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The Strongest Political Force in Italy

Helmut Sorge | Posted : September 23, 2019


To lessen the burden for countries like Malta and Italy, which receive most migrants daring to sail from Libya to Europe on unsafe boats, Germany recently agreed to accept 25 percent of migrants saved by rescue boats, trying to develop with EU countries like France, Romania or Ireland a voluntary distribution sharing plan in the coming weeks.

Over the last days, 82 immigrants disembarked in Italy from a Mediterranean rescue boat- the first officially approved landing this year. The move follows an agreement between the EU and the authorities in Rome, which allows for a relocation of migrants to other EU nations. The digital "Foreign Policy" newsletter asked: "the end of the Salvini era?" The new coalition plans a revision of hard line immigrations policies applied by the former minister of interior Matteo Salvini- the leader of Italy’s largest party threatens to fight any reforms.


He tried to be popular and concerned about the forgotten citizen, parading at the beaches reminding onlookers of a peacock, dressed in swim trunks, presenting without hesitation his paunchy stomach like a winner’s trophy of an Italian pizza eating contest. Just imagine Angela Merkel searching for votes dressed in a bikini at a beach of the Baltic Sea, or the splendid northern island of Sylt, promising the oil covered sunbathers to “make Germany great again!” Absurd! But during his august vacations at the beach of Milano Marittima, Matteo Salvini, 46, did exactly that, wandered the coastal stretches almost daily, promising “Italians first”, beginning with the deportation of a couple hundred thousand immigrants. Italy’s minister of interior never ceased to campaign. In march 2019 the “Corriera della Sera” reported that the populist passed ten days per month in his office in Rome, and voted in the Senate, where he is a member, less than 2 percent of the time, casting only 57 out of 3286 votes. “Repubblica” added the deputy leader of the government had in the first four months of this year only worked a full 17 days in the capital, but participated in well over 200 political events all over the country.

Unshaven looking like the stepbrother of Sylvester Stallone of “Rocky “fame, yesterday Marittima, south of Venice, today a beach south of Rome near Sabaudia, frolicking with Nutella lovers and gelati freeks, the vacationers not disturbed by the chaos, but ready for a selfie with Italy’s most popular politician, because it can be boring and stressful to share beach space limited to the size of a towel with a dozen strangers. The populist has the charm of a rock star, but remains a shifty politician, posting his messages up to 30 times a day to his 3.7 million facebook followers.” I find Salvini repugnant”, admitted Nathalie Tocci, director of Italy’s Institute of International relations, “but he seems to have an incredible grip on society.”


Salvini was ready for all, and omnipresent, declaring publicly how much his faith was driving him (although he has two children with two different women and is divorced) gripping a rosary in his hand and pledged a few days before the European elections in May that “personally I entrust Italy, my life and your lives,  to the immaculate heart of Mary , who, I am sure, will lead us to victory.” And 34 percent of Italian voters did, turning his “League” party into the dominating force in the nation, distancing the “Democratic Party” (22.7 percent) and his coalition partner, the “Five Star Movement (17.1 percent). The populist thanked, in a news conference, “the one who is up there,” pointing to the sky, and kissing the rosary.” Mr Salvini is a parody of a religious leader, “insisted Mattia Ferraresi, writer for the Italian paper, “Il Folglio”, in an op-ed piece for the “New York Times”, his “theology is virtually nonexistent: his motives are doubtful. His blatant appropriation of Christian slogans are clumsy. In his mouth even the most solemn of pope Benedicts quotes sound like they come out of a fortune cookie”. And yet, his message has been effective --33 percent of practicing Catholics voted for Salvini apparently leaving the pope speechless about the politicians attempt to reinvent himself not only as an authoritarian leader but also, as Mattia Ferraresi put it, “Italy’s Catholic in chief.”


