Analysis. The World Congress of Families even being held in Verona, Italy, is a continuation of the city’s decades-long affiliation with neo-Nazis, anti-abortion activists, far-right writers and homophobia.

How Verona became a test lab for the extreme right

The “World Congress of Families” (WCF) is being held these days in Verona. Now in its 13th edition, this is the first time it has been organized in Italy, after Georgia, Hungary and Moldova.

The choice of Verona as this year’s location is not at all accidental. There are two main reasons: the first, of course, is the current Minister of the Family, the Veronese Lorenzo Fontana. He is one of the promoters of the initiative and has close connections with the current Sboarina-led city government, being a former deputy mayor himself. Additionally, by their own admission, the organizers Antonio Brandi and Massimo Gandolfini have long had a direct connection to Alberto Zelger, the Veronese city councilor who rose to the forefront of the national news last year for the infamous “pro-life” (or rather anti-abortion) motion that was the object of fiery protests by the Non Una Di Meno activists in the late summer of 2018.

The second reason, however, is far more disturbing: many have proposed that the beautiful city of Verona should be made into a kind of laboratory for the far right, which aims to export the same model on the national or even international level.

There is nothing particularly new in this. Historically, Verona is a city that has stood out, since the ‘70s, as a true bastion of the extremist right in Italy. At the time, it became an ideal hub for various subversive neo-fascist organizations like General Amos Spiazzi’s “Rosa dei Venti,” Franco Freda’s “Fronte Nazionale,” “Ordine Nuovo” and the Ludwig neo-Nazi gang, which was responsible for brutal murders in the city.

In the following decades, Verona carried on in the same vein, and saw the thriving of youth organizations of the reconstituted fascist or former fascist parties (Fronte della Gioventù and Azione Giovani), and of the ultra-right movements connected with the most radical fringes of the fans of Hellas, the local soccer team. The team has been an effective glue binding them all together, because for many people, the attachment to the team is also an attachment to the city, local traditions and everything that represents the Verona brand: “no world for me outside the walls of Verona” indeed, to quote Shakespeare’s play.

The ‘90s witnessed a black dummy being hanged at the stadium; shameful homophobic motions that have never been abolished and are still in force; the first edition of the “ronde padane” (“Po patrols”) promoted by Flavio Tosi, who would become mayor later on; and, finally, the concerts funded by the city featuring “Nazi-rock” bands such as Gesta Bellica. Speaking of Gesta Bellica, one of its members, Andrea Miglioranzi (also known as an ex-member of Veneto Fronte Skinhead), was even nominated together with Mayor Tosi to represent the city at the Institute for the Study of the Resistance in Verona. It was as clear a signal as any about where the city was going. And one could go on and on—but we will return to the events leading up to the present day.

Since June 2017, when the coalition that supported lawyer Federico Sboarina won a runoff against the one supporting Patrizia Bisinella, in a purely internal battle within the center-right, things have gone even further in the direction of far-right extremism. Among those who support the Sboarina administration is also a hardline fringe of the Forza Nuova, particularly close to city councilor Andrea Bacciga, a founder of Fortezza Europa (Fortress Europe), a cultural association which, through its chosen name and symbols, refers openly to the German “Festung Europa,” a term used by Hitler for his Nazi propaganda. That in itself is clear enough evidence of their intentions.

The new administration did not disappoint, proceeding right away with ad hoc initiatives, all unfailingly supported by the City of Verona, such as the banning of books and initiatives considered “gender propaganda” and the support of contemporary authors who are considered “identitarian,” close to the far right, and whose works have been immediately included in the catalog of the municipal public library: among others, Léon Degrelle, Franco Freda and Costanza Miriano.

In February 2018, in Piazza Bra, in front of the Arena, a so-called “Freedom Bus” was parked, with the inscription “Do not confuse the children’s sexual identity.” A few weeks later, in the prestigious Gran Guardia, the 17th century building that now hosts the WCF, the first “Festival for Life” took place, during which Minister Fontana said that “life is the final battle, a cultural battle, for the nation and for the people” and called for a return “of a Christian Europe.”

And there’s more: in the fall of 2018, the City of Verona continued its campaign of supporting initiatives by the extreme right, such as, among others, the “conference” organized by Forza Nuova with the eloquent title “Verona, the Vendée of Europe” (and which counted among its participants the Slovak Marian Kotleba, nicknamed “the Hunter of Roma” for having set up a paramilitary militia with clear criminal intent). That same day, on Nov. 24, a march took place in the historic center of Verona organized by Comitato No194, also supported by Roberto Fiore, head of Forza Nuova, against the law that legalized abortion over 40 years ago.

In short, the current event is merely par for the course, with the WCF finding an ideal space in Verona, as the City Council is supporting it openly (by sponsoring the event and allowing the usage of the Gran Guardia for free, as well as offering so many services and benefits to the participants as have never been granted before in the history of the city, such as free buses and free museum tickets, which will cost Verona taxpayers around €100,000), even against the will of many citizens—many of whom, however, did vote for the current local administration.

On Saturday, a number of marches took place in protest of the event. The city is on high alert, and tensions could not run any higher.

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