Are comparisons between the new Italian right and Mussolini's fascists accurate?

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The images of voters celebrating the recent election results in Italy were as eloquent as they were alarming: amid the sea of tricolour flags were hundreds of people raising their right arms to the skies, their fingers tense and straight. Everywhere you could see the old fascist salute. It is back in fashion and many are now wondering if the boot-boys themselves are back in power.

t is never easy to understand what is happening in Italian politics, but the past fortnight has been uncharacteristically clear. Silvio Berlusconi, the media magnate, has been swept back to power, winning convincing majorities in both upper and lower houses. This week there have been regional and mayoral elections. The story has been the same almost everywhere: overwhelming victories for the right. They even won the mayoral contest in Rome, where the left had assumed it had a divine right to rule.

Many in Italy are deeply worried by the results. Berlusconi's coalition, they say, wasn't an ordinary rightwing movement, but instead an assortment of far-right extremists and dangerous, deluded rabble-rousers. The Popolo della Libertà coalition, for example, includes Alessandra Mussolini, granddaughter of you-know-who. It includes the rump of the so-called post-fascist party, the National Alliance. Its leader, Gianfranco Fini, once said that Mussolini was the greatest statesman of the 20th century.

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