Letter. How is it possible that so many—more and more—southerners are voting for the party that is their worst enemy? The explanation is that they are not being informed, and are being silently stabbed in the back.

The resistible rise of the Lega in the South

The Lega’s electoral victory in Abruzzo has been viewed and interpreted by analysts mainly as the obverse of the collapse of the Five Star Movement. But few have analyzed it as a result that stands by itself, as a historical novelty in the electoral geography of the country.

Abruzzo is a region of the Italian South. Bossi’s Lega Nord built its first electoral successes on the contempt and accusations of criminality towards this part of Italy, and for decades its inhabitants have been dismissed by northerners under the stereotype of thieves and parasites. It was a campaign of hatred and contempt that in the ‘80s was already managing to undermine normal public funding and public investments in the southern regions, casting them as fraudulent in the public’s perception.

That attitude is still there today, unchanged.

In many areas of the northern regions, this campaign has built up anti-southerner prejudices and grudges over the decades. However, these have remained latent, simply because Salvini’s Lega has cast migrants in the role of the new enemy, exploiting the wave of migration in recent years.

However, the success by the Lega on Sunday, with a breakthrough in a southern region, can also be explained by the Lega leader’s prodigious capacity for prevarication, largely given cover by the leaders of the M5S and by the complicit and highly troubling silence of those from the Democratic Party.

Salvini’s ubiquitous slogan, “Prima gli italiani” (“Italians First”), actually hides an addendum that is never said out loud: “And those from the Veneto and Lombardy first of all!” That is, in fact, the full slogan. The inhabitants of these two regions from the North—a group that Emilia Romagna now also aspires to join, a shameful blemish on its glorious history of civil struggle—are thought of as “more Italian” than others. And, accordingly, these regions will get to decide how to spend most of their tax revenues, and will be granted full administrative autonomy on 23 matters in which the Italian state currently plays a role.

This is the largest and most radical anti-Southern project in the history of the Italian Republic. And yet, Salvini’s party is poised to win in the upcoming regional elections in Sardinia as well.

Could it be possible that none of his opponents have been able to communicate to Sardinian voters that, under Salvini’s rule, a redistribution of tax funds is about to become law that will make the rich regions even richer and the poor ones poorer?

Has nobody told them that the public health service will thus be divided into “first class” and “second class,” and that patients who need highly specialized medical procedures will no longer be able to transfer from hospitals in their region to those in the North (see Enzo Paolini’s article in il manifesto of 12/2)? Or that the schools and universities of the South will have fewer and fewer resources, unlike in those provinces that are “more Italian than others,” Veneto and Lombardy, whose public teachers will be able to get higher salaries than those paid by other regions?

How is it possible that so many—more and more—southerners are voting for the party that is their worst enemy? How can they be voting for the establishment of areas of territorial privilege that will lead directly to the marginalization of the Italian South?

The explanation is that they are not being informed, and are being silently stabbed in the back. But it isn’t just Salvini who’s keeping them in the dark, together with the leaders of the M5S, which is going to quickly lose all the support it has gathered in the South, just as soon as the people will understand how they have been deceived.

Among those who are suspiciously silent are also the leaders of the Democratic Party, who would have had in this a powerful argument to combat the advance of the Lega, which is set to gain votes once again. Instead, they are silent, because they think the short-term electoral math works in their favor.

How can they be so naïve and blind! Don’t all these politicians realize that, if the new version of differentiated autonomy becomes law, in a short time the conditions in many areas of the South will turn them into areas of social despair, where their parties will no longer be able to hold even one seat? The Sardinian shepherds today are trying to tell us something.

And what country do they think they’ll be able to govern again one day, if it will be already shattered into separate regions, which in a decade will take Italy back to the condition of the independent states prior to unification? And do they really believe they can wipe away the stain of their irresponsibility today by putting up a new sign on the storefront and reopening for business? Don’t they realize that their names and faces will be branded forever as objects of the people’s hatred, and they will not dare show their faces in Italy again?

An unbelievable shortsightedness has taken hold of all the national bourgeoisie—clearly visible in the willful silence that Il Corriere della Sera and La Stampa are keeping on this issue—which is deluding itself that it will be better off if it gives the reins over to the most powerful regions, forgetting the fact that Italy as a whole will be weaker if the regions fail to work together within the system, and that better short-term prospects for some will come with a heavy price: a certain decline for everyone.

Piero Bevilacqua is an Italian historian and essayist.

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