Matteo Salvini, head of Italy’s far-right League and the country’s interior minister, has hit again. In his infamous bully-style, he called for “little ethnic shops” to close by 9pm.

It looks like Salvini’s racist decisions, comments and actions know no bounds. He has declared himself a crusader against the Roma population, as well as migrants and refugees. But this should not come as a surprise. He has worked systematically towards this aim since the time he was a member of the European Parliament. And, his efforts are now yielding fruit.

When Salvini’s League entered government again, he became interior minister – a key post for the implementation of his far-right agenda. He has since become the real successor of Marine Le Pen in the spiritual leadership of the European far-right.

However, Salvini’s racist approach to Italian society is not original. Despite the fact that the Northern League was renamed as just League in order to penetrate the electorate of Southern Italy, it was, since the beginning, a racist party targeting the ‘dirty southerners’, the Italians of the South.

As such, it is easy to understand that Salvini’s dream state is one of strong racial laws. It is a nightmare, not only for Italy, but for the entire EU. The question now is whether Italians will allow it to become reality.

Curfews?

In every European city, the opening of an ‘ethnic shop’ is associated with the organisation of an ethnic community. Moroccans, Chinese and Poles, as well as Italians, among others are distinguished for their ‘ethnic markets’. These shops also serve as ‘ambassadors’ of culture and attract not only expats and migrants, but locals as well. Their role in the integration of immigrants is instrumental.

By rule, the owners of these shops are citizens or legalised migrants with long-term residence.

Now, the Italian interior minister wants these shops to close at 9pm.

His pretext is nonsense. According to Salvini, these shops are “a meeting place for drug dealers and people who raise hell”.

How did he arrive to such a conclusion? Is there any specific report or study made by a reliable institution about this? Certainly not. It is pure discrimination against immigrants and foreigners.

As it is widely accepted, drug deals happen everywhere: from railway stations to the discos and even in schools. And, there is no specific time during which drugs are sold.

Will Salvini implement restrictions next at every public place during all working hours of the day? Of course he won’t. His actions are not targeting the drug dealers, but the foreigners.

There are thousands of grocery stores across Italy belonging to foreign descent Italians or to immigrants and they represent significant investments. It is evident that Salvini is attacking the fundamental rights of Italian citizens. He does not respect the laws of the Italian Republic and is interfering in the market since he wants to discriminate against some professionals for the benefit of others (the ‘pure’ Italians).

As reported by The Guardian, Mauro Bussoni, the general secretary of Confesercenti, a retail association, said: “You can’t make a law that discriminates against some entrepreneurs over others. Those who have a commercial activity have rights and duties: the duty to respect rules and the right to remain open, whether the activity is managed by a foreigner or an Italian.”

And, Carlo Rienzi, the president of Codacons, a consumer association, said it was unfair to “generalise”, while noting shops that stayed open late were essential for people seeking “last-minute” purchases.

If Salvini really cares about security in Italy, he should find a way to protect the owners of the ‘ethnic shops’ from mafia extortion since these shops represent an income for organised criminal networks.

League’s past

The League’s founding name was Northern League. It was the extension of the regionalist and secessionist Lombard League established back in 1984. The actual name, League, was adopted before the elections of 2018 in order to facilitate the party’s penetration among Southern Italy’s electorate.

This name change proved necessary because Northern League as well Lombard League were infamously known for their racist remarks and proposals, as well as of their secessionist attempts for an ‘Independent Padania’ since the very beginning.

As the founder Umberto Bossi, who served as minister to Berlusconi’s governments, had stated in July 1985: “Negroes are nice to me. They cannot hegemonise us. The southerners yes, because they have the state in their hands.”

The hateful remarks in the speeches of the Northern League’s leaders were a daily fact.

There were racist declarations and hate speeches against homosexuals, immigrants (the ‘negroes’ as they loved to call them) and the Roma.

The Lombard League, as well as the Northern League, organised ‘vigilantes’ corps and a uniformed paramilitary unit. Several attacks, including arson and attacks against immigrant children, had been widely reported.

In one case Mario Borghezio, a MEP, said: “We should take the footprints of the immigrants in order to go back to the particular tracks of the tribes”.

Attilio Fontana, the president of the Region of Lombardy and member of the League, declared on January 2018, during the electoral campaign for the Region: “We cannot accept all the immigrants who arrive: we have to decide whether our ethnicity, our white race, our society must continue to exist or must be cancelled”.

Reading the thousands of declarations of League politicians from all levels of the hierarchy, Le Pen is made to look like a politician of a tolerant centrist party.

Apartheid methods

Salvini’s dream of establishing an apartheid state is nothing new. He methodically speculated with the creation of an anti-EU sentiment among the Italian society during the years of the economic crisis and he created the ideal scapegoat: immigrants, Roma and other minorities.

In 2012, in a twitter post, he called South Italians parasites. In 2015, he said that among the Muslims in Italy (many of whom are Italian citizens) there were some 50 thousand ISIS supporters! In the same year, he called on the government to close the country’s borders.

On several occasions, Salvini even expressed his disdain for same-sex couples and in June 2018 he unveiled his plan for zero tolerance for the rights of gay couples’ children. After his homophobic rhetoric, the violent attacks against members of LGBT community multiplied. In September, one couple was victim of an arson attack in Verona.

In August 2018, the undersecretary of the interior ministry, Nicola Molteni, a protégée of Salvini, proposed a bill against street beggars and the homeless. The penalties proposed were harsh: up to one year of prison, plus a fine that could reach €10,000!

Earlier in July 2018, Salvini called for a “census” of Italy’s Roma community. Two weeks later, a Roma camp in Rome was forcibly razed to the ground.

He had also said those Roma found with Italian citizenship would “unfortunately” be allowed to stay, but the rest would be expelled.

And, we arrive to his security decree, unveiled in September, which includes plans to abolish important protections for immigrants and to facilitate deportations.

As he announced in July, he asked Economy Minister Giovanni Tria to find a way to cut the €5bn Italy spent for the migrant reception and integration projects. In fact, he would like to use part of this money to hire 10,000 more police officers. A nice shot, since he will increase his political clientele at the expense of the taxpayers.

The ensuing parliament debate on the decree will last until mid-November before it becomes law.

It is plain to see the League is an insult to Europe and its values. Salvini’s aim to establish a regime based on race is a direct attack on the rule of law in Italy. His government’s economic tricks with the budget and the reforms are not as crucial as is their attack on democratic rules.

PS: On October 9, Roberto Fico, president of the Italian Chamber of Deputies and a leading member of the Five Stars Movement, declared M5S will never sit at the same table with Marine Le Pen. But it sits with the far-right League in the coalition government. In addition, the alliance has a tremendous political cost for the M5S. According to the recent polls, League’s influence is growing and this is costing the Five Stars. If the Movement considers it is toxic to sit with Le Pen, why isn’t so its alliance with Matteo Salvini? After all, it is an alliance that is dividing Italy and harming the country’s interests and reputation.