Listening to Italy

by Orecchiette


Italians commemorate their Liberation Day from Nazi fascism on 25th April. This year’s celebrations were the largest ever; La Repubblica estimated 70,000 were gathered in Milan’s cathedral square. Dignitaries made appropriate speeches throughout Italy but Matteo Salvini’s Lega did not appear at all. Further controversy followed a Tweet made by Vito Petrocelli, M5S’s (Five Star) Senator who used the Russian Z for his Liberation Day post. There had been running controversy of his pro-Putin stance. Regulations controlling his position as President of the Senate’s Foreign Affairs Committee make his removal problematical, but expulsion from the Movement was immediate.

The Italian press gives Ukraine a prominent place. For example, La Repubblica regularly runs 10 – 12 pages with photos of destruction, dead bodies and maps. On 23 April topics included people sheltering at Mariupol’s steelworks, sites of mass graves, diplomatic efforts, Russian drones, news from Russian satellite countries, and pacifism. 

The Italian public have mixed responses to Ukraine and their thoughts are collected and published. Demos-organisedsurveys have regularly appeared in La Repubblica with notes on their methodology; e.g. one had interviewed 6,403 people of different socio-economic and political backgrounds. A  survey on 14 April asked a series of pointed questions: Are the following statements favourable or not to Italy and Italians? 70% thought that economic sanctions against Russia were justified. The sending of military help to Ukraine is controversial in Italy and in answer 51% agreed with it, while 47% disagreed. There has been heated discussion in Parliament about raising defence spending and a majority of respondents were against this at 65%, with 32% in favour.

On 18 April Demos asked about views on press reporting and Ukraine. One question was: Is the majority of information about Ukraine in Italy distorted and rigged. 46% agreed or somewhat agreed, while 50% agreed slightly or not at all. The remainder were ‘don’t knows’. Figures were then broken down by party. The three parties operating under the Centre Right banner answered the question on distortion agreeing 60%, 55% and 48%, while M5S and the Centre Left suggested 51% and 29% respectively. 23% agreed with the statement: The news about the alleged Russian criminality is a Ukrainian hoax. 

In Italy there is a level of questioning and scepticism about Ukrainian issues that is almost totally absent in the UK. Here it is rare to hear people do anything other than criticise Russian reasons and actions. Two polls in March and April (again in La Repubblica) logged whether people thought that the intervention of Russia into Ukraine was justified or unjustified. 18% in March and 20% in April believed that it was justified. These are significant numbers even against the 77% and 76% who answered that it was unjustified.    

As an aside, a La Repubblica map showed the numbers of expelled Russian diplomats from each European country.  It is a sign of the UK’s current Euro-invisibility that the country was covered with a text box with details and a flag and a pointer to Belgium. The UK didn’t even have a name.

Political credibility is as ever an issue. There are Council and Mayoral elections for a small number of Italian areas in May and June and then a General Election in 2023. 

There are tensions between the three Centre Right parties and their coalition, Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (FI), Matteo Salvini’s Lega and Georgia Meloni’s Fratelli d’Italia (Fdi). Meloni has had no contact with Salvini since a rift over support for Draghi in the Presidential elections earlier this year. She apparently said that they shouldn’t be fighting each other, “we need to fight the left”. Salvini is generally in favour of non-intervention in Ukraine and he supported Marine Le Pen, as did Meloni. The crucial point here is that Meloni has moved from being a full 13 points behind Salvini at the last General Election (2018) to being 3.9% ahead of him this April. Meanwhile support for Giuseppe Conte’s M5S has slumped over time from 32.7%; the Movement’s significant parliamentary presence is now 14.2%. The political scene is likely to change dramatically as M5S now rates less than both of the two leading Centre Right parties. 

Meloni and Salvini may be the significant part of the Centre Right, but their politics are far right to fascist and join with Mussolini supporters. Together with Berlusconi’s FI (and a continuing coalition is not certain) current voting intentions would give them 45.7%. Against this is the Centre Left’s (Pd) Partito Democratico’s 21.2%, with only tiny numbers which might be added from other left leaning parties.

There is much proverbial water to flow under the proverbial bridges during the next year. Ukraine will impact heavily on Italy, energy is an issue here. Then Mario Draghi, who is an administrative head, with no formal political alignment, will stand down at the election. There is current press interest in Trumps’ Russiagate issue. His Attorney General, William Barr came to Italy to follow a trail involving Hillary Clinton, Matteo Renzi, previous Pd leader, and Giuseppe Conte. The intrigue is unfolding.

Ukraine has dominated the news with limited coverage of other national and international issues. Boris Johnson is occasionally newsworthy, particularly where journalists are horrified or amused and can provide some light relief. His recent trip to India and the Rwandan issue were referred to in various sources as his conscious diversion from Partygate.Amnesty International was quoted as saying that it was “ignorant” to jump onto a JCB digger similar to one used to demolish Muslim houses and businesses. Il Giornale.it (and other sources) rubbished claims that the majority of migrants to the UK are economic and that Rwanda is a safe place to live. Partygate hasn’t finished yet, so there is more to come as light relief from Italy’s current political tensions.

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