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POLITICS

Outcry after Northern League youth group burns model of Laura Boldrini, Italy’s parliamentary speaker

House Speaker Laura Boldrini has demanded an apology from the far-right Northern League after a regional youth wing of the far-right party burned a model of her in a public bonfire.

Outcry after Northern League youth group burns model of Laura Boldrini, Italy’s parliamentary speaker
Laura Boldrini, the speaker of Italy's Chamber of Deputies. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

The figure was set alight on Thursday night in Busto Arsizio, a city near Milan in the north-western region of Lombardy, where it is traditional to hold a bonfire in the last week of January.

The dummy of Boldrini, president of Italy's lower house of parliament and part of the centre-left government that the Northern League hopes to defeat in an election in March, was placed in a model boat named the “Costa Discordia ONG”, a reference both to the Costa Concordia cruise ship that sank off the Italian coast in 2012 and to the NGO rescue boats that pick up migrants shipwrecked as they attempt to sail from North Africa to southern Italy.

A poster behind the model said that the ship would head to “Africa” on March 4th, the date of the upcoming election, and wouldn’t be coming back.

Boldrini, a vocal defender of women’s rights who has repeatedly come in for sexist abuse and threats of violence, called the incident a dangerous example of incitement.

“This shows that hate speech is never just speech, but turns into deplorable acts and can trigger an even more dangerous spiral,” she wrote on Facebook.

“It’s time for Matteo Salvini to apologize,” Boldrini said, referring to the national leader of the Northern League and its candidate for prime minister. “Not to me, he wouldn’t be capable of it. But at least to the citizens of Busto Arsizio and all Italians for the terrible impression he’s giving of our country.”

Others on the left joined Boldrini in condemning the burning, accusing the League of stoking a climate of hate in Italian politics. “Those who burn puppets remind us of those who burned books and why they did so,” tweeted Pietro Grasso, speaker of the senate and head of the left-wing Free and Equal movement.

The League, however, dismissed the burning as a harmless tradition.

“The fire isn’t intended as a form of protest,” insisted Francesco Enrico Speroni, local secretary of the League in Busto Arsizio. “Every year we light a bonfire in the square and burn models of political figures, including the mayor.”

Previous dummies have included Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, former PM Matteo Renzi and US President Donald Trump, Speroni said, without attracting protest.

Salvini nonetheless distanced himself from the incident, which he called a “slip-up”.

The national youth wing of the Northern League also denied involvement, saying that it opposed the government with ideas and not violence. Those responsible would be disciplined, it added.

The Busto Arsizio Northern League youth branch, which built the guy and published photos on social media, has since removed all references to the event from its Facebook page.

In parts of northern Italy, the last Thursday in January is the festival of Giobia or Gioeubia, when locals build a pyre and ceremonially burn wooden figures.

POLITICS

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Days after Italy's far-right leader made a multilingual appeal to foreign commentators to take her seriously, her main rival in September elections issued his own tit-for-tat video Saturday condemning her record.

Italian rivals pitch abroad in trilingual vote videos

Former prime minister Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, declared his pro-European credentials in a video in English, French and Spanish, while deriding the euroscepticism of Italy’s right-wing parties.

It echoes the trilingual video published this week by Giorgia Meloni, tipped to take power in the eurozone’s third largest economy next month, in which she sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist roots.

“We will keep fighting to convince Italians to vote for us and not for them, to vote for an Italy that will be in the heart of Europe,” Letta said in English.

His party and Meloni’s are neck-and-neck in opinion polls ahead of September 25 elections, both with around 23 percent of support.

But Italy’s political system favours coalitions, and while Meloni is part of an alliance with ex-premier Silvio Berlusconi and anti-immigration leader Matteo Salvini, Letta has struggled to unite a fractured centre-left.

Speaking in French perfected in six years as a dean at Sciences Po university in Paris, Letta emphasised European solidarity, from which Italy is currently benefiting to the tune of almost 200 billion euros ($205 billion) in
post-pandemic recovery funds.

“We need a strong Europe, we need a Europe of health, a Europe of solidarity. And we can only do that if there is no nationalism inside European countries,” he said.

He condemned the veto that he said right-wing Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor “Orban — friends and allies of the Italian right — is using every time he can (to) harm Europe”.

In Spanish, Letta highlighted Meloni’s ties with Spain’s far-right party Vox, at whose rally she spoke earlier this summer, railing at the top of her voice against “LGBT lobbies”, Islamist violence, EU bureaucracy and mass
immigration.

In English, he condemned the economic legacy of Berlusconi, a three-time premier who left office in 2011 as Italy was on the brink of economic meltdown, but still leads his Forza Italia party.

Letta’s programme includes a focus on green issues — he intends to tour Italy in an electric-powered bus — and young people, but he has made beating Meloni a key plank of his campaign.

Meloni insisted in her video that fascism was in the past, a claim greeted with scepticism given her party still uses the logo of a flame used by the Italian Social Movement set up by supporters of fascist leader Benito Mussolini.

In a joint manifesto published this week, Meloni, Berlusconi and Salvini committed themselves to the EU but called for changes to its budgetary rules — and raised the prospect of renegotiating the pandemic recovery plan.

Elections were triggered by the collapse of Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government last month, and are occurring against a backdrop of soaring inflation, a potential winter energy crisis and global uncertainty sparked by
the Ukraine war.

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