This article has been contributed by Searchlight’s Italian correspondence Alfio Bernabei
In this 2009 video, Matteo Salvini, Italy’s Home Secretary and Deputy Prime Minister, sings about the dirty smell (puzza) produced by people so disgusting that even animals run away from them. Surrounded by his enthusiastic fans, who hail him: ‘Matteo is the group leader, Matteo is the group leader!’ Salvini joins in the choir; he sings: “Do you smell the stench? Even the dogs run away; (it’s because) the Neapolitans are about to arrive. They carry cholera; they are living earthquakes. You, Neapolitans, have never washed yourself with soap.”
Anyone who knows anything about the party Salvini represents, the Lega, will understand that “Neapolitan” in their jargon more often than not refers to Southern Italians as a whole. Salvini encourages others to sing that they stink (a dirty race) and carry a disease (‘cholera’); the reference to an ‘earthquake’ (terremotati) is used as an insult to denote people destined to bring disgrace upon themselves and then claim assistance and other benefits from the taxpayers. Is Salvini a racist and perhaps a bit of a fascist, people ask? But more importantly, is he the catalyst who can weaponize the deep seated racist and fascist sentiments of Italians “born with a blackshirt” – adding significant weight to the already present resurgence of fascism in Europe?
It won’t be long before Salvini comes to London. There is a precedent worth remembering. In 1995 Gianfranco Fini, the then secretary of the National Alliance Party visited London; there was little doubt that he should be treated as a fascist. Prior to his joining the Berlusconi’s government he was secretary of the MSI, the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), political offspring of Mussolini’s Salò puppet state controlled by Hitler. Hundreds of people gathered near Westminster to protest at his visit. The protest was organized by the Anti-Nazi League. The car that was taking him to the Queen Elizabeth Hall was briefly ambushed in Victoria Street. By the time we saw him step into the Hall after a long delay he looked badly shaken. He had got the message. Fini came a second time, and again there was a demonstration outside Claridge’s. During an interview, I asked him how he felt being in the same hotel Mussolini had stayed in 1922. He looked annoyed. I asked him if he didn’t feel embarrassed visiting the country that sacrificed thousands of soldiers in the process of liberating Italy from Nazi-fascism. That annoyed him even further. No harm asking questions to our representatives about the stench and dirt in recent Italian history.