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    Europe’s Identity Crisis – populism is killing Italy’s democracy – another worrying front after Brexit

    March 2019

    This month marks a year since the last general election in Italy. Three months afterwards Matteo Salvini’s League and Luigi di Maio’s Five Star Movement (M5S) took power. It’s time to take stock – even though, to tell the truth, I can’t stop stocktaking – such is the desperate situation the country finds itself in.

    First and foremost, Italy is in my opinion in a democratic emergency. A few weeks ago the Italian media greeted with alarm a report the secret services had submitted to parliament. The picture it painted was hugely serious, especially in two areas: the growth of racist incidents as we approach the European elections in May, and the inability – given the propaganda and focus on closing parts to migrants from Libya – to curb secret landings using small, fast boats, which could be bringing passengers linked to terrorist groups.

    The list of reported racist incidents in Italy from the beginning of this year is shocking to me. In Lecce province for example, a young boy from Sierra Leone was battered on the back with a chair as his assailants racially abused him and told him to “go home”. In Rome a 12-year old Egyptian was verbally abused and beaten up so badly by a group of older boys that he ended up in hospital. A black brother and sister were pilloried by a school master in Foligno, in central Italy. Woman of colour are more and more treated as if they were sex workers – and not only in the street but even in public offices. Many incidents go unreported, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that what is happening in Italy is a sign of a descent into barbarism.

    This is what we’ve come to in Italy – a country which was once well known as one of Europe’s most attractive holiday destination, luring millions of international tourists to its coast line. Now a climate of racist aggression is spreading, a racism that is directed not only against migrants but against anyone who does not have white skin, even against children adopted by Italian families. There is in my opinion no doubt that the blind eye this administration turns to racist attitudes has had and will have serious consequences. Cynically the government gives a nod and a wink to extremist groups whose votes they do not want to lose

    The strategy to feed the climate of hatred is twofold. First of all, extremist groups in undate the web with lies and fake news. The biggest in my opinion is the presumed invasion of Italy by foreigners. We are led to believe migrants are invading Italy and are the root cause of economic problems. But according to Istat (the national institute of statistics) migrants including those from the EU, account for 8.7% of the overall population. Illegal immigrants, who provide the basis for the anti-immigration propaganda, represent approximately 530,000 in a country of more than 60 million – less than 1%. In no way therefore can one speak of an invasion, and yet that is the tune we hear sung on daily basis.

    Second, those who argue for a different vision and a different country are dismissed as the elite. Having attacked journalists across the board, the first official act of this government’s under-secretary of state for publishing, Vito Crimi, was to cut public funding to the press, striking a blow against those who do not receive advertising revenue but nevertheless provide high-quality information and provide a public service.

    As a result, we can be witnessing the demise of for example Radio Radicale, IL Manifesto and L’Avvenire – three progressive mainstays of the Italian media scene which have never lined up with any government. To attack these publications is to attack the values of liberal democracy and pluralism. This is in my opinion the biggest emergency in Italy. It is becoming a country where it is increasingly difficult to publish information and where, if you criticize the government, you become a target. So it is no surprise to me, why the current government seek deeper and stronger ties to China – operating in the same way. Last March Italians went to cast their votes having been immersed in anti-migrant propaganda and sick to the back teeth of traditional political parties. Today, in the run up of May’s European elections, things are even worse. It’s the government – robust, muscular and nasty by vocation – that delivers the propaganda. This government’s opponents feel more alone than ever.

    What Italy progressives need is not just optimism but a different vision of the future in my opinion. But the battered parties on the left aren’t listening; they are just focused on solving their own internal problems and seem indifferent to the alarming threats to Italy’s democracy. Nowadays whoever attempts to describe a country that must pick itself up, a country that must stand firm and rediscover its virtues, is alone. Utterly alone.