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Meloni Condemns Fascist Nostalgia Amid Scandal in Her Party’s Youth Wing

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Italy’s prime minister, Giorgia Meloni, urged leaders of her political party on Tuesday to reject antisemitism, racism and nostalgia for totalitarian regimes after an Italian news outlet caught on a hidden camera members of the youth section of her party glorifying fascism.

“I am angry and saddened by how we were represented by the behavior of some youth of our movement,” Ms. Meloni wrote in an email, seen by The New York Times, to directors of her party, Brothers of Italy.

The news report, which came out in two episodes last month, was filmed by a journalist with the Italian news outlet Fanpage.it who pretended to be an activist with National Youth, the youth arm of Brothers of Italy.

The report said the hidden camera showed members of the movement doing fascist salutes, praising the Italian fascist dictator Benito Mussolini, instructing others to spread stickers with fascist slogans and defining themselves as fascists. People identified by the report as members of the youth group were filmed while shouting, “Sieg heil,” an expression adopted by the Nazis. Other people identified as members of the youth wing were filmed as they made racist and antisemitic comments.

The report was a blow to Ms. Meloni, who, despite having roots in a party born from the wreckage of fascism, has sought to move on from that past and vowed to cast herself as a modern, pragmatic leader, saying again and again that fascism belonged to history.

But nearly two years into her term, she had to remind her party’s leadership to leave that heritage behind. It showed that the transformation was not complete, and that nostalgia for elements of Italy’s darkest past persists, at least in some parts of a party that grew from being a fringe movement to becoming Italy’s biggest governing force.

“At my age, will I have to see this again?” an Italian senator and holocaust survivor, Liliana Segre, 93, asked on Italian television after seeing the Fanpage reports. “Will I have to be kicked out of my country like I was once kicked out?”

Lawmakers from the left rose up. Michela Di Biase, a lawmaker with Italy’s Democratic Party, accused Ms. Meloni’s party youth of idealizing those who “stained the history of our country with the blood of persecution.”

Ms. Meloni and lawmakers from her party criticized the journalist’s methods and said that the news report did not represent the true identity of her party or of its youth movement, but a small minority. Luca Ciriani, a lawmaker with Brothers of Italy, said the report had been built on the basis of fragmented, out-of-context images. Other party members acknowledged and condemned the behavior.

But Ms. Meloni also felt the need to speak out.

“There is no room in our ranks for those who play a caricature role that only serves the narrative our opponents want to create about us,” she wrote in the letter. “I and we don’t have time to lose with those who want to make us go backward.”

She also reminded party leaders that Brothers of Italy adhered to the European Parliament’s 2019 resolution that condemned all dictatorships of the 20th century. It is “a position,” she said, “I have no intention of questioning.”

Two members of the youth section, Elisa Segnini and Flaminia Pace, who were featured in the report, left their official roles after the report emerged but were not expelled from the movement, said Donatella Di Nitto, a spokeswoman for Brothers of Italy.

Ms. Segnini left her job working with a lawmaker from the party, and Ms. Pace resigned from her role at the Italian Youth Council, a group that represents young people.

Ms. Di Nitto said Ms. Segnini and Ms. Pace would not comment. She added that there hadn’t been any other resignations or expulsions, “for now.”

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