Trials, meetings and selfies: Salvini’s adventures in Sicily

On October 3, Matteo Salvini will be tried in court in Catania, Sicily. He is accused of aggravated kidnapping: in July 2019, while he was Minister of the Interior, he prevented the disembarkation of the ship Gregoretti transporting 135 migrants, causing a standoff with the European Union. On February 12, 2020, the Senate approved the request to prosecute the senator who thus lost his parliamentary immunity.

For the leader of the League, it is not a happy period: the Catania trial comes just after his defeat in the elections in Tuscany, against a background of investigations targeting collaborators and members of his party, particularly in Lombardy, the main region. of the League. Above all, he is down in the polls when his right-wing ally Giorgia Meloni is up.

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To support its leader just before his trial, the League organized in Catania a series of debates animated by its own deputies and other right-wing politicians. These three days entitled “The Italians choose freedom” must prove to the judges that the Italians support Salvini in his defense of “the borders of the fatherland”. The idea displayed is to transform Catania into “European capital of freedom”. The meetings take place in the port, in the premises of the old customs house, next to which sits a statue of Jesus with open arms, which protects the sailors. This large industrial building has been completely redone in a style that the ex-candidate of the League in Emilia-Romagna Lucia Borgonzoni, on the spot to talk about culture, defines as “in the fashion of East Berlin”. Indeed, it is very “cozy”, modern open space premises, shelves lined with books, long wooden tables.

Catania, the baroque

© Anna Bonalume / Le Point

This Thursday, many deputies and political leaders parade there in costume to take part in the debates. This decoration produces a striking contrast with the relative dilapidation that characterizes the streets and buildings of the center of Catania, a Baroque town located about thirty kilometers from Mount Etna. At the beginning of sunny October and under a temperature of 28 degrees, life continues, indifferent to the political and media event that has taken place in the port. Elderly men chatting on the sidewalks, seated on chairs, traders negotiating outside their shop, couples spinning – without helmets – on their scooters, young girls praying with their hands clasped behind railings in front of a statue of Saint Agatha, patron saint of the city, with astonishing devotion. The graceful Madonnas displayed on every street corner do not make us forget that here, as in the rest of Sicily, unemployment is endemic: one in two young people under 25 is unemployed.

A few days before the trial, Salvini moved to San Giovanni La Punta, a town of about 20,000 inhabitants a few kilometers from Catania. This weekend the elections for the new mayor are held there. Salvini made the trip to support his candidate Lorenzo Seminerio. Election propaganda, debates, support for the trial, everything is mixed up in a sort of media fair in the depths of the bel paese.

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However, despite its warm character, Sicily seems not to have entirely forgotten the days when members of the Northern League were shouting “Forza Etna!” (Go to Etna) to wish an eruption of the Sicilian volcano. The number of participants in the meeting in San Giovanni Square is very limited. Many old people sitting on benches, a few curious young people and a large contingent of armed forces. Sebastiano Scarabelli, 65, originally from Acireale and recently retired after working as a civil servant at the post office, believes that Salvini and Meloni “defend national identity and Christian values” against the “Islamic view of life”. He recalls that Sicily lived under Muslim rule for over 200 years. A group of young people of around 20, enrolled at the University of Catania, explain that they are here to listen to Salvini, they defend right-wing ideas, but are “orphans” of a political leader. Sergio, 19, confides: “Salvini likes it because he simplifies things, like when he says ‘let’s close the ports!’ but the question is much more complex than that. “

Photo shoot

Salvini devotes a few minutes to the speech on stage, where he appears more moderate and less inflamed than during his campaign meetings in Emilia-Romagna. He then embarks on his favorite ritual, that of taking pictures with all the participants, one by one. People, a small number of whom wear masks covering mouth and nose, crowd to approach him, as if the Covid never existed. Half an hour in the midst of his fans with, as usual, the soundtrack of old Italian hits at high volume. This time around, however, something has changed: Salvini no longer holds fan phones himself to take the photos. He left artistic direction during the key time of his public appearances due to shoulder pain. Recently, he posted himself on social networks taking anti-inflammatory drugs …

His strong point, however, remains his proximity to his fans, but confinement – then his physical condition – plays tricks on him. At the end of the session, tired and sweaty, he did not hesitate to attack the government: “We are gathered in Catania to talk about the future while the government spends time dismantling laws, like the cento quota [loi approuvée par le gouvernement Conte I qui rend possible la retraite anticipée, NDLR]. While others are dismantling, we are building, ”he told reporters. “Saturday,” he continues, “I will be in court like a normal citizen. “

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How does the captain feel? “I’m happy, I would be happier if I was in Milan with my children, but I’m happy because Catania is a beautiful land. “And he concludes:” This is the first time that I am going to court as an accused. There are a lot of real crimes and real offenders who are at large in Italy and are not being investigated at the moment. I respect the judges, the lawyers, the investigators, but I think there are other crimes to be prosecuted. Pending trial, we must recognize a virtue in him, tenacity.

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