Thursday, December 8

The Italian Senate elects as president the right hand of Giorgia Meloni who collects busts of Mussolini

The first day of the new legislature in Italy could not have started with a more symbolic image. Liliana Segre, a survivor of the Auschwitz camp, had the turn, as the oldest senator, to chair the inaugural session this Thursday, in which the baton would pass to Ignazio Benito La Russa, who has gone through the entire history of post-fascism in Italy and is today the right hand of Giorgia Meloni, the leader of the far-right Brothers of Italy party, winner of the September 25 elections. “In this month of October, which marks the centenary of the March on Rome that began the fascist dictatorship, it is up to someone like me to temporarily assume the presidency of this temple of democracy that is the Senate of the Republic,” Segre said, opening the session. In an emotional speech, which closed with the applause of the senators present, she acknowledged feeling “a kind of vertigo” when she recalled that it was on a day in October 1938 when she, then a seven-year-old girl, was forced by the laws Mussolini-approved racial biases to drop out of school.

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The emotion for Segre’s words, a living memory of the country’s history, did not last long, however. In the Senate classroom, the entanglements of Italian politics reemerged. The majority that will be called to form the Government – Brothers of Italy (FdI, for its acronym in Italian), Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia and Matteo Salvini’s League – showed that the unity they staged during the electoral campaign and that it was key for victory, it is by no means seamless. Berlusconi is upset about how the negotiations for the distribution of portfolios are going. The former prime minister, who still has a pending trial for prostitution of minors and continues to be the owner of Mediaset, asks FI for the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Economic Development, which includes control of public television. But Meloni resists. And to make clear the discomfort, Forza Italia decided not to vote in the first call in favor of the candidate for the presidency of the Senate of Meloni. In addition, during the vote in the Senate the tycoon was seen talking to La Russa visibly angry and concluding the conversation with a “vaffanculo” – “go fuck yourself” -, which became one of the stamps of the day and of the divisions that exist in the coalition.

However, La Russa was also elected with 116 votes, not only exceeding the threshold of the 104 necessary but also adding one more to the numbers that the majority in the Senate has. And since they weren’t from Forza Italia, those votes had to come from some opposition group. Berlusconi indicated the centrists of the “Terzo Polo”, Matteo Renzi and Carlo Calenda, who were quick to deny it. And Enrico Letta, the leader of the Democratic Party, commented: “Today’s vote in the Senate unfortunately certifies that a part of the opposition expects nothing more than to enter the Government.”

Once again, in the midst of the confusion, the winner was Giorgia Meloni, who saw how her candidate was elected on the first ballot, reinforcing her position in the negotiations with her government partners, while the majority has not yet agreed to the presidency of Congress.

A former defense minister who collects fascist relics

Ignazio La Russa assumes with the presidency of the Senate the second most important institutional position in the country, after the President of the Republic. His second name, Benito, is a clear tribute to the dictator Mussolini. His father, Antonino, was secretary of the National Fascist Party in Paternó, the Sicilian city where La Russa was born 75 years ago, and then joined, after the return of democracy, the Movimento Sociale Italiano (MSI), the party founded by the henchmen of Mussolini, and in whose youth the current president of the Senate began his militancy.

Like Meloni, La Russa has lived through the history of post-fascism in Italy. He joined the National Alliance, when in 1995 Gianfranco Fini dissolved the MSI to found a new party declaring fascism “absolute evil”. La Russa was Minister of Defense in the Government of Silvio Berlusconi, when AN joined Forza Italia in the People of Liberty. He was later, together with Meloni, one of the founders of the Brothers of Italy.

In his long political career – he was first elected to parliament in 1992 – he has become famous for his strident and controversial interventions in Parliament and at gatherings and for his ambiguity regarding fascism. In the hours before his election to the presidency of the Senate, he recovered and went viral on social media a video published by Corriere della Sera in 2018 in which La Russa shows the journalists who interview him his collection of busts of Mussolini and fascist relics.

During the election campaign, his brother Romano, also a member of the party, was involved in one of the “incidents” of Brothers of Italy, attending a funeral where he joined in a Roman salute. An episode that La Russa, who recently repeats like Meloni that “in FdL there is no room for the nostalgic”, called it a “serious mistake”.

This Thursday he has delivered a bouquet of white roses to Senator Segre, whom he has defined as “moral president”. The senator had mentioned, in her speech full of references to anti-fascism, that the April 25 party, in which Italy celebrates the liberation from Nazi-fascism, cannot be considered a divisive party, something that precisely La Russa has said in more than an occasion. “There is not a single word of what [la senadora Segre] He has said that he does not deserve my applause,” said the new president of the Senate on Thursday.