If I were asked to explain what Lega Nord is, I would answer, a politically incorrect political party.
Italy has been one of the cradles of culture and democracy, and we, its people, believe in freedom of thought and expression more than anybody else, as far it doesn't hurt our fellows' freedom and self respect. The Lega Nord has been marching for decades now on the thin edge of political negligence and anti-constitutionalism.
European countries are often negatively surprised by the racist use of language the Lega recurs to, and by the absence of 'tolerance' towards immigrants coming from foreign countries; even more surprising is the resentment showed against other Italians, and the continuous verbal attacks and offenses against Italians living south of the pianura Padana. How can a person show respect for, and solidarity with a foreigner if they are not able to show respect for their fellow countrymen?
Beside the vulgarity of its linguistic style and the rather disturbing content of its message, there is another, important aspect of the Lega Nord that needs to be underlined: the actual illegality of most of its demands, which openly fare against the Constitution.
This concept was also expressed by the Italian President Giorgio Napolitano who said, during a speech celebrating the 150th anniversary of the unity of Italy:
"Quello che si sente è spesso un incoraggiamento ridotto al minimo anche dal punto di vista dell'espressione verbale, grida che si elevano in quei prati in cui non c'è il popolo padano, ma una certa parte del corpo elettorale. Che ha scarsa conoscenza di alcune cose, tra cui l'articolo 1 della Costituzione"
(What we have here is a cry reduced on its last legs, a cry uttered on those fields where not the Padan people, but only a small part of the electorate stands: people who have poor knowledge of some things, among which the very first article of our own Constitution).
The Lega Nord is well known for its propaganda, which is viewed as particularly dangerous by some; most striking is, to the eye of all Italians, the venomous dislike shown by the 'leghisti' for their fellow countrymen, especially when coming from people who, like Umberto Bossi himself, do have southern origins.
The Lega Nord is a regionalist party founded in 1991. Despite its quite recent establishment, its history is well rooted in the past, thanks to its links with some regionalist movements that existed in Italy more than 20 years ago.
The forerunner of this movement is Umberto Bossi, leader of the Lega Lombarda, the Lombard League (a Northern regionalist movement), who thought, at the end of 1980's, that a union among the several Northern regionalist movements was necessary in order to create a single federalist movement. In fact, before the Lega Nord was founded, in 1991, there was a union among Piemonte Autonomista, Lega Lombarda, Liga Veneta, Unione Ligure, Lega Emiliana-Romagnola and Alleanza Toscana.
In the last few years, the Lega has been subjected to several criticisms and controversies due to their extreme opinions. However, it is important to have a general knowledge of the ideology of the movement, the reasons for its birth, and its aims.
Origins, reasons and evolution
The complete name of the party is Lega Nord per l'Indipendenza della Padania, 'Northern League for the Independence of Padania', but it is simply referred to as Lega or Carroccio in newspapers and media. The term carroccio stands for an old four-wheel wagon, symbolizing the town of Milan, that was given to its population by the bishop Ariberto da Intimiano. It represented the faith and union of the Milanese, and it was used by the medieval republics of Northern Italy,that had formed the Lombard League against the imperialist projects of Frederick I Barbarossa. The flag of the League is the Sun of the Alps, represented by six green petals positioned into a green circle with a white background.
Actually, the Lega Nord's contemporary claims have ancient, historical origins: the area Leghisti defines Padania has always claimed to be sharply different from the rest of Italy, due to its traditional, historical and cultural background; it had also been asserting a right to autonomy by virtue of localism, importance of ethnicity as a nation, defense of traditional and popular culture.
Another driving force behind Lega Nord's ideology is the deep resentment towards Rome and the Italian Government, blamed for "stealing" money: hence the famous slogan, "Roma ladrona" (Rome, the monstrous thief). Politically, the Lega would accuse the Italian Government to be too centralized and not to offer enough independence to each single region. Northern people supporting the Lega claimed that the government in Rome wasted resources which were mostly collected from Northerners' taxes and production.
On these grounds, the Party was officially founded in 1991 with the merger of several regional parties, including Lega Lombarda and Liga Veneta and other Regionalist movements. These parties continue to exist as "national sections" of the federal party, presenting themselves in regional and local contexts with the local name accompanied by the national name of the Party such as Lega Lombarda-Lega Nord, Liga Veneta-Lega Nord and so forth.
The Lega emerged within the national political scene in the 1992's general elections, where it obtained 8.7% of the votes, 56 deputies and 26 senators. In the 1994's general elections the Lega gained only 8.4% of the votes, but its parliamentary representation increased in number, with 117 deputies and 56 senators. In that year, it joined Forza Italia, Alleanza Nazionale and the Centro Cristiano Democratico in order to form a coalition government under Berlusconi: the Lega obtained five ministries in Berlusconi's government. In the 1996's general elections, the Lega gained a striking success with 10.1% of the votes. In that occasion, the party announced its desire to proclaim the secession of Northern Italy from the rest of the country, and to take the name of Padania.
In 2000, the Party joined again Berlusconi's coalition and in 2001 it won, as part of the coalition itself, the general elections. Another triumph came in 2008 when the fall of Romano Prodi's government caused a call for early elections, which took place on the 24th of January 2008, where the Lega gained 8.3% of the votes.
Economic empoverishment and cultural massification are the two main reasons given by the Lega for the creation of the Party which envisages, as we saw, the separation of the Northern regions of the country from the rest of the Bel Paese.
Even if the original reasons for the birth of the Lega could be considered worthy and fair, it is important to underline that, in the course of time, its agenda has been controversial and has raised polemics and doubts: federalism or secession, alleged racism and xenophobia in primis.
As far as federalism and secession are concerned, it is not exactly clear if the members of the Lega want a mere autonomy of the Northern regions, or a real secession of Padania. However, a first important step was taken in April 2009 with a bill towards fiscal federalism that was approved by the Senate, after having been passed by the Chamber of Deputies.
Federalism is not, though, the real issue at stake when it comes to the Lega Nord and its policies: instigation to xenophobia and a general acceptance of racism seem to be the real worry of both national and international public opinion. The Lega has been accused of racism in more than one occasion, especially because of its blatant intolerance of ethnic minorities as well as Southern Italians. However, the Northern League's members do not all adopt the same line of behavior. Umberto Bossi remains protagonist of unpleasant episodes: one above all, his infamous statement, made during a party rally, about the right of the Italian border security to fire upon illegal African immigrants trying to enter the country via the sea.
On the international scene, the Lega is particularly known because of its alleged use of racist language. In fact, it has sometimes hit the headline abroad and it has often been defined xenophobic. It has also been denounced by the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) which asserted that "members of Lega Nord made a particularly intense use of racist and xenophobic propaganda".
However, despite all the controversial aspects and episodes, the party has been gaining ground and approvals from the Italian electorate. Only the next general elections will tell us if the Lega Nord is still as strong as it has been in the past decade. It will also be of great interest to see if its ideology has the power and the grip to eventually change the social, geographical and political structures of the country.