Financial investors were relieved at the news that Italy has a government after a three-months long stalemate, but how happy should the people be? Really not much. As an Italian gay man who lives in London I am deeply relieved I am free from the hands of the far right and populist government that is taking oath. Yet as a London resident I’m really concerned, and you should be too.
You should be concerned that the third largest eurozone economy is ruled by an explosive mix of left-wing welfare, neoliberal economics, anti-establishment discourse and far-right homophobia. Capitalising on a populistic promise to fight against political elites and Brussels’ bureaucracy, the government is giving power to far-right politicians in the key areas of migration, education and family policies. As time goes by and the new economic and anti-establishment policies start having some effect, the new government will have a win-win strategy available. If the policies work, channel the popularity towards anti-immigrant measures, if they don’t, blame the immigrants and the minorities. Whichever way, if this mix is successful, Italy will be a champion for nationalist and xenophobic parties throughout the continent.
In the division of power between the two coalition partners (anti-establishment 5 Stars Movement and far-right League), the socially conservative League took hold of three key ministries: the Interior Ministry, the Education Ministry and the Ministry for Family and Disability. All three areas give the League a platform to persecute sexual and ethnic minorities and fight anti-discrimination measures. Furthermore, the League’s politicians are far more experienced with politics and will be able to skilfully overcome any resistance from 5SM. But the very fact that the 5SM gave the League this opportunity is a worrying signal that they do not care about human rights and equality; they are not appealing to them and they do not want to risk making a choice one way or the other as their voters are highly fragmented. It seems it’s much better to delegate the task to the professional discriminators who will do exactly what voters expect them to do and who will be very happy to take the “blame” when 5SM has to justify the government’s actions with its more progressive voters.
To understand the League you have to imagine a party that started off as a Northern Italian version of UKIP, proclaiming secession of the North from Rome the big Stealer and “lazybones southerners”. Their leader Matteo Salvini notoriously shouted, “Something stinks, even the dogs run away: the folks from Naples are coming here,” and then managed to take the southerners on board in the common fight against migrants, Muslims, and a female politician, who he likened to a sex doll.
Matteo Salvini is now going to be sworn in as vice PM and Interior minister. Familiarise yourself with a chap who said that Frozen’s princess Elsa “should not become lesbian”, who promised he would decriminalise religious and ethnic hate crime (homo-transphobic hate was never a crime in the first place, alas) and who publicly said that “a child raised by gay parents starts off with a handicap”. You may hope the appointment brought more wisdom to him, yet only hours after being appointed, he said that, “Mum is mum and dad is dad, there is no such thing as single parents, or two or three or four combo plates”. Now place him in charge of the police who should be protecting LGBT+ people from the hate crime that they face on a daily basis.
This man’s party is going to be in charge of the education system, another sensitive area given that a big battle against anti-discrimination programs in primary schools has been engaged by the far right. They constructed a parody version of queer theory, calling it gender theory and accused it of teaching children that they can choose their sex freely and that there are 11 genders. In the region of Lombardy the League established a special anti-gender telephone number, funded with public money, that receives reports of parents concerned by their children’s teachers’ LGBT+-friendly discourse. Although no one really called this number, it is easy to see it as a scapegoating tool against LGBT+ teachers.
Italy is a dangerous trend-setter when it comes to politics: Berlusconi anticipated Donald Trump by 20 years and the very word fascism was invented by Benito Mussolini. The fight against this new form of populist government is everybody’s fight. Help us stay vigilant and let’s fight together.