19 was the only reason or tool, rather this blog briefly indicates what kind of a role Covid-19 played to strengthen the power of these right-wing parties. Or simply, how did it affect the current climate of the politics.