Far-right Brothers of Italy party suspends candidate for praising Hitler

Just a few days before general elections, Italy's biggest party confirmed on Tuesday it had suspended a candidate over Facebook posts praising Hitler.

Far-right Brothers of Italy party suspends candidate for praising Hitler
Supporters of Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy party hold banners featuring the tricolour flame. Photo by Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

A candidate for the far-right Brothers of Italy (Fratelli d’Italia, FdI), which is tipped to come out on top in the September 25th elections, has been suspended for praising Hitler, the party said on Tuesday.

FdI leader Georgia Meloni, who could lead Italy’s first far-right government after Sunday’s vote, has sought to distance herself from her party’s post-fascist roots without renouncing them entirely.

READ ALSO: Italy’s far right set for easy victory under Giorgia Meloni

Calogero Pisano, the head of FdI in Agrigento, Sicily and a member of the party’s national leadership, has been “suspended with immediate effect”, the FdI said in a statement.

“[He] no longer represents the party at any level and is forbidden from using its logo,” the statement added. Pisano is expected to appear before the party’s leadership in the coming days.

Brothers of Italy's campaign poster.

Giorgia Meloni has sought to distance her Brothers of Italy party from its post-fascist history. Photo by MARCO BERTORELLO / AFP

In 2014, Pisano had posted a photo of Meloni featuring the slogan “Italy Above All” on Facebook.

He had then commented underneath, “This reminds me of a great statesman from 70 years ago”, adding that he was not referring to Italy’s fascist dictator Benito Mussolini but to a “German”.

Pisano has reportedly published other comments supporting fascism since then.

READ ALSO: ‘Tired of the controversy’: Why Italy’s ‘Hitler wines’ are being discontinued

Peppe Provenzano, the deputy leader of the centre-left Democratic Party, was the first politician to react after the Facebook post was brought to light by Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

“Deep roots never freeze,” he tweeted, noting that Brothers of Italy’s logo still uses the tricolour flame once used by the Italian Social Movement (Movimento Sociale Italiano, MSI), which was formed by Mussolini supporters after World War II.

Ruth Dureghello, the head of Rome’s Jewish community, said it was “unacceptable for someone who praises Hitler to sit in parliament”.

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

Meloni, who was an activist with the MSI as a teenager, has so far maintained that there is no place for fascist nostalgia in her party.

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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.