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Italy: Giorgia Meloni, a very political passion for “The Lord of the Rings”

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Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party and favorite in the legislative elections on Sunday, does not hide her passion for the work of JRR Tolkien. But the media presentation of this literary taste is not without political ulterior motives. In the Italian neo-fascist landscape, the British author of heroic fantasy holds a special place. In September 2008, she appeared in a photo alongside a statue of Gandalf, in a portrait that the Style supplement of the daily Corriere della Sera had devoted to the one who was then Silvio Berlusconi’s Minister of Youth. Fourteen years later, Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right Fratelli d’Italia party, has come a long way politically and is the favorite to win the legislative elections on Sunday 25 September. One thing, however, does not seem to have changed in all these years: his attachment to the “Lord of the Rings”, the seminal work of the British author of heroic Fantasy JRR Tolkien, which narrates the adventures of little hobbits with hairy feet, dwarves, elves and their ally, the magician Gandalf. ” by Giorgia Meloni for this fictional universe.”The Lord of the Rings” read at age 11She would have fallen into the pot of Middle-earth – the continent where the action of the “Lord of the Rings” takes place – from the age 11 years old, reports the American daily. After devouring Tolkien’s famous trilogy, the one who would later claim to be a spiritual heiress of Benito Mussolini and Italian fascism, would have taken a passion for this kind of literature. At 21, Giorgia Meloni appears on the Internet under the name nickname of “Khy-ri, the dragon of the Undernet [un des plus importants réseaux de messagerie instantanée au début des années 2000, NDLR]”, underlines the Italian site of technological information Dr Commodore. She talks about her “passion for heroic fantasy literature, and especially JRR Tolkien”, but also evokes the books of Stephen King, and her unsuccessful attempts to learn the guitar. In real life, she satisfied her passion for the folklore of Tolkien’s world by going to school dressed as a character from the saga, notes the New York Times. Giorgia Meloni and her friends also sounded an instrument they called “Boromir’s horn [l’un des personnages principaux du “Seigneur des anneaux]” when they met. Concerns that seem miles away from the ideas subsequently developed by the leader of the Fratelli d’Italia party, such as the obsession with the fight against immigration, the preservation of Christian civilization or even the defense traditional family values. Without forgetting his statements aimed at rehabilitating the Mussolini period. “Mussolini was a good politician. Everything he did, he did for Italy”, declared in 1996 this ex-militant of the neo-fascist National Alliance party. However, the pavement of JRR Tolkien has often been associated – more or less with wrong – to an ideology close to the extreme right. The battle against the orcs has thus been compared to a struggle against foreign invaders. The Hobbits’ attachment to the world of the Shire would reflect a conservative belief in the author that the world must be preserved against decadent modernity. And who cares if JRR Tolkien always maintained that his books had no political bias and that he defined himself as anti-totalitarian. The “hobbit camps” “I’m not surprised by this portrait of Giorgia Meloni. The far right all over the world has always had a fascination with the imagery of the very manly Nordic heroes of Tolkien’s work,” says Paolo Heywood, an anthropologist at Durham University who has worked on Italian fascist movements. But the Italian far right has a particular attachment to the work of JRR Tolkien, which dates back to the 1970s. ‘expression of the author’s rejection of the modern world’, writes Tobias Hof, a specialist in the cultural history of European fascist movements at the University of Munich, in a study of Tolkien’s influence on Italian neo-fascists. This reading of “The Lord of the Rings” had everything to please the far-right Italian youth who “were looking for an alternative to the antiquated ideology of the MSI [Mouvement social italien, parti néo-fasciste italien de l’après-guerre, NDLR]”, adds Tobias Hof. “You have to put this in the historical context of an era dominated by left and extreme left youth movements. Those who were at the other end of the political spectrum could feel excluded”, explains Paolo Heywood. then become both a rallying cry for some young people on the far right, and a “cultural reference that they could share with the rest of Italian youth”, specifies the researcher from the University of Durham. where the creation, at the end of the 1970s, of “camps hobbits”. These were annual gatherings organized by neo-fascist youth leaders and designed to officially bring together young people from all political backgrounds passionate about the same literary work. But these summer meetings very quickly turned into a sort of “Woodstock Fascists”, where it was a bit about Tolkien, and a lot of politics and alternative music. They ended in 1981, when Giorgia Meloni was only 4 years old. But in 1993, the future leader of the neo-fascists will go to the “Hobbit 93” rally in Rome. An event that wanted to draw inspiration from the spirit of the camps. The opportunity for her to discover this highly politicized reading of Tolkien’s work, while listening to the group Compagnia dell’Anello (The Company of the Rings, the name of the first volume of the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy) who composed, in 1977, one of the most popular songs for Italian neo-fascist youth: “Il domani appartiene a noi” (Tomorrow belongs to us). Media staging However, “we must not give too much importance to the work of Tolkien in the culture of the Italian extreme right”, explains Piero Ignazi, political scientist at the University of Bologna. “The camps were organized by a minority current within the MSI”, recalls this expert. Which gave them a relative influence within the Italian far-right landscape. For him, the fascination displayed by Giorgia Meloni for “The Lord of the Rings” must be taken with a grain of salt. “This contributes to the creation of her brand image, of a woman, less aggressive than other far-right personalities, and which has cultural references that everyone can understand and accept”, notes Piero Ignazi. “She will jump on every opportunity that presents itself not to talk about Benito Mussolini” for example, adds Paolo Heywood. In particular, by assuring during an interview granted, in August 2021, to the British conservative weekly The Spectator, that his mentor is the British philosopher Roger Scruton. Little known to the general public, this conservative thinker appears to be a rather refined intellectual, which allows Giorgia Meloni to give the impression that his thought is not limited to the most primitive neo-fascism. But in reality, “his real political reference is Giorgio Almirante [politicien fasciste et raciste qui a été l’un des cofondateurs du MSI en 1946]”, recalls Piero Ignazi. The staging of his infatuation with JRR Tolkien has another advantage for Giorgia Meloni. It gives him a semblance of cultural respectability while sending a signal to the “insiders”, believes Paolo Heywood. It’s a way of telling them that she still claims this heritage of “hobbit camps” and the cultural and political effervescence of this neo-fascist youth.

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