Georgia Meloni was 19 and speaking to French TV when she praised Italian dictator and Hitler-ally Benito Mussolini.
Back then the likely next prime minister of Italy was dressed all in black and flanked by burly men.
Twenty-six years later things look very different. Meloni favours bright white pant suits and presses the flesh with European dignitaries. The normalisation of the neofascist far right in Italy seems complete.
Part of the answer as to how this happened lies with an international political party, the European Conservatives and Reformists or ECR.
Meloni is the president of the ECR party which has significant representation in the European Parliament — and branding that’s disarmingly centrist. In fact the ECR is led by representatives of ultra-conservative and radical right parties from Poland and Spain and by Meloni’s own party: the Fratelli d’Italia [or Brothers of Italy].
Other key allies include Trumpist US Republicans.
So should Meloni still be considered neofascist? She insists she’s a patriotic conservative. And indeed, if she’s prime minister, she’s expected to respect Italy’s democracy — if only to keep money flowing from the EU. She’s also vowed to keep up support for Ukraine and Nato.
Yet Meloni has shown scant if any remorse for her past. She congratulated Vladimir Putin for an “unequivocal” election victory in 2018. And only last year she was lauding Russia’s defence of European values.
And so, questions remain about how much Meloni has really moderated.
Valerio says there could be troubling times ahead — and not just for Italy. Meloni and her international allies still want a Europe that deprives LGBT+ people of civil rights; that tells women what they can and can’t do with their bodies; and that falls into line with racist conspiracy theories like the Great Replacement.
With Meloni, it’s not like we haven’t been warned.