Those whom the Gods wish to destroy they first make mad. So the old saying goes, and, if so, then the outlook for Italy is grim indeed.

For Italy today, almost a century on from Mussolini’s March on Rome, has installed in its capital a government that makes the buffoonish Benito look the very model of statesmanship. It is pursuing policies that are not simply neo-fascistic and cruel, though they are certainly that, but crazy with it.

The latest eccentric proposal from the interior and deputy prime minister, Matteo Salvini, is to make “ethnic” shops close at 9pm. This is because, in his view, some premises, “almost all managed by foreign citizens”, had “become the haunt of drunks and drug dealers” in the evening.

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What’s more, Salvini, who is becoming world-famous as a sort of mini-me Donald Trump, adds that such shops were full of “people who drink beer, whiskey until three in the morning” and who “piss and shit” on the doorstep.

Readers may recall the boycott of Jewish shops and businesses pursued by Hitler in the 1930s, and the various curfews imposed on racial minorities by tyrants throughout history. Italy’s bizarre retail curfew is just the latest in a series of measures designed to turn the entire country into what might be termed a “hostile environment” for refugees, asylum seekers and economic migrants.

A “census” of Roma people, the refusal to rescue migrants from leaky boats in the Mediterranean and the threat to imprison local mayors who sought to welcome refugees to their depopulated towns and villages are some of the other recent attacks on human rights. Italy leads the world in rolling back civil liberties, if nothing else.

We often think that fascism is a grainy, black-and-white newsreel affair, with ranting leaders in ridiculous uniforms strutting around a far off time. Today’s fascists are rather different, with their open-necked shirts and social media profiles. Yet the philosophy is identical. There is the same contempt for democracy, nowadays labelled “the Establishment”.

Traditional politicians are vilified as corrupt, self-seeking failures, just as they were in the 1920s and 1930s. “Foreigners”, at home and abroad, are blamed for complex economic problems. Protectionism is grasped at as a quick fix; free trade is misunderstood and despised. International organisations, such as the UN and EU, are attacked for their “interference” in domestic affairs. 

No one, one hopes, thinks that Salvini and his friends are about to invade Abyssinia or Albania, but they are certainly dangerous and a threat to the harmony of Europe, fought for and forged over the seven decades since the last time the fascists told us they had all the answers. In Poland, in Hungary, in the Czech Republic, fascists run whole countries. In places such as Austria and Denmark they either share power or are close to it. In France the National Front is re-inventing itself, Macron almost a last hope for French democracy. In Germany we know what has happened; the rise of the AfD has pushed the two main parties into an uncomfortable permanent grand alliance, squeezing the life out of the social democrats, and leaving the neo-Nazis as the unofficial opposition. The same appears to be happening in Sweden.

Even in prosperous Bavaria, faith in the established parties is evaporating, though in this case with some of the discontent flowing towards the more benign Greens. Next year’s elections for the European Parliament seem set to turn that talking shop into a giant play pen for fruitcakes and more or less closet racists.

If it was sonly a question of peckish Italians being unable to find a kebab shop of an evening it would be bad enough. If Salvini were alone, it would also be bad enough. But he is not, and he has friends, allies and copy cats across the continent. That’s why Italy’s mad ethnic shops curfew matters. 

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