Italian president goes viral with New Year swipe at Salvini

Interior Minister Matteo Salvini is well known for his controversial social media posts, but he’s been upstaged this week by an unlikely contender with a more positive message.

Italian president goes viral with New Year swipe at Salvini
President Sergio Mattarella making his New Year's speech to Italians. Photo: Quirinale

President Sergio Mattarella's New Year’s address to Italians went viral, with thousands retweeting and reposting his message of national unity instead of hatred and division.

The softly spoken 77-year-old president called for an end to “rancour” and “insults” in politics, called for the country to follow a “positive path”, and wished migrants well in his televised New Year address.

He wished “Italians at home and abroad” a happy new year, as well as “the five million immigrants who live, work, study and play sports  in our country.”

Official tweets about the speech have now been viewed more than 3.5 million times.

The address, which was reportedly watched by 10.5 million people, up from 9.7 million a year ago, appeared to take aim at Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister, who has spent seven months since taking office denouncing migrants, repeating slogans reminiscent of Italy’s fascist past, and making the lives of foreigners in Italy more difficult.

President Mattarella didn’t mention Salvini by name, but he seemed to have the minister in mind when he spoke of “coexistence” and warned Italians not to whip up “hostility and fear.”

He discussed ‘security’, a buzzword for the right. Salvini’s new security bill last month left refugees in Italy on the streets and stripped many of their humanitarian protection.

“Security means, first and foremost, respect and learning to live together,” the President said. “Security is also being able to work, opportunities for young people.”

It was impossible not to contrast Mattarella’s words with Salvini’s fiery Facebook posts and twitter missives, which have gained the far-right League leader an avid following.

Salvini’s own speech on New Year’s Eve meanwhile was watched by just 622,000 viewers.

Italy’s President serves as a neutral head of state with limited powers. But his words in favour of unity seemed to resonate in Italy and beyond, suggesting that many were turned off by the populist government’s divisive talk.

Mattarella also warned that uniforms worn by the country’s police officers must be respected – another perceived jab at Salvini, who has angered workers in the emergency services by frequently posing in police and fire service uniforms and jackets.

Mattarella also condemned Italy’s violent “ultra” football fans, who Salvini was recently photographed with in Milan.

Salvini was among the first to react to the message on security, saying it had been boosted by Italy regaining control of its borders against human trafficking.

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