Italy Profile- Football Fascists, Political Fascists and the EU elections

After covering how Britain got itself into a European Parliamentary mess, European Politics columnist Aurora Matteini takes us to another European country undergoing turmoil ahead of these historic elections.

On 24th April, a day before the 74th Italian Liberation Day which honors the end of the Nazi occupation of Italy and the collapse of the Fascist regime in Italy, near Piazzale Loretto in Milan, fascism has made a re-emergence. On their way to the Milan- Lazio football match, approximately 70 Lazio supporting neo-fascists took to the streets, holding banners with pro-Mussolini slogans ‘Onore a Benito Mussolini’ (Honor to Benito Mussolini), chanting fascist songs and carrying out fascist salutes, all of which is prohibited by law and has thus launched a formal investigation into 22 individuals, 19 of which Lazio supporters and three supporting Inter. (Inter and Lazio are sister football clubs.) Was this provocation instigated specifically in light of Liberation Day? Most likely. Unfortunately, such a display of fascism is not novel, in Italy or in football. This time the Lazio football team is the front-runner in football fascist scandals.  

The Lazio Eagle

The Lazio football club has on numerous occasions released statements and press releases in an attempt to distance itself from acts of fascism perpetrated by fans. In a statement released after the April incident, they declared ‘Lazio takes clear distances from behavior and events that do not reflect in any way the sporting values sustained and promoted by the club for 119 years. And it rejects and disputes the simplistic tendency of some media to consider the entire Lazio support jointly responsible for acts carried out by a few and isolated elements, for reasons foreign to any form of sporting passion.’ However, it is in fact very difficult to separate the involvement of the football club from the actions carried out by the ‘Ultras’ fans. Specifically, because on the one hand, notoriously Paolo di Canio, a retired Lazio player publicly showed great sympathies with Benito Mussolini and who in 2005 as a Lazio player performed Fascist salutes. He was also notoriously fired from Sky Sport Italia because of a visible tattoo of ‘Dux’ (Il Duce). Also let us not forget that the club itself is still represented by the Ancient Roman Eagle, which was notoriously appropriated by Mussolini to portray a sense of greatness and Italian grandeur. And on the other hand, the Ultras fans have very publicly and proudly carried out racist chants, held sexist flyers, tried to prohibit women from the fan ‘curve’, performed the Hitler Heil salute, released anti-Semitic Anne Frank stickers etc. In regard to the Anne Frank scandal of a few years back the club was fined 50,000 euros and in the subsequent match a passage of Anne Frank’s diary was read to the audience. Thus, the actions of the fans and the actions of the club are interlinked and there is no concrete way to distinguish the club from the fans. (Read about the systemic cycles of recent racism in football here).

Former Lazio player Paolo Di Canio

Interestingly, the majority of the political responses that stemmed out of the displays on the 24th of April were of condemn. The Democratic Party and the Five-star movement were quick to condemn these acts. As well as the far-right Lega party leader and Italy’s internal minister Salvini, supporter of Milan and very close to disputable Milan hooligans, who denounced the actions carried out by the Ultras calling them ‘idiots’ and claiming that ‘we do not tolerate violence’. Ironically however, academic researchers have found that new extreme and far-right parties try to distance themselves as much as possible from their 1920-40 predecessors. Mr. Salvini and his party most certainly employ this tactic as the anti-fascist rhetoric employed and the policy actions carried out differ. If one looks closely to the policies proposed and the actions he carries out as the Interior Minister, they share many similarities to their fascist predecessors. Most notably he had held 150 migrants abroad a ship off the coast of Sicily and had been put under investigation on notions of ‘kidnapping’ and abuse of power. He however claimed that it was all done to protect Italian borders and Italian sovereignty. The parliament rather than stripping him of his immunity and allowing for a fair trial, blocked prosecutors from investigating.

As EU elections are approaching, in the electoral campaign parties are employing a variety of techniques. Facebook has cracked down on the Italian dispersal of fake news, taking down 23 Fakebook pages with over 2.46 million followers. Content on these pages included anti-migrant, anti-vaccine and anti-Semitic rhetoric as well as pro-Lega and Five-star movement support. It is important however with the world focusing on fake news and the role of technology in persuading public opinion to not forget that traditional methods of propaganda are still relevant and influential. I went myself to Milan this past week and was surprised to find that on every billboard in the main train station and all-around town Salvini’s party was the party advertised.

The current breakdown of the European Parliament seats – for now the majority of 472 seats is held by a mix of centrist and socialist groups

The Lega Party is projected to get 25 out of the 73 Italian seats in the EP elections (31.2% of the votes). The projections show the 5star Movement coming in second with 19 seats and 22.6% of the vote, the Democratic Party with 18 seats (21.5%), Forza Italia with 7 seats (9.2%), and Brothers of Italy with 4 seats (5.4%). The Other Parties which are predicted to not make the cut are More Europe and the Left. Many Italian are still indecisive, not only on who to vote for but whether to go to the polls to begin with; only after the 26th of May will we know to what extent Italy will be shifting to the right- so vote!

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