It was 9:37 a.m. on Dec. 26, the Feast of St. Stephen in the Catholic calendar. Vice-Prime Minister Matteo Salvini posted a selfie on Twitter which showed him biting into a slice of bread with Nutella. The caption: “My St. Stephen’s Day is starting off with bread and Nutella, how about yours?”
Meanwhile, at the foot of Mt. Etna, firefighters were still digging through the rubble of collapsed buildings to make sure no one had been buried alive after the earthquake that led to mass panic among the 120,000 people living in the six hardest-hit municipalities, forcing most of them to flee their homes in the dead of night.
Six hours after the earthquake, Salvini, who is also Interior Minister, posted his cheerful photo. Twenty-eight people were still being treated at area hospitals in the plain of Catania. Salvini’s selfie ignited a firestorm of criticism, not only because of the poor timing alongside the earthquake but also because just a few hours earlier, in Pesaro, the brother of a police informant and ex-member of the ‘Ndrangheta criminal organization had been assassinated.
The replies on social media came swiftly: “My day is starting off with the earthquake…” replied a user named Pietro on Instagram.
“There has been an earthquake in Catania, the brother of an informant was killed by the ‘Ndrangheta in Pesaro, Italians are having to tighten their belts, and I want a politician who actually does what they’re supposed to do,” another user said.
The strongest reaction, however, came from other politicians, with the opposition Democratic Party (PD) at the forefront: “Dear Minister Salvini, the city of #Pesaro is in shock after the murder of a man who was under police protection, the brother of a police informant. Whenever you’re finished with your bread and Nutella, we would like to have some information and some reassurance. Thank you,” wrote the PD mayor of Pesaro, Matteo Ricci.
The president of the Lazio region, Nicola Zingaretti, also had some sharp words: “The protection of police informants and their families is essential for the fight against organized crime,” he wrote on Twitter, adding that “the Minister of the Interior, who is making wacky selfies as a distraction, is scared and is running away from his responsibilities.”
PD Deputy Michele Anzaldi joined in on the criticism: “Salvini should apologize to the Sicilians and get himself to Catania immediately, instead of sitting around making Nutella selfies.” He added: “This shameful episode is a rerun of what happened on the night of August 14, when rescuers were still looking for bodies under the rubble of the Morandi bridge in Genoa, while the leader of the Lega was posting about how much he was enjoying his fish at dinner, in Sicily of all places.”
Senator Pietro Grasso, of the left-wing Free and Equal party (Liberi e Uguali), had a direct message for Salvini: “Since you claim you’ve made security the top priority of the country and of your government program, you should go to your office and take up your responsibilities: fewer tweets and more cases solved, as the safety of the citizens depends on your decisions.”
Luigi De Magistris, the mayor of Naples, also pulled no punches: “While Salvini is showing off as he’s stuffing his face with Nutella at breakfast, the men and women of the Interior Ministry are digging through the rubble after the Etna earthquake, and others are on high alert because of the murder of the brother of a police informant. We protect and serve… chocolate!”
Later on, the minister posted on Facebook, trying to deflect the criticism in his usual way, with an ironic message: “You’ve got some problems, my friends: if what they’re doing in the opposition is criticizing a minister who’s eating Nutella, we’ll be in government for 20 or 30 years. Me, I’m a straight shooter.” He didn’t miss an opportunity to go on the offensive: “Spare a thought for the left-wing politicians and journalists who are unhappy even during the holidays. Do you know now what their problem was? Salvini eating bread and Nutella for breakfast while Italy suffers. I’ll confess to this huge flaw of mine, this crime: I like Nutella, chocolate, Kinder eggs, cake rolls, and sometimes even ice cream.”