6 May 2008
The cry is out with the gypsies, in with the police; restore the city to those who possess it
A young graphic designer called Nicola Tommasoli died in hospital in Verona yesterday afternoon, victim of a neo-fascist mob. After he refused to give a cigarette to a skinhead who approached him, five of them, captured by a surveillance camera, punched and kicked him unconscious. And when it emerged that they belong to a neo-fascist fringe group, Italians began asking themselves: is this the first flick of the whip of the new regime, the first taste of what is to come?
The respectable right was quick to insist that the attack was nothing to do with them. "I would be the first to condemn neo-fascist violence if it really existed," shrugged Ignazio La Russa, a senior figure in the post-fascist Alleanza Nazionale (AN), likely to be appointed a minister this week. "A certain amount of violence has always existed in society," cooed another AN leader, Maurizio Gasparri. "To warn of a possible return to a climate of political violence is the umpteenth example of foolishness..."
But the fact is that Italy, which has been defined as a laboratory for bad ideas, has embarked on an alarming new experiment. On the cusp of what may prove to be the worst slump in living memory, the far right is closer to the heart of power than at any time since the fall of Mussolini.
The key players in the new Italian right wear beautiful suits and pastel ties and take to the heights of institutional power like ducks to water. Gianfranco Fini, leader of AN, the man who once eulogised Mussolini as the greatest Italian of the 20th century, has become the maestro of the volte-face: in his speech to parliament last week on taking office as speaker of the chamber of deputies, he was careful to pledge his loyalty to Liberation Day, the day of liberation from Nazi-Fascism. It was another statesman-like gesture by the distinguished-looking character who has been straight man to Berlusconi's clown for the past seven years, and is positioning himself to take over when the clowning has to stop. ...