On the screen next to the stage, a video with the candidate is running in an endless loop. Giorgia Meloni smiles constantly and shakes hands. Her voice booms over the Piazza del Carmine, which fills with more and more people. They have all come to Cagliari, Sardinia’s largest city, to listen to the woman who has the best chance of becoming Italy’s next prime minister – and the first woman to hold the office.

In the most recent polls ahead of the September 25 parliamentary elections, she was traded as a favourite.

Mercedes Usai arrived early to get a seat as close to the stage as possible. Now she’s standing there in the front row. your eyes shine “I believe in Giorgia! I trust in their strength,” says the 49-year-old.

Mercedes Usai is a member of the right-wing nationalist Brothers of Italy (“Fratelli d’Italia”), the party led by Giorgia Meloni.

She firmly believes that Italy is about to change – a change in favor of workers, students, Italian businessmen. Always putting the Italians first is Giorgia Meloni’s promise.

“I work as a cleaning lady for a private company and at the same time as a substitute teacher in an elementary school,” says Mercedes Usai.

The Italian complains that she needs two jobs “to survive” because it is becoming increasingly difficult to make ends meet. She barely manages to pay the mortgage on her house.

Many who attend campaign events by right-wing populist Meloni in Cagliari or other Italian cities tell similar stories. Rising energy prices and inflation are troubling them. The fear of losing the job is great.

Nobody here trusts the country’s political class. Meloni’s previous strategy of rejecting any government participation and remaining true to itself as the only opposition party now seems to be working. Dissatisfied with all other parties, many are apparently willing to vote for Meloni.

Suddenly the music gets louder. The police pull together behind the scenes. Then she is there. Giorgia Meloni – dressed all in white – enters the stage.

“Good evening,” she calls out to the crowd. The 45-year-old is aggressive, sometimes sarcastic and always clear in her messages. Their performances always seem to follow the same pattern.

Meloni speaks freely – for an hour. She rails against her political opponents, who would portray her as a monster, as a racist. She railed against the allegedly incompetent European Union, which wants to regulate the everyday life of Europeans down to the smallest detail, but is unable to get the energy crisis under control.

Big capital and the liberal elites – Meloni obviously doesn’t want to be too specific – “they” are responsible for everything that goes wrong in Italy. Above all in matters of immigration and refugee policy.

“Have you seen the pictures of Ukrainian refugees? It is women and children who are fleeing the war,” the right-wing candidate likes to say during her appearances. The people who would come to Italy via the Mediterranean were mostly men.

What’s going wrong there, asks Meloni, and immediately provides the explanation himself: “Maybe the men aren’t running away from a war at all? Or have they left their wives and children to make war?”

During the election campaign, Meloni distributed a video that allegedly showed a Ukrainian woman being raped by an African. For them, proof of the precarious security situation in Italy.

When she was massively criticized for this, Meloni counterattacked and accused the left of showing solidarity with raped women only if the attacker was an Italian and “not an illegal migrant”.

The 45-year-old right-wing populist does not shy away from controversy. But most of the time she tries to appear moderate and even supportive of the state during the election campaign. Italy’s brothers are no longer pushing for Italy to leave the EU, emphasizing their solidarity with Ukraine.

In an address to international media, Giorgia Meloni tried to distance herself from her party’s fascist legacy by asserting that for the Italian right fascism has been part of history for decades.

But Paolo Berizzi doesn’t believe her. For years, the reporter from the newspaper “La Repubblica” – because of his work under police protection – has been researching the phenomenon of neo-fascism in Italy. Italy’s brothers are still being infiltrated by supporters of the former dictator Mussolini, says Berizzi. He doesn’t think it’s a coincidence that the tricolor flame, commonly seen as a neo-fascist symbol in Italy, was chosen as the party’s logo.

There are “many examples within the party, including leading party personalities, who are closely linked to the fascist past.” There are MPs and even people in Meloni’s inner circle, says Berizzi, who repeatedly used fascist slogans on social networks.

Meanwhile, on the Piazza del Carmine in Cagliari, Meloni’s campaign appearance is abruptly interrupted. Despite all safety precautions, an activist stormed onto the stage to unfurl a rainbow flag.

“Let him speak,” Meloni shouts at the police officers who want to take the man away. “I want the right to marry and adopt children,” the protester demands. “OK. you want a lot of things Everyone wants something,” Meloni replies.

Whether the incident is real or staged is difficult to say. But other demonstrators also gather not far from the stage, including some LGBTQ activists.

They say they are afraid of Meloni, whom they call a post-fascist. “Our fear is that we are going back in time. That instead of improving our rights and pushing forward progressive ideas, we are being taken back to an era we fear.”

Meloni’s supporters in front of the stage don’t seem to mind. Mercedes Usai – still persevering in the front row – seems to absorb every word the right-wing populist says.

After the event is over, she stays in the square for a long time to take selfies with her friends. “Giorgia made us all happy here with her performance,” says Sardin.

Does it bother you that Meloni is called a fascist by the demonstrators? Mercedes Usai shakes his head violently and says: “If they call us fascists – then I say like Giorgia Meloni: I don’t care!” The candidate herself does not like to answer such questions that evening.

“Are you going to remove neo-fascists from your party?” we want to know from her. Meloni, however, gets into her car without a word, accompanied by calls of “Giorgia, Giorgia” from her supporters.

Author: Alexandra von Nahmen

The original for this post “On the campaign tour with Giorgia Meloni” comes from Deutsche Welle.