Their leader has called the euro a ”crime against humanity”, and called for migrants to be shot by the coast guard. The rhetoric is familiar in today’s anti-EU, anti-immigrant movements throughout the continent. But the Lega Nord doesn’t just want to rid Italy of the European Union and immigrants. It wants to get rid of most of Italy as well.
Italy is a young country. Unification happened as late as 1861. The republic was created after a referendum following the second world war. Ever since the unification (and before it) there has been tension between the poor, mostly rural South, and the rich, industrial North. Lega Nord, the Northern League, wants an autonomous North, the so-called Padania as an autonomous region.
Lega Nord has been in government three times, all of them in Silvio Berlusconi cabinets. The current leader, Matteo Salvini, is the third in order. The first leader of the party, Umberto Bossi, was forced to leave the party after allegations of corruption. According to Colleen Barry, correspondent in Italy for the Associated Press, Salvini’s ambition is to make the Lega the strongest right-wing party in Italy. Since former right-wing prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is weak, the goal is plausible.
”Salvini wants to be the ‘leader of the light.’” she said on the phone from Milan. ”He’s not accommodating to Berlusconi like people in the past. Salvini hopes to overcome that and be the stronger force on the right.”
In the growing European far-right movement, Lega Nord stands out. The southern part of Italy has, in terms of GDP, a much lower economy than the north. The mostly rural south instead have high levels of employment, while the level of higher education is a lot lower than in the North. The Lega hoped to end the tradition of the North aiding the poor south. Recently, however, this policy has changed. The quest for an independent Padania is no longer the main issue at hand. Instead, Salvini wants southern Italians to join his party. The ”new” Lega Nord is less anti-south and more anti-Rome and anti-Brussels. Salvini, who has been called a demagogue by his opponents, is calling for an EU exit, and making sure that the economy stabilises. A banner at a party rally last year read, ”Euro’s fall, freedom for all”.
After this, they can go back to the original goal of independence for Padania, Salvini explained at the rally.
An issue where the Lega does not differ from other far-right parties is immigration. Italy has taken hundreds of thousands of immigrants for many years, often passing through the country on their way to northern Europe. In the Padova region, close to Venice, the party has a lot of support. Here they have been agitating locals to say no to migrants being housed in local, uninhabited housing. A priest in the region housed migrants, and received a lot of protest from Legistas, as the party sympathisers are called.
In 2003, then party leader Umberto Bossi suggested that the navy fire at boats carrying migrants to Italy. Matteo Salvini has tried to get away from these kinds of remarks.
”He tries to moderate his tone. Although, sometimes something slips out”, Colleen Barry said.
Leader: Matteo Salvini
Members: 150,000 (2013)