It’s possible that in the next few days, Matteo Salvini—Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of the Interior—will land in the United States to achieve Donald Trump’s favor. For his election campaign, the leader of the Italian League was inspired by the American president motto “America First”, replacing it with “Italy First.” But who is Matteo Salvini?
Currently, the League is the oldest political party in Italy, as the others have disappeared or changed their identities. In the 1980s, the historical leader Umberto Bossi represented the northern Italian people, also known as Padania—a sort of Tolkienian Middle Earth that existed only in the minds of a few Italians. The party manifesto of this small separatist movement was the hatred of the capital Rome (the city where the main scams took place) and the south, responsible for dangerous exsanguination of state resources.
In the League’s opinion the “terroni” – as the Italians Yankees called southern peoples – they were individuals who didn’t want to work, parasites who lived off the Po Valley workers. In the 1994 elections the League Party – thanks to Silvio Berlusconi’s alliance – went to the Italian Parliament. The Umberto Bossi arrival in Rome was supposed to represent the climax of the secession struggle, yet something began to change.
The “Game of Thrones” played in Palazzo Chigi also began to involve Northern representatives: power, money and expedience altered the League thinking and purity, but not that of its people. Every year in Pontida, a beautiful mountain village in Lombardy, the Padania supporters gather to collect the waters of the Po river, the North sanctified watercourse. A grotesque ritual that imitates the Celtic druid ceremonies. The Leaguists collect water in ampoules and consider it a symbol of the water that originated the Po Valley. At some point, the Leaguists also thought of changing the Italian’s national anthem by proposing the Giuseppe Verdi’s “Va pensiero,” or “Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves.”
Although the politics were different, the League catchwords didn’t change. During the party rallies, Bossi and his fellows violently criticized the Italian Republic President and Parliament institutions, also dishonoring the Italian flag: this was the real League strength. A party that has always been present on the territory, speaking to the people actively and directly, even vulgar, but making himself understood by all.
Salvini took his first career steps in this environment. He was, in fact, one of the most active members of the Movimento dei Giovani Padani (Young Padanian Movement), a journalist of the daily newspaper La Padania and the radio station Radio Padania Libera. After an excellent experience as Milan Party Provincial Secretary, Salvini’s ascent to power was unstoppable.
Finally, in 2013, he was appointed Northern League Federal Secretary. Salvini never conceals his sympathy for extreme right-wing organizations, such as Forza Nuova or Casa Pound, although they were far from the League’s thinking. The Northern Party’s original spirit was now a memory: all first-generation Leaguists had disappeared.
The Italian Left disastrous European strategy and the immigration policy failures gave Salvini’s League a reason for a new and more passionate battle. The late League nationalist and xenophobic spirit took the place of the more “free-range” guardians of Padania local traditions.
In one of Roberto Saviano’s public lectures, the author of the bestseller Gomorra affirmed a critical thought: detestation for immigrants has replaced what was once hatred of the Southern inhabitants, but not only. In the Salvini’s League, the Southern people became the new electorate to fight immigration. The election result later confirmed Saviano’s theory: Matteo Salvini was elected in Calabria’s constituency.
As soon as he gained power, Salvini opened a dispute with Saviano, who accused him of being a racist and nicknaming him “Minister of the Gangsterism.” Before he was elected, the League leader threatened the Neapolitan writer, promising to review the escort system and reduce his protection. Saviano is an intellectual and free thinker, while Salvini, as State’s representative, cannot stoop to such threats. Surely Saviano wasn’t the only intellectual targeted by the Salvini.
In 2018, promises to stop the immigrants’ NGO boats, but especially the introduction of new self-defense law, gave the League an astonishing electoral victory. Indeed, throughout the new government’s first months, Salvini kept his promises, generating some problems from an ethical point of view. The rejection of NGOs and the closure of Italian docks resulted in national and international legal consequences. However, Salvini’s arrogance has highlighted the European community’s unskillfulness and hypocrisy about migration.
Meanwhile, in the Italian cities, racial intolerance episodes have increased. Some League politicians—especially at the community level—supported the far right requests; the Mussolini image and mottos are more frequent; and Salvini, in some of his celebrated tweets, copied slogans that were used by fascism. In almost all of Salvini’s public appearances, he wore pullovers and sweatshirts with police officers badges. It’s important to note that he’s never done military service.
Among the most interesting, but also concerning aspects of Salvini’s new strategy is rehabilitated use of religion as a tool to persuade the crowds. The connections between faith and power have more factual roots than Salvini, and many good historical examples. But it’s been years since an Italian political leader waved or kissed the Bible and a rosary during a party meeting.
To do all this, Salvini needed the consent of an allied party: the Five Star Movement (M5S). Its role has always been secondary, as it’s been unable to manage his strong personality. The blackmail is pure, and the last European elections results have aptly demonstrated this: the League has a broad consensus and would have no problem in returning at the ballot box. We cannot say the same thing for the M5S, which is noticeably declining and would be the only one among the parties to lose something.
So what could Matteo Salvini want with Donald Trump?
Italian foreign policy in recent years has been non-existent, especially since there’s not been a minister able to protect national interests on the world stage. Also, the economic system undertaken by the two mostly contentious allies is futile, and leading Italy towards a painful infringement procedure started by the European Parliament. Salvini is seeking foreign consent, but perhaps the least suitable person is Donald Trump.
Although the American president has inspired the most recent ideology of political parties such as the League, Salvini seems to be a cheap copy of any European sovereigntist. Additionally, we fail to understand how the Italian minister can reconcile his continuous endorsement of Putin and simultaneously seek White House approval.
Will Salvini and Trump talk about international security or combating terrorism?
It would be a ridiculous and dangerous comparison also because the Italian Ministry of Defense has drastically reduced military investment to below 1 percent of GDP. How will Salvini explain this to Trump, who specifically asked Europe for more military expenditure?
The Italian situation is dramatic, not least because it seems this country has renounced even its only strong point: culture. An ignorant political power tends to erase history and the past, fighting against intellectuals and whatever produces knowledge. Suffice it to say that Leaguist Lucia Bergonzoni, Undersecretary of the Ministry for Cultural Heritage and Activities, has boasted that she hasn’t read books for several years and certainly not for more profound commitments. The Minister of Education, Marco Bussetti, erased the history themes from the graduation exams, arguing that in public school “history is already too much.”