Berlusconi, in his role as a moderate, pro-European and a mama’s boy to Merkel, knew very well that his Northern League “post-fascist” allies might end up being a problem, and he was expecting some embarrassment from the start. But even in his most pessimistic moments, he surely didn’t envision the possibility of having to support (confirmed or likely) candidates for regional governor who are completely out of control.
Yet, here they are: Sergio Pirozzi, the mayor of Amatrice, and Attilio Fontana, the mayor of Varese, both vying for the title of the most dangerous loose cannon. As if it wasn’t enough that Pirozzi, the candidate for the Lazio region, admitted his admiration for Mussolini, now Attilio Fontana, the candidate for Lombardy, has been caught railing and thundering against the threat of extinction hanging over “the white race,” in response to a listener’s question on Radio Padania: “We must decide if our ethnicity, our white race, our society will continue to exist or will be wiped out.”
The political analysis offered by the Northern League candidate for governor of Lombardy—renowned for his “moderation”—makes Marine Le Pen sound like a choir girl: “There are many more of them than of us, and they are more determined to occupy this territory. We must rebel!” In short, war is war.
The aspiring governor realized what kind of trouble he had gotten himself into when he saw the mounting firestorm and his own supporters getting nervous—so he tried to fix things, but with the awkwardness of one who really doesn’t know what to say. He swore it had been nothing but “a slip of the tongue.” There was no one there to point out an important observation from Freud’s book The Psychopathology of Everyday Life: A slip of the tongue is when you accidentally say what you are really thinking.
After the candidate from Liberi e Uguali, Rosati, asked the valiant defender of the “white race” to step down, a thoroughly embarrassed Forza Italia, from Paolo Romani, the leader of its senators, to the defeated former candidate for the governorship of Lombardy, Mariastella Gelmini, tried to hide en masse behind excuses: it was just “an unfortunate turn of phrase,” “apologies had already been offered,” and the mayor of Varese was in fact quite moderate, as everyone insisted. The PD was very happy to twist the knife in Fontana’s self-inflicted wound: “The battle between bitterness and hope will be the real challenge on March 4,” proclaimed Renzi with joy.
For his Democratic Party (PD), this was also a tempting opportunity to resume their pressures on Liberi e Uguali. To head this off, Loredana De Petris clarified: “These are ignoble and fascist words, but the policies of the PD governments created the conditions out of which they came.”
Di Maio, in turn, wanted to hit back against the frequent accusations of xenophobia against himself: “If Fontana is a moderate, then I’m Gandhi.” Nevertheless, Fontana is probably an actual moderate, struggling with the need to grab the attention of an electorate that doesn’t want to hear moderation at all, and who ended up overdoing it as a result.
Berlusconi himself didn’t play a very different tune when he said that there are “466,000 immigrants in Italy, who need to commit crimes to eat,” whom we must “send back.” Same with Salvini, who, while making sure to clarify that “skin color has nothing to do it,” made basically the same argument as Fontana in his slip of the tongue: “We are under attack. They are threatening our culture, society, traditions, way of life,” and when the Northern League is in the government, “we will regulate all the Islamic presence in the country.”
After getting that out of the way, he added another fine proposal, which he said he has finally arrived at after a long evolution: “to regulate and tax prostitution like in civilized countries, to reopen the brothels,” something he is “more and more in favor of.”
In Lazio, the situation is even more delicate for the Right. Not only is Pirozzi open about being an avowed fan of Mussolini, with no inclination to invoke “slips of the tongue” as excuses, but he has no intention of withdrawing either: “I will leave the race only if the people ask me to, and so far that hasn’t happened. I spoke some words about il Duce, and Zingaretti’s ‘Pretorian guard’ threw everything they had at me. Come on, guys…”
Berlusconi was convinced that he could solve his problem in Lazio, avoiding a repeat of the disastrous defeat in the local elections in Rome, by running a right-wing candidate like Gasparri, with past ties to the MSI (Italian Social Movement, a former far-right party). But, as a former MSI and AN (National Alliance, another former far-right party) member told us, who at one time was close to Gianfranco Fini, Berlusconi “didn’t realize that in Lazio, right-wing groups hate each other. It’s never the case that Alemanno and Rampelli agree on anything, so the idea of running Gasparri was just wrong from the beginning.”
Then, after he realized his mistake, Berlusconi tried to turn toward the former head of Civil Protection, Bertolaso Piero, likely wanting him to run in tandem with the mayor of Amatrice, who would have probably accepted: “Bertolaso is a great man.” But the “great man” refused Berlusconi’s proposal, and “the Knight” could do nothing more than hastily commission a new survey from Alessandra Ghisleri to identify a possible winner, while trying to avoid the disaster of having two opposing candidates on the Right, which would lead to an unavoidable slip in their policies. How well Berlusconi has managed this is now here for all to see.
The scandals managed to elicit a strong reaction from Economic Affairs Commissioner Pierre Moscovici, who, at a press conference in Paris on Tuesday, condemned Attilio Fontana’s statement as “scandalous” and pleaded with the Italian voters to reject “illiberal, racist, extremist parties.” According to Moscovici, the upcoming Italian elections are one of the “political risks” that the E.U. is currently facing.
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