The populist does not mind singing along with older ladies to Luciano Pavarotti ‘s schmaltzy “O sole mio” or Andrea Bocelli’s “Time to say good bye”, not really rap or rockn roll versions for the beach, but each vote counts.  Salvini did not hesitate signing gossip magazines half naked beach lovers stretched into his path, the pages filled with photos of his romantic life, his present ,26-year-old, girlfriend, Francesca Verdini, the daughter of a former senator In Silvio Berlusconi’s “Forza Italia” party, his former lover, Ilisa Isoardi, 36, a TV cooking show host, gracing the cover of the weekly “Gente”, with her hands substituting a bikini top. His latest campaign, reported the “New York Times” in the second week of august,  is “but the summer season of a rolling reality show that an increasing  number of Italians can ‘t get enough of”. He entertained the masses, dozing at the beach, soaking in the sun, lined up like  chicken on  electric grills, depressed about global headlines, fires in the Amazon, their country with almost ten percent unemployment , and  one of the scariest debt loads on the planet,  more migrants landing on the beaches of Southern Italy, again and again, ordered back to sea, and possible death by the minister of the interior. He does not hesitate to glorify the former dictator, Benito Mussolini, who was executed in april 1945 by an Italian partisan and then exposed, feet up, hanging at a petrol station near Milano. Older generations, nostalgic about the good old days, when law and order controlled the masses and Afro Americans were welcomed only as long as they risked their lives to liberate Italy from fascism, do feel encouraged when young nationalists insult black players with racial insults in national football stadiums, an act of xenophobia and racism certainly not condemned by the populist.


“Mr Salvini ‘s breezy demeanor, expertly calibrated populist anger and blanket social media game, have catapulted him from single digit margins of Italian politics to the strongest political force in Italy- and, potentially Europe”, noted the “New York Times”. “Time” qualified the League leader as “the most feared man in Europe.” He does not hesitate to move into the shadow of Mussolini, if votes can be secured. Criticism he shrugs off with a slightly corrected version of Mussolini’s reaction if he felt excessively criticized:” tanto nemeci , tanto  onore, “ so many enemies, so much honor.” Encouraged by opinion polls and the support of European leaders like Hungary’ right wing prime minister Viktor Orban (“my comrade in destiny”) Salvini was thriving  to secure “full power”. He publicly admitted, envisioning of being the ruler of Italy, not hindered by a weakening coalition partner, the “Five Star Movement.” If a man is not willing to take some risk for his own ideas”, he quoted Ezra Pound, “either his ideas are worthless or he is worthless”. Pound, mind you, was a controversial anti-Semitic American poet and fascist sympathizer, who was arrested by American authorities at the end of the war on charges of treason. The League leader felt secure enough not to worry about irritated economists, who view Italy as a crisis to happen because of its toxic combination of astronomical government debt, chaotic politics a dysfunctional economy.” If investors ever lose confidence in the government’s ability to make payments on the debt, the effect on global financial markets, predicted the “New York Times”, would be devastating.


The Italian, whose government did not got a hold on the economic crisis while in power, was  courted by  French Presidential  candidate  Marine  Le Pen, hailed by right wingers as the possible savior of  fascism, an updated version of past ,historical horror of inhumanities .”He is the most important guy on stage right now,” applauded Steve Bannon ,the former chief strategist of Donald Trump and an informal consiglieri of the Italian, “ he is charismatic ,plainspoken and he understands the machinery of government. His rallies are as intense as Trump’s. Italy is the center of politics”, insisted the travelling salesman of global fascism, who is establishing an “Academy for the Judeo –Christian West”, in an 13th century monastery outside Rome,” a country that has embraced nationalism against globalism, shattered the stereo types, blown past the old paradigm of left and right.” The time to act had come for the League leader whose popularity was bolstered by turning into the main character of his own  comic  strip on crowded, popular beaches . Mr. Everybody meets his people deluding about “Italians first”, some of his tifosi, his fans, preferring to abandon the European Union, described by their hero as a gulag, many “Italians first”-enthusiasts even embracing the renaissance of the lira, never really in history a currency which conquered Wall Street, the City of London, or any tourist changing valuable dollars or pounds into lira.

