Once upon a time, Italy’s Lega Nord, Northern League, political party detested those who hailed from the nation’s south.
Indeed, the Northern League once entertained the idea of splitting Italy into two effectively separate nations – the unruly south and the virtuous north. No more.
Today, the Northern League is in the hands of gruff scruffily-dressed right wing leaning Matteo Salvini and the party’s new leader is slowly but surely widening the appeal of his once very north Italy centric political party.
An increasing number southern Italians seem happy to jump aboard the Northern League’s south Italy heading boat and appear to have forgotten just how much, how often and for how long the party once railed against the lazy dishonest thieving denizens of Italy’s south.
What might explain the growing popularity of the Northern League deep in Italy’s south? Well, links to one of Italy’s most powerful mafia organised crime groups may be one explanation.
Former Northern League leader, gruff scruffily-dressed Umberto Bossi, left in the midst of a scandal which aside from revealing his alleged abuse of party funds also raised strong suspicions that his party had been infiltrated by Italy’s infamous and extremely powerful ‘ndrangheta mafia. This could explain why some in Italy’s south are now prepared to forget the Northern League’s long standing southern Italian hating tendencies and embrace the new south Italy friendly Northern League.
For Italy’s mafias, links to politicians are highly lucrative and the politicians are also aware of the financial benefits of befriending the mafia. At times, the relationship seems symbiotic – the politicians get themselves elected with the help of mafia-bought votes and the mafia profits from political protection as well as the odd multi-million Euro public tender for which generous backhanders are paid.
Keeping on the right side of Italy’s mafias is profitable and the financial rewards seem to far outweigh the risk of losing one’s life which is what can happen should one fall out of favor with these notoriously ruthless Italian criminal organisations.
Perhaps the Northern League’s move south matches the ambitions of the ‘ndrangheta mafia which, coincidentally, has been quietly though efficiently expanding its extensive criminal operations well and truly into Italy’s north and, equally coincidentally, into areas under the control of the Northern League. As it has often done in Italy’s south, the ‘ndrangheta mafia has also allegedly been ‘sponsoring’ certain Northern League election candidates in Italy’s north.
Then there’s the curious case of Angelo Ciocca, a regional Northern League politician who, though not under investigation, is strongly suspected of having links to a well-known ‘ndrangheta boss. Just why Ciocca is still a Lombardy region politician is not at all clear. It seems new leader Salvini has done little to distance this politician of questionable integrity from his new national Northern League. And to think, the Northern League was once an anti-mafia political party. How times have changed.
Is the new Northern League little more than the public face of Italy’s ‘ndrangheta mafia? This is not something Italy’s press is talking about and Northern League leader Salvini appears to be keeping very quiet on this too. As the Ciocca case illustrates, Salvini has not swept those suspected of mafia links out of his party. Another coincidence?
What Salvini is not keeping quiet about is his leanings to the far right. He’s a huge fan of France’s Marine Le Pen and is all for clamping down on illegal immigration and on Italy’s Rom gypsy-type community. Salvini is no friend of Europe either and blames the Euro and the European Union for Italy’s sorry economic state. Even if this isn’t entirely true, it strikes the right chord with certain not too well-informed Italians who feel the same.
Now that the Berlusconi star appears to be finally fading, votes which might be paid for by the mafia along with those of anti-Europe, anti-immigrant, right leaning Italians in Italy’s north and south will probably land the Northern League will a number of seats in Italy’s parliament in the event of elections. Indeed, the Northern League’s popularity in opinion polls is now starting to overtake that of Forza Italia, the right leaning political party led by convict Silvio Berlusconi – who, coincidentally, is also suspected of having used mafia influence to propel himself to power.
It is not beyond the realms of possibility that Salvini might become a Berlusconi alternative.
Salvini, who’s been a Northern League member since 1990, entered the public spotlight in 2009 for suggesting that certain carriages on Italy’s underground railways should be reserved to women and residents of Milan. Describing Northern League’s present leader as racist wouldn’t be inaccurate even if Salvini himself has denied it.
One suspects that the ‘Northern’ part of Italy’s Northern League’s name may soon be dropped in favor of something with more national appeal such as ‘The League’.
For now, the renewed popularity Italy’s refaced Northern League continues to grow. Could Italy fall into the hands of the mafia-friendly far right, once again? We’ll see.
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