OPINION: Why Matteo Salvini needs to stop dressing up as a firefighter

Italian firefighters tell The Local they have had enough of the interior minister, who abuses their uniform while forgetting to give them more funding.

OPINION: Why Matteo Salvini needs to stop dressing up as a firefighter
Matteo Salvini (centre) wearing the uniform of the Italian fire brigade. Photo: Twitter

Deputy Prime mInister and Interior Minister Matteo Salvini seems to have spent most of his seven months in office so far courting controversy on social media.

In between insulting foreigners, threatening his political enemies, and letting his fans know about his favourite brandsone of his favourite pastimes is posting photos of himself wearing the uniforms of Italy’s police and fire brigade.

Last week it was mountain rescue, before that he did a press conference wearing the full uniform of Italy’s fire and rescue helicopter crew. He frequently wears police jackets at rallies.

As interior minister, Salvini is the head of the Italian police and fire brigade. But as people are increasingly pointing out, that doesn’t give him any right to wear their uniforms.

There’s been growing irritation among Italian firefighters as Salvini posts one photo after another. Still, so far, few wanted to openly criticise the man who is, technically, kind of their boss.

But after the umpteenth photo posted to social media, combined with a financial slap in the face after the government “forgot” them in its budget, Italian firefighters are furious.

One fire brigade union leader, Costantino Saporito of the USB Vigil del Fuoco, denounced Salvini’s “illegally” wearing police and firefighters’ uniforms and said he should be fined, because he’s not a member of the police, fire service or the Carabinieri, Italy’s paramilitary police force.

In a letter to the Interior ministry today, he pointed out that the law states anyone “who is not really a police officer or a firefighter cannot wear their insignia in public,” and said anyone who breaks this law can be fined up to €929.

He urged Salvini to “stop this improper use immediately… in order to avoid harm to the image of the ministry.”

Salvini was quick to dismiss critics on Twitter (where else?), saying he was “proud to wear these jackets given to me as a gift.”

But gifts or not, the fact is that many firefighters are angry about Salvini’s abuse of their uniform as part of his online propaganda.

This is personal for me. My husband is in the Italian fire brigade. He passed the incredibly tough and competitive training and has spent nearly eight years putting his own life at risk to save others.

He would never say that, of course, because like most firefighters he’s extremely modest about it all.

For example, I didn’t even know until recently that he’d saved peoples’ lives in the aftermath of the earthquake in Amatrice in 2016. I only found out when, two years later, a letter arrived announcing he’d been awarded an (almost insultingly small) bonus for his efforts.

The fact that firefighters get paid badly is not news to anyone.

But you’d hope that government ministers would pay them, if not cash, then a little respect. And Salvini does the total opposite.

While it’s cute when friends’ children ask to dress up in my husband’s firefighter gear and play at being a hero, it’s not quite as appealing when the Co-Deputy Prime Minister of Italy does the same thing for propaganda purposes.

As far as many firefighters are concerned, playtime is now over for Matteo.

“He makes improper use of our uniform,” said one firefighter I spoke to at a fire station in the province of Arezzo, Tuscany. “It’s complicated, because in theory he’s the chief of the fire brigade and police. But he doesn’t have the right to wear the uniform.”

“He wears the uniform only for his propaganda,” another said.

“I’m angry that he wears my uniform, because a real firefighter helps all people, even if they’re immigrants from another country. Not like him who instead publicly hates immigrants.”

“It’s in the decree that Salvini has been editing,” he said, quickly retrieving a copy of the piece of legislation that all firefighters know off by heart: decreto legislativo del 13/10/2005 n.217, which reads: ‘The National Fire Brigade intervenes in the protection of human life, in safeguarding goods and the environment.’

“All human life,” he said, pointedly.

Maybe Salvini imagines these posed photos give him credibility; that they make it look like he has the full support of the heroic members of the police and fire brigade, and that he in turn is supporting them.

But in reality, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Seeing him dressing up in their uniform is now too much for firefighters who say Salvini and his government have “mocked” and “forgotten” the fire brigade in the new budget, despite having promised more funding.