And suddenly, the first fully populist government coalition in the West “collapsed under the unrestrained ambition of its most popular leader”, said the Italian journalist Mattia Ferraresi. Matteo Salvini abandoned the coalition and the government, after 14 months in power. A project opposed by the “Five Star Movement”, the construction of a high speed  train link between the French city Lyon and the Italian Turin presumably  derailed the coalition- Matteo Salvini was near the peak – undisputed leader of bella Italia,  a nation imprinted in the collective ,global consciousness   because of its unlimited  beauty , art and culture, Verdi, Puccini, Dante Allegheri, Michelangelo, Cicero, Frederico Fellini, Boticelli, where do we begin ,where do we end, the greatness of Venice,  the capturing hills of Chianti,  the Piazza de Plebiscito of Naples, whose Mafia bosses were promoted by Hollywood to stardom, Leonardo da Vinci, the leaning tower of Pisa, Capri,   Ferrari. Yes, why not, Gucci, Armani, or Enrico Caruso, the tenor, Sophia Loren.Anna Magnani, women who provoked sleepless nights for their love struck admirers, the Venetian Fenice opera or the Scala in Milano, the Colosseum in Rome, Julius Caesar, so much greatness, so much charisma, elegance, and arte del vivere. Even pizza enriched the world and the stomachs of many, including Matteo Salvini, Spaghetti, capuccino oder il vino, Barolo, Chianti and vino santo, the white truffles of Alba. Vatican City, the smallest monarchy of the world, located just inside Rome, where a populist named Matteo Salvini is not in high esteem by papal authorities, because the politician   misused the rosary in his happenings like actors are using theatrical props. A sin, for sure, uncertain whether Salvini cares at all, or his voters, who suddenly are faced with their hero out of power for years to come—perhaps three, when the next elections are scheduled.


Matteo Salvinin expected to be the man President Sergio Mattarella would choose to be the next prime minister, since his rivals of the “Five Stars Movement” and the “Democratic Party” would be unable to form a government coalition, argued Signora Ferraresi, recalling that the two parties previously “viewed each other with loathing”. Each considered the other   not just a political adversary but a morally bankcrupt and deeply divisive force. They traded accusations of being Mafiosi, subversive, hate mongers, Russian trolls, flatearthers and everything in between.” It was a textbook example of “old school political   maneuvering and a remarkable turnabout “, argued the journalist. President Mattarella just ignored the largest party, which did provoke the fall of the government, re-appointed the prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, because the rivals just forgot about their supposedly insurmountable disagreements, and conceived an alliance based solely on sidelining Mr Salvini.  If nothing else, observed the “New York Times” the “surrealist crisis” as the   Italian news media have labeled  it,  has demonstrated once again that anything can happen in Italian politics”- 64 governments, more or less, since the 2nd world war –   political veterans shrugged the happening off, been there, done that. The political ramifications though, went well beyond Italy. And the message was clear: better another wobbly, discordant and dysfunctional government than one in which Salvini exercises what he named, “full power”- one more step towards fascist rule. The new government was blessed by the certainly relieved European governments-  EUROPE COULD HARDLY DEAL WITH ANOTHER RIGHT WING GOVERNMENT as in Hungary and Poland, argued Mattia Ferraresi, and so Brussels and Berlin rejoiced. The German economics minister Peter Altmaier described the change of government as “good news from Italy.” At last. The “Democratic Party” reassured the nation that Italy would stay in Europe, its lockdown against immigrants would end, and the nation would remain a representative democracy.

The goal of kicking Mr Salvini out of power apparently justified every means, Mattia Ferraresi wrote, but reminded her readers, that Niccolo Machiavelli did advise ruthless and tyrannical princes (“The Prince”), that “the injury that is to be done to a man ought to be of such a kind that one does not stand in fear of revenge.” The former interior minister is politically injured, but not crushed, believes the” Il Foglio” writer: ”He will seek revenge. And he may be empowered by the haphazard political coalition that trampled democratic practices under the pretext of saving democracy.” The enraged leader of the League thundered against the “robbery of democracy” which he himself initiated. He called his followers to protest next month in Rome   against the government that was “born in Brussels” to “exclude the first political party of Italy from the government.” His chances are still alive. Some political analysts are casting doubt on how long the new government will last. Should they fail, predicted the “Guardian “, the elections might lead to them being punished and open the way   for a comeback by Matteo Salvani”.  

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