February 17, 2015 was a day on which Matteo Salvini put great effort into importing the narrative of “ethnic replacement” to Italy as well. Such “replacement,” he claimed, was “coordinated by Europe,” “through migrants.” Salvini claimed he was defending the “discriminated Padanians, victims of ethnic cleansing, of the replacement of peoples.”
On October 6, 2016, it was Giorgia Meloni’s turn. Back then, she accused the Renzi-Alfano government of “dress rehearsals for ethnic replacement in Italy.” This is the same person who sits in Palazzo Chigi today, but she apparently hasn’t read what is written on the website of the Prime Minister’s office. Under the heading “anti-Semitic prejudices,” the site mentions a variant of “ethnic replacement”: the so-called and unsubstantiated “Kalergi Plan” conspiracy theory, according to which there is “a plan to encourage African and Asian immigration to Europe in order to replace its populations. The theory finds credence especially in far-right circles (nationalists, sovereignists and separatists)” – in other words, the same people who are in government today.
These were the narratives that Francesco Lollobrigida, Minister of Agriculture, was invoking on Tuesday when he stressed that “we cannot surrender before the notion of ethnic replacement: the Italians are having fewer children and we are replacing them with some other people.”
Lollobrigida’s image doesn’t correspond to the “old” biologistic racism based on the “struggle of the races.” The object of this ontological fear of “replacement” is the change of collective national identity, thought of in both biological and cultural terms, put at risk by “non-persons,” “invaders,” or “illegal immigrants,” in a “clash of civilizations.” This idea has been internalized by the ruling classes, and not only by the heirs of historical fascism, since 1996, after the publication of Samuel Huntington’s book of the same name.
The specter of “ethnic replacement” is usually accompanied by arguments considered “objective,” about demographics and birth trends. On Tuesday, Lollobrigida envisioned a nationalistic welfare reserved for “white” citizens. “A welfare,” he said, “that would allow people to work and have families. The way to do this is to support young couples to find employment.” Within the framework of a neo-corporative welfare state, we nonetheless find once again an attack on the “citizenship income”: “Births are not encouraged by convincing people to spend more time at home,” Lollobrigida said.
These ideas have been imported by the Lega and Fratelli d’Italia from the global racist and xenophobic far right. They also allude to a strain of anti-capitalism according to which the so-called “capitalist ruling elites,” who are “globalists,” would favor “mass immigration” to create a human being ”free of all national, ethnic and cultural specificities,” “exchangeable” and “relocatable” in a globalized economy.
These are insinuations popularized by French essayist Renaud Camus – formerly a militant for gay rights who switched first to more conservative socialists and then to identitarianism – in a book called The Great Replacement, published in 2011. Camus developed a broader mythological topos that is animating a cultural movement in which a paranoid outlook is mixed with a conspiratorial one in defense of an ideal ethnic purity, mixed with a discourse on capitalism and another on law and order.
Historian Emmanuel Debono has argued that in this discourse, differentialist racism, that is, a separation of races in the name of “a right to living space,” which tries to appropriate “anti-imperialism” and “decolonization” for its purposes, coexists with a racism that sees “whites” engaged in a “struggle to the death for survival” in a world in which they are subjugated and “replaced” by those they believed they were dominating, including culturally.
Historian Nicholas Lebourg recalls another version of this narrative, which spread in neo-Nazi circles after World War II. Back then, it was a call for Americans, the Red Army and European resistance veterans to band together to fight against the invasion of Europe by “Negroes” and “Mongols.” Another version is the one against women’s freedom and against the decriminalization of abortion. In the name of the “natural family,” and male dominance, it brought a call to fight against the “genocide of little white children.”
In Estrema destra. Chi sono oggi i nuovi fascisti? (Newton Compton, 2013), Guido Caldiron, historian and journalist for il manifesto, pointed to the invisible line that was crossed in a number of cases, moving from words to deeds. This was the case with the 74-page “manifesto” sent to the New Zealand government by Breton Tarrant Harrison ten minutes before attacking two mosques in Christchurch.
The text was entitled “The Great Replacement.” The same idea also inspired the white supremacist terrorists responsible for the massacres in Utoya, Pittsburgh, Buffalo or San Diego. It all starts from an apocalyptic narrative: if “the white race” is in danger, then all means are permissible.