“Contrary to the government’s announcements, they mocked the firefighters,” stated Antonio Brizzi, secretary general of the Conapo union, which represents  members of the Italian fire brigade.

“We get recognition from citizens daily,” he said. “Yet the League-M5S government, in their budget, went in the opposite direction to their announcements.”

Not only has the government “not allocated a penny” extra for the fire service, he said, “what is worse is that it then mocked us by giving €100 million to the armed forces and police, forgetting the firefighters, again.”

This is “the exact opposite of promises made repeatedly to the fire service by the deputy prime minsters,” said Rizzi.

As one firefighter at this station in Tuscany put it: “If he really wants to dress as a firefighter, and be paid as he thinks we should be paid, he can always apply for the job.”

The firefighters who spoke to me for this article have been kept anonymous, as they did not have official permission to speak to the press.



Who can vote in Italy’s elections?

With Italy's next general election scheduled for September 25th, who is eligible to vote - and how can those who are do so?

Who can vote in Italy's elections?

Who can vote in Italy?

For the upcoming election in September, the answer is simple: only Italian citizens are eligible to vote in Italy’s general elections.

Foreign EU nationals who are resident in Italy can register to vote in municipal and European parliamentary elections, but national elections are reserved for Italians only.

Until recently, not even all Italian adults could participate fully in the process: just last year, voters needed to be over the age of 25 to take part in senate elections.

That finally changed with a reform passed by parliament in July 2021. It’s now the case that any citizen over the age of 18 can vote for their representatives in both the lower house and the senate (both ballots are held at the same time).

READ ALSO: An introductory guide to the Italian political system

You don’t need to be resident in Italy to vote; Italian citizens living abroad can register to vote via post.

In fact, Italy is unusual in assigning a set number of MPs and senators to ‘overseas constituencies’ that represent the interests of Italians abroad.

These constituencies are split into four territories: a) Europe; b) South America; c) Northern and Central America; d) Africa, Asia, Oceania and Antarctica. Each zone gets at least one MP and one senator, with the others distributed in proportion to the number of Italian residents.

Up until recently, there were as many as 12 MPs and six senators dedicated to overseas constituencies. This will drop to eight MPs and four senators from September, thanks to another reform enacted in late 2020.

READ ALSO: Why has Italy’s government collapsed in the middle of summer?

How can you vote?

While Italy has a postal vote option for citizens living abroad, Italians resident in Italy must vote in the town in which they are registered to vote (i.e., their comune, or municipality of residency), at the specific polling station assigned to them.

What's behind Italy's declining voter turnout?

Italian citizens who are resident in Italy can only vote in person. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP.

The lack of a postal vote for Italians in Italy is thought to be one of the main factors behind Italy’s declining turnout in elections, and a parliamentary committee on elections has advised introducing one to help remedy the situation; but for now, only in-person votes count.

READ ALSO: What’s behind the decline in Italian voter turnout?

Italians living abroad who are on the electoral register should receive their ballot papers (pink for the Chamber of Deputies, yellow for the senate) from their consulate in the lead up to the election. Their completed ballots must arrive back at the consulate no later than 4pm local time on September 22nd.

Those who haven’t received their ballot papers by September 11th should contact their consulate to request that the documents be resent.

Italians in Italy must have a tessera elettorale, or voter’s card, to be allowed to vote in person. The card contains the holder’s full name, date of birth, address and polling station. Every time the holder goes to vote, the card – which takes the form of a piece of reinforced folded paper – is stamped.

The tessera elettorale should be automatically sent out to Italians at their home address when they reach the age of 18; for those who acquire citizenship and move to Italy later in life, it should be automatically sent to their address by the comune where they are registered as a resident.

If the tessera gets lost, damaged, or becomes filled up with stamps, the holder should request a new card from their comune. 

When an individual moves towns, they should turn in their tessera in order to receive a new one from their new comune. For those who move house but stay in the same town, their comune should send an official slip confirming the new address that can be used to update their tessera.

Anyone who hasn’t automatically received a tessera elettorale and is entitled to one should contact their comune to claim theirs.