Not So Trivial Pursuit

23 06 18

By Luca Orfeo in Rome

Migrants, international NGOs, Roma, Roberto Saviano, vaccinations: what do they all have in common? In an imaginary Trivial Pursuit: 2018 Italian Politics Edition, the answer would be: they were all attacked by Matteo Salvini, Italian Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, in the first three weeks he has been in charge.

His first act was to shut down harbours to international NGO ships rescuing and carrying asylum seekers from North Africa to Italian shores, claiming that “gravy trains are over”.

Then, he suggested a census of Roma living in camps, adding that “unfortunately, we will need to keep those who are Italian”. After that, he questioned whether Roberto Saviano, investigative journalist and author of best-seller Gomorrahand living under police protection since 2006, still needs to do so. Finally, he stated that “10 vaccinations are indeed too many” for schoolchildren.

In between, Salvini managed to send reassuring political messages to his right-wing electors in the deep North of Italy about erasing all legal actions for fiscal fraud under €100,000.

There is a strategy behind that, of course: in a government where Lega Nord (Salvini’s party) is numerically the weaker partner (with 17% of votes against 32% of the 5-star Movement), Salvini acts and is perceived as the real Prime Minister, the strong player in the team.

This tactic is paying off. In the most recent electoral polls, Lega Nord surpassed the 5-star Movement (29.2% vs 29%) and about 70% of Italians agreed with his handling of the migration issue as well as his strong attacks on the EU. Furthermore, he managed to grab the ownership of an unrealistic populist policy drive, forcing the 5-star Movement to assume the uneasy role of the moderatepartner.

This happened, for example, with the proposal to racially register Roma people: Luigi Di Maio, the 5-star Movement’s leader and deputy Prime Minister, coyly stated that “if that is unconstitutional, it can’t be done”, while several journalists and civil society leaders also expressed fears over this action, drawing parallels with Mussolini’s infamous 1938 racial laws against the Jewish community.

These positions, however, did not find any strong support in the population and, in any case, were outdated a day after, when Salvini – the real guard dog of the political agenda – had already moved on to a new theme.

For now, Salvini’s verbal violence is not being translated into concrete legal measures. The Italian legal system is, in this sense, much stronger, more mature and resilient than it was in the 1930s. However, the effects of the government’s relentless propaganda will contribute to making the life of migrants, second generation citizens, Roma and all ethnic minorities much more difficult than to date, feeding rage and fear within the population and reactionary social groups.

Such a situation can only deteriorate in the long term, especially if the economic and social situation does not improve to undermine it.


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