Italy: Government institutionalises hatred and racism

February 28, 2019
Interior Minister Matteo Salvini refused to let 177 asylum seekers disembark from the rescue vessel, Umberto Diciotti for more than a week in August last year.

It has now become clearer than ever: the Italian government coalition operates at the behest of Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini and his party’s racist and reactionary policies.

Since the Five Star Movement (M5S) and Salvini’s far-right League (formerly the Northern League) formed a coalition government League’s support has soared. In less than a year since the March 2018 general elections, their support has grown from 17 percent to 33 percent, according to the latest polls.

In the same period, support for the M5S decreased from 32 percent to 22 percent.

These figures show League’s hegemony — strengthened by popular support — over their government allies and is due to Salvini’s great ability to monopolise the political debate on social media and his presence on TV talkshows, spreading his endless propaganda.

Indeed, the real strength of Salvini is his ability to delegitimise opponents through hate speech and the rhetoric of “Italians first”. Salvini keeps using immigration as a mass-distraction weapon, by obsessively repeating the false narrative that “irregular immigrants are a danger to the country”.

As for the M5S, they have renounced most of their historical demands about justice and the environment in order to keep up with Salvini’s League.

M5S’ erosion of support results from: firstly, a proportion of M5S voters and activists who do not look favourably on the League and their radical conservatism — since they are expression of the “old political class” and have been found guilty of embezzlement of public funds; secondly, the right-wing soul of the M5S has now been completely absorbed by the League, since it expresses better their conservative and anti-immigrant sentiments.

The M5S is fiercely defending Salvini’s anti-immigration policies, even after he has been investigated for the false imprisonment of 177 asylum seekers, rescued by the Italian coastguard ship Umberto Diciotti in August 2018. Exceeding his powers as interior minister, Salvini refused to let them disembark for more than one week, ignoring basic human rights and provoking a humanitarian crisis.

M5S claimed that the decision to refuse disembarkation was not made exclusively by Salvini, but by the whole government. They also agreed to grant him parliamentary immunity from prosecution, so the investigation was stopped.

Salvini and the M5S claimed that their decision about the Diciotti was to preserve the national interest. The opposition accused the M5S of having betrayed their principles, given they have always argued against parliamentary immunity, but granted it to Salvini.

In response, the M5S claimed that they believe parliamentary immunity should not be granted for crimes such as corruption or accepting bribes, while Salvini “is a different and particular case”.

But this position implies that stealing money is worse than depriving people of their human rights, and people’s lives can be used as bargaining chips to obtain political support. The only interests that have been preserved in this case are not Italy’s, but the interests of the government.

It is no coincidence that episodes of racism and discrimination are increasing.

The League and the M5S endorse (although in different ways) the idea that white Italians are “first class citizens”, while immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers are “unwelcome guests”, intruders living on the shoulders of Italians, which is why they believe that stealing money from Italian taxpayers is worse that depriving refugees of their human rights.

Italians are not intrinsically racist, but the current government’s sentiments have legitimised racism and hatred against immigrants.

Unfortunately, this tendency is going to last for several years, since Salvini seems to be firmly in control of public opinion.

If the M5S maintains its stance, it will probably destroy itself, leaving the path clear for the right. M5S has two options: either, stop denying reality and admit their recent actions are having negative effects on the Movement itself, or unambiguously and definitively come out as supporters of Salvini’s policies and stop pretending to be “champions of justice

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