Matteo Salvini: A Populist Politician with Strings Attached to Far-Right Movements. Op/Ed #1

Matteo Salvini, the leader of the Italian Lega Party is a political chameleon as many sources claim including former party members. He is also a twenty-first century politician who masters the art of social networks and likes to provoke reactions with his statements. His recent political career started off when he became the leader of the Lega Party. The Northern League or Lega Nord is a political party that participated in the 2018 General Election in Italy. Started as a coalition of regional political parties from Northern Italy at first, it has been in place since 1991 and led by Matteo Salvini since 2013. If the party favoured regionalism and federal state at its beginning, it now has changed to a more nationalist view, targeting illegal immigration and particularly non-Europeans and Muslims immigrants. Whilst flirting with other far-right parties within Europe such as the National Rally in France and the Freedom Party of Austria, the Lega has progressively gained popularity within the country and stands as the third largest movement at the latest 2018 General Election.

Many newspapers and magazines wrote about the far-right rally that took place in Rome on October 19th  and how it echoed the “March on Rome” that led to the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini on October 27th, 1922. Was the date chosen on purpose? It is hard to say but the coincidence seems significant whether Salvini accepts it or not. In an interview published on October 19th in a French magazine called Le Point, Salvini when asked about the similarity refutes the term of “March” and eludes the question asked by the reporter to finally blurt out that fascism like communism was not existing anymore. The association of these two regimes is surprising and contradictory but like mentioned above, Salvini likes to create polemics.

An interesting fact mentioned in the interview is Salvini’s interest in the Middle Age period. Many articles and books demonstrated that the myth of medieval era was adopted by far-right politicians as a justification for nationalism and Judeo-Christian traditions. As Salvini defines the Middle Ages as a romanticized vision of gothic times, it reinforces his ideological views as closer to Mussolini than he wants to admit.

Opposed to Matteo Renzi, the prime minister and member of the Democratic Party , Salvini plays the card of autonomy and regionalism but nevertheless acknowledges that unity is primordial to win. When told that he is perceived as a populist by Europe, he brushes it off by taking it as a compliment.

It is tempting to make a parallel between Salvini and Mussolini’s rise to power. Although violence and repression have not been present with the Liga yet (the actions of external violent movements are considered opportunistic for now), Salvini started in politics as a socialist like Mussolini. Whereas Mussolini expressed strong anti-Semitic feelings, Salvini is determined to fight the illegal immigration which is mainly represented by non-European Muslims.

Benefitting from a major support from the Italian population who grow tired of illegal immigrants, Salvini used this situation to build a solid political agenda in which he relied on the population’s opinion, hence his definition of being populist. Playing on his image of regular Italian man and using humour, he made himself the only possible opponent to Renzi’s socialist government. But his statements about immigrants are not without consequences. As mentioned in the BBC article from September 24th, the stigmatization of immigrants was after all the beginning of persecutions during the Mussolini’s era. Also, his association with far-right European movements is not pleasing everyone, including the French president Emmanuel Macron who strongly opposed him in the matter of European unity.  His skepticism about the European Community echoes the idea of nationalism and his alliance with far-right parties (Brothers of Italy and Forza Italia), are just examples proving his determination to make some changes nationally and if possible in the European Community.

 With Italy politically divided and weaken inside its own government and with a vengeful return of Salvini after he resigned from his position of Deputy Prime Minister last August, it is likely that the populist leader has not said his last words.

Works Cited:

Geary, Patrick. Myth of Nations. The Medieval Origins of Europe. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Giuffrida, Angela. “Thousands Take to Streets in Rome for Far-Right Rally.” The Guardian, October 19, 2019.

Le Fol, Sebastien and Anna Bonalume. “Je Crois au Paradis , Je Crois à L’Enfer”. Le Point, Octobre 17, 2019.

Mackay, Jamie. “The Far Right in Italy is Blocked but Not Banished.” The Guardian, September 26, 2019.

Reynolds, James. “Matteo Salvini: Can Italy’s populist leader return to power?.” BBC News, September 24, 2019.

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