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The investigators say there is no indication of racist motives, and the most likely explanation is revenge for a theft (it is not unusual for investigators to publicise preliminary findings in Italy). But much of the commentariat chose to ignore the investigators’ assessment and to depict this event as emblematic of the racist reality of Salvini’s Italy. This reaction echoes that of the bien-pensants in the UK following the death of the Polish immigrant Arkadiusz Jozwik in Harlow, Essex, a few weeks after the Brexit vote — it soon turned out that racism had played no part but the stain on a community remained. This unscrupulous and deceptive condescension hardens resentment among people who feel that their communities are being unfairly slandered.

Immigration was one of the main issues in the campaign that preceded the Italian elections in March. The elections were held under yet another electoral law, possibly even more absurd than the one that preceded it. It is no mystery that the centre-Left Democratic Party (PD), which was in power from 2013 to 2018, hoped that, with a little help from a new electoral system, it would be able to  muster enough support in parliament for a grand coalition with Silvio Berlusconi’s centre-Right Forza Italia, and thus withstand the rise of the two main “populist” forces, the Five Star Movement and the League. But the voters’ rejection of the PD and Forza Italia was definitive.

Looking at a map of the electoral results, it would be easy to get the impression of a deeply-divided country: the areas where the Five Star Movement triumphed almost entirely coincide with the territory of the Kingdom of Two Sicilies; the centre-Right, now led by the League rather than Forza Italia, came first in the north and parts of the centre, while the centre-Left won only in a portion of what used to be known as the “red regions” (Tuscany, Umbria and Emilia-Romagna). The Five Star Movement and the League together got about 50 per cent of the votes, and nearly 60 per cent of the under-30 vote.

There are doubtless important differences between the League and the Five Star Movement but, on crucial questions such as immigration and Europe, polls show there is a common sentiment among their voters. The League, known as the Northern League before the last election, did not even campaign in the south until recently, and was viewed with suspicion there. Salvini dropped “Northern” from the name, and launched a charm offensive on southern voters which is bearing fruit. The Five Star Movement is the first party in the south, but the League is rising fast and benefits from the weakening of Forza Italia.

By a fortuitous operation of the new electoral system, Salvini was elected to the Senate to represent Calabria. The leader of the party which used to call for the secession of the north from the rest of Italy now represents Italy’s deepest south. This fact perhaps more than any other exemplifies the extraordinary transformation of the League into a national sovranisti party. After the elections, Salvini chose to spend the Easter weekend in Ischia, where he seemed to have won over everyone he met. At the Albergo Regina Isabella, one of Ischia’s oldest hotels with a sense of discreet Italian elegance and taste that is reminiscent of the 1950s, a Neapolitan member of staff who saw him regularly during his stay says: “There is not one anti-southern molecule in him. And anyway in Europe we Italians are all terroni now.” Terroni  is a disparaging term for southerners, which until recently would have been associated with Northern League supporters. Is Europe perhaps helping to unite Italians?
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Anonymous
June 30th, 2018
12:06 PM
Those "in charge" of the European Project only have one goal, to stay "in charge". Consequently, they accept assistance from anyone offering support, without questioning the motivation. To attempt to build an empire from the roof down without even a copy of "Empire-Building For Dummies" to hand, seems foolhardy. We live in interesting times.

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