Italy’s Salvini praises right-wing parties’ success in Swedish election

Italy's League leader Matteo Salvini on Sunday rallied his hard-right support base ahead of general elections next weekend which are expected to bring his party back to power.

Italy’s Salvini praises right-wing parties' success in Swedish election
Matteo Salvini addresses League party supporters at a rally in Pontida, northern Italy, ahead of the September 25 general elections. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

“This is Italy, full of hope and dreams and looking to the future,” Salvini told the crowd in the northern town of Pontida, which has for three decades been the venue for an annual mass gathering of the hard right.

On Sunday the town’s main square was awash with the flags representing Italy’s provinces and the banners of the General Labour Union (UGL), founded in 1996 from the ashes of the neo-fascist CISNAL union.

READ ALSO: How would victory for Italy’s far right impact foreigners’ lives?

The League claimed 100,000 people had turned up, many bussed in to to hear Salvini speak, drink beer and buy T-shirts bearing Salvini’s name and the slogan “Italians first”.

Addressing the crowd, Salvini hailed the result of the Swedish general election, where he said voters “sent the left packing” as they ushered in an alliance of the right and far right.

Although Sweden hasn’t yet formed a new government, the recent election saw major gains for the far-right nationalist Sweden Democrats, a far-right party with roots in the fringe white supremacist and neo-Nazi movement.

The Sweden Democrats party rose to prominence with populist, anti-immigration messages similar to those of Salvini and his far-right coalition partner Giorgia Meloni, whose post-fascist Brothers of Italy (FdI) party was almost unknown at Italy’s last election in 2018.

The right-wing populist League is now trailing behind FdI, polling at 12 percent to their 24.

The League, FdI and Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia form a right-wing coalition set to take around 46-48 percent of the vote altogether, which would allow them to form a government with a comfortable majority.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Who’s who in Italy’s general election?

League party leader Matteo Salvini speaks on stage on September 18, 2022 in Pontida, northern Italy, ahead of the September 25 general election.

League party leader Matteo Salvini speaks on stage on September 18, 2022 in Pontida, northern Italy, ahead of the September 25 general election. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

Salvini conceded Americans had rejected former US president Donald Trump and his cry of “America first” in favour of Democrat Joe Biden. “That’s democracy,” he said.

He said the League’s top six priorities were to curb soaring energy prices and develop nuclear power, give more decision-making powers to the regions, make tax and legal reforms, guarantee retirement at 41 years of service, and stop migrant boats landing on Italy’s shores.

Surveys suggest immigration is less of a concern for Italians than the rampant inflation squeezing already stagnant wages.

Formerly the Northern League, Salvini’s party has toned down its secessionist aspirations for Lombardy, focusing instead on railing against the European Union and immigration.

The League’s current estimated vote share of 12 percent would represent a notable decline from its performances in 2018 and 2019 as it participated in successive governments while FDI remained in opposition.

READ ALSO: Five ways Italy’s 2022 elections will be different

Salvini (R) on stage with Meloni and coalition partner Berlusconi at a joint rally October 19, 2019 in Rome.

Salvini (R) on stage with coalition partners Meloni and Berlusconi at a joint rally on October 19, 2019 in Rome. Photo by Tiziana FABI / AFP.

The eurosceptic FdI party, which has close ties to Hungary’s populist prime minister Viktor Orban, this week attacked the EU for threatening to suspend financing for Hungary.

The European Commisson on Sunday proposed suspending 7.5 billion euros in funds for Hungary while waiting for Budapest to introduce anti-corruption reforms.

The bloc has been at loggerheads with Hungary for months, with Brussels suspecting Orban’s government of undercutting the rule of law and using EU money to enrich its cronies.

In a television interview on Sunday, Meloni condemned “using the question of the rule of law as an ideological club to hit those considered not aligned”.

Meloni also criticised the EU’s policy towards Poland – another eastern member accused of flouting the rule of law..

Meloni is campaigning on a nationalist platform that calls for a “different Europe” with more powers for member states.

Salvini has also appeared sympathetic to Hungary’s leader, telling supporters on Sunday: “Orban has done some things right and made some mistakes”.

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Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.