Kirchgaessner & Tondo, The Guardian. 1 III 2018
Salvini extends Northern League’s appeal as far south as Sicily
It has been three years since Matteo Salvini set foot in Sicily and issued an apology on behalf of the Northern League for years of abuse directed toward southern Italians by his once separatist party, which had long dismissed them as parasites dragging down the country.
In the final stretch of the campaign, Salvini has sought to downplay his xenophobia before national audiences. “Italy’s problem is not fascism, racism or communism,” he said. “It’s hunger for jobs.” He has vowed to defend Italy in Brussels and not grovel to the EU “with hat in hand”.
On one of his regular television appearances recently, he compared himself to Emmanuel Macron, the French president who recently unveiled tough proposals to crack down on migrants and asylum seekers.
Salvini’s rhetoric over the years makes it clear, however, that despite similarities between his call for mass deportations of migrants and Macron’s new proposals, there is a vast gulf between the two leaders on substance.
Salvini has won public attention by espousing outlandish and racist views, including his support for a proposal to racially segregate trains in Milan so that seats and carriages could be reserved for the Milanese.
Human rights advocates say he has damaged the country’s discourse. “Human rights do not live in a vacuum. The cultural, political and social climate are key for the enjoyment of rights in practice. The rhetoric put forward by Salvini and others is harming fundamental rights much more than certain laws can advance them,” says Francesco Palermo, an Italian senator who supports Roma gypsies’ rights.
Salvini’s angry and indignant populism may well have attracted more voters if not for the League’s rivalry with Italy’s other major populist party, the anti-establishment Five Star Movement. He has also had to contend with intense friction within his own party, where more moderate voices such as that of the president of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, compete for power.
It is Salvini, however, who is credited with expanding the League’s base from about 4% in 2012 to 13% today.
In Catania, Davide Cicero, a 26-year-old sports manager, notes that Sicilians have historically held important positions of power in Italian politics.
“None of them did important things for Sicily,” Cicero said. “So I do not care if Salvini is from the north or from the south. Salvini is much closer to the issues of Sicilians than other Sicilian politicians.”