On September 25, 2022, Italians went to the polls and, with 26.3% of the vote, Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party won. It is a landmark result. Not only will she likely be Italy’s first female prime minister, it is also the first time since World War II that an Italian party with roots in the fascist movement won a plurality and will have the mandate to form a government.
When the results of the polls came in, I started to see some posts from Albanian diaspora in Italy and some prominent Muslim personalities in Kosovo celebrating her win on social media. As a Kosovar Albanian who has lived most of my life in Italy, I was confused.
Why would a Muslim in Kosovo, presumably sensitive to European chauvinism towards Islam, celebrate a politician who flirts so openly with Islamophobia?
Why would an Albanian in Italy, so many of whom experienced extreme racism and xenophobia when they arrived in the 1990s and after, celebrate a politician who rails against immigrants and wants to block future migration into the country?
The first case is a little easier to wrap my head around. If you can look past the Islamophobia and ethnic chauvinism, Meloni’s conservative worldview — with its emphasis on the importance of “traditional” families, values and identity — has a lot in common with the conservatism of some members of Kosovo’s Islamic community (and others in Kosovo without any particular religiosity, for that matter).
Despite changes in the past decades, the classical idea of the family is still central in Kosovar society. The purpose of life? Get married and have children (and better make it a boy, male children are still seen as so much more of a blessing than girls that sex-based selective abortions are not unheard of in Kosovo).
Patriarchal ideas about separate societal roles for men and women still reign. Men are supposedly natural decision-makers, breadwinners, the ones who take a role in public life (or just lounge about at cafes). Women, however, are caretakers — better that they have babies, cook and focus on domestic issues. Of course, this supposed ideal is all too often a cover for robbing women of their property rights and treating them like unpaid maids.
Though there are plenty of areligious or nominally religious people who live by these patriarchal codes, it seems that the more eager someone is to assert themselves as a religious authority in Kosovo, the more likely they are to operate on these principles, principles that fit in well with the staples of Meloni’s politics, which stress exactly these ideas about “natural” and “traditional” families.
One specific thing that appears to draw some Kosovars to Meloni is her defense of “tradition” and the way she presents herself and her values as supposedly a victim of what she calls the “LGBT lobby.” Intolerance towards LGBTQ+ individuals being present and vocal in the public sphere is something Meloni and conservative Muslims in Kosovo are in complete accord over.
But it’s frankly stunning that a mutual intolerance for LGBTQ+ people and superficial speeches about family and identity could be enough to get some of these Kosovar Muslims to overlook Meloni’s position on Islam. She’s been quoted as saying that the religion is “against our freedoms.” In 2016 she declared that “all terrorists are Muslim” and on the campaign trail in 2018 she called for a “no to the Islamization of Italy.”
And comically, for a woman who demands a return to traditional family values, Meloni has a daughter with a man to whom she is not married, an act that’s socially acceptable only due to the progressive changes that she presents herself as the victim of. It’s unclear if the people enthusiastically sharing her speeches are aware of this.
For the Albanian diaspora in Italy celebrating Meloni’s win, things are a little more complicated.
One aspect of this support is connected to Albania’s political history. Hoxha’s communist dictatorship still weighs heavily on the nation’s psyche. Some Albanians at home or abroad see leftist politics as forever tainted and unfairly equate them with Hoxha’s regime. For someone with those politics and that political experience living in Italy, Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, which has its roots in rabid anti-communism, would have an appeal.
But how can someone who came to Italy as an immigrant, often risking their life on a dangerous boat passage and living for years as the target of racists and scapegoated as the source of the country’s ills, forget all that and support someone who’s built their political career as an outspoken xenophobe?
Most Albanians came to Italy with empty pockets fleeing worsening conditions in Albania and Kosovo throughout the 1990s. The men were stereotyped across Italy as rapists or thieves, the women as prostitutes. Such conditions are bound to create inferiority complexes.
You see the ongoing results of these inferiority complexes among many Albanians in Italy today, particularly in the attempt to fully integrate and assimilate, to cast off markers of Albanianness. You see it in the way some take on an Italian name to avoid job discrimination, or how for some, finding an Italian partner is seen as a way to upgrade their social status.
After years of living in Italy, the type of Albanian who celebrates Meloni’s win sees an opportunity. Since they’ve arrived, there has been an increase in immigrants from the Middle East and Africa towards whom Meloni and her supporters have even greater animosity than towards Albanian immigrants. Instead of taking the often humbling experience of immigration as a lesson to be in solidarity with others facing discrimination or humiliation, the Albanians in Italy who support Meloni have a chance to align with the dominant side this time, to position themselves as better than the recent migrants.
The whole thing reminds me of a sketch from Turkish-German comedian Kaya Yanar in which he recounts a complaint from his father, who had moved to Germany 40 years prior:
“‘There are so many Turks in Germany.’
Dad, what do you mean? You are also a Turk!
‘I am a different Turk.'”
After decades of labor in often underpaid work, struggling to learn a new language and adapt to a new culture, what better way to assert that you are at home in your new country than to reject newcomers in the way that you were rejected when you were a newcomer? That, sadly, is what some of my fellow Albanians in Italy have decided is the best way to become a true Italian.
We don’t have numbers on Albanians’ support for or feelings towards Meloni. The posts I saw were shared by individuals, and these individuals do not represent an entire community. But the messages in the posts do represent pernicious ideas that find a home among some in the community — a sad reminder of a lack of solidarity. Those who have been the targets of Islamophobia or xenophobia would do well to remember it and to never side with the perpetrator.
Feature image: K2.0.
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