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'Shameful': What’s behind the punch-ups in Italy’s parliament?

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'Shameful': What’s behind the punch-ups in Italy’s parliament?
A file photo shows Italy's lower house of parliament at Palazzo Montecitorio, Rome. Lawmaekrs were criticised on Thursday for brawling in the chamber in a row over regional autonomy. (Photo by Gregorio Borgia / POOL / AFP)

A brawl in the Italian parliament over plans to grant regions more autonomy triggered uproar on Thursday, with some comparing the scenes to the days of fascism. But political punch-ups are not that unusual in Italy.

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Video footage widely shared on Italian social media on Thursday showed chaotic scenes in Italy’s lower house of parliament, with one deputy taken away in a wheelchair and treated in hospital following a scuffle involving some 20 men.

The fight broke out on Wednesday evening after Five Star Movement (MS5) deputy Leonardo Donno tried to tie an Italian flag around the neck of Roberto Calderoli, regional affairs minister for the pro-autonomy League, reported news agency AFP.

Donno's stunt was a criticism of plans to grant more autonomy to regions that want it in Italy, where several parts of the country already have considerable powers to make decisions  independently from Rome. Critics of the plans argue that it undermines Italy's unity.

In response, Calderoli's fellow League deputies left their benches en masse to mob Donno, and the debate descended into chaos.

Donno, injured in the scuffles, had to be evacuated in a wheelchair before being sent to hospital.

The brawl provoked a torrent of reactions from political leaders and made the front pages of Italian newspapers. Many criticised the example set by the elected representatives.

"The squadrist right is fighting in parliament," the newspaper La Repubblica lamented, using a term used to describe the post-World War I paramilitary forces that went on to become fascist leader Benito Mussolini's infamous Blackshirts.

Italy's leading daily Corriere della Sera said the lower house had turned into a "boxing ring".

Social media users said reports of the incident in international media made a figura di merda (a 'shitty impression') abroad.

Lawmakers from the League and the Brothers of Italy, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni's party, accused Donno of provoking the incident and even faking his injuries.

The M5S however described it as a "serious and shameful attack" and called for immediate repercussions.

"Violence comes from the benches of the Meloni majority... Shame," its leader, Giuseppe Conte, wrote on social media network X.

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Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said lawmakers should hold themselves to a higher standard, telling Sky TG24 that politicians "have to set a completely different example.

"The chamber is not a boxing ring... it's not fisticuffs that solve political problems."

There was further disorder in the Senate on Thursday as opposition MPs waved Italian flags in protest over the incident, to which the ruling majority responded by singing the national anthem.

Autonomy can be a controversial topic in Italy, where it is frequently linked to identity politics. Further autonomy for Italy’s wealthier northern regions has long been a central campaign and policy point for the League, formerly called the Northern League.

Critics say that the autonomy proposal will result in public services being cut back in the poorest regions.

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But this is far from the only topic to inflame tensions between Italy's lawmakers recently.

Just two weeks ago, a Senate session was suspended after tempers frayed between lawmakers from M5S and Brothers of Italy - the leading party in government - and a fight threatened to break out during a debate over Meloni's plans to introduce sweeping powers for prime ministers.

Scuffles and protests in Italy's parliament are by no means unusual. Most famously, in 2021, deputies from Brothers of Italy stormed the centre of chamber to interrupt a debate over the Covid-19 health pass, which the party strongly opposed.

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Paul Rivas 2024/06/14 10:42
A fight between Starmer and Sunak would liven up things in the UK, Italy leads the way once again.

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