Matteo Salvini of Italy’s Northern League (Lega Nord) political party often likes to point out that Lombards like himself and the League’s founder, Umberto Bossi, are not really Mediterranean people but Anglo-Saxon—Nordic, even. That may be, but last week Salvini proved to the world that he’s no Thor Heyerdahl.
According to Maltese media, seven League members, including Salvini, who is the party secretary, had to be rescued from the Mediterranean by the tiny Republic of Malta’s navy. They were in the midst of a publicity stunt to prove how easy it was for undocumented “boat people” from Tunisia to illegally emigrate to Italy. But their small rubber dinghy’s engine caught fire. After the fire was put out, one of the crew fired a distress flare but held the flare gun the wrong way around and fired it into the boat instead. The craft capsized and all seven had to be rescued by a Maltese military vessel.
|Matteo Salvini, Northern League secretary, with a Padanian flag|
The Northern League was founded in Lombardy in the 1980s and now has party branches throughout the northern third of Italy, pushing for greater autonomy for the regions and eventually independence from the south as a Federal Republic of Padania. The League was an unlikely junior partner in Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling coalition, but when Berlusconi was swept out of office in 2011 in the wake of the European currency crisis, the League found itself fighting for its political life. As a consequence, it chose to amplify the nascent xenophobia that runs through the movement. One Northern League senator from Lombardy, Roberto Calderoli, last year infamously compared Italy’s minister for integration, Cécile Kyenge—an immigrant who was born in the Democratic Republic of the Congo—to “an orangutan.” And Bossi has been known to refer to Africans as “bingo-bongos.”
|Umberto Bossi, founder of Lega Nord|
Perhaps the adventure will teach Salvetti and his colleagues a little more sympathy for those who risk life and limb to provide for their families by emigrating to Italy. But probably not.
|The Viking seafaring genes must have skipped the Lombards.|