Today is officially the 73rd birthday of the Italian Republic.
Last Friday, the Italian Embassy in Washington, DC held its annual gala with America’s B-List politicians in attendance. Wilbur Ross, Andrew Wheeler, and Kellyanne Conway filled in for any bigshots in the Trump Administration. (Ross is Secy of Commerce, Wheeler is the EPA Administrator, and Conway is a Trump spokeswoman.)
Italy’s diplomats may not attract President Trump’s attention here, but Italian politics in la patria are closely scrutinized by Trump’s ideologue Steve Bannon. Bannon is hanging around Europe these days advising and cheering on right-wing movements in many countries. Bannon has set out to establish a training center for Judeo-Christian primacy in Italy at an ancient monastery outside Rome. Thus far, his plans have been stymied by some Italian officials who want no political movements at a religious site. But Bannon soldiers on.
Bannon chums around with Interior Minister Matteo Salvini who is climbing to de facto leadership of the European right. Considered an Italian Trump, Salvini has adopted the “Italians First!” refrain.
Make no mistake, there is a rising tide of revulsion among Europeans with illegal immigration and the European Union’s suppression of nationalism. However, the Brits, motivated by this erosion of sovereignty, are showing how just opting out on Europe can be a sticky wicket. Other European nations are paying attention and have decided to change the EU from inside. In Italy, the Lega Salvini party just won 34% of Italy’s representation to the European Parliament. (Remember, a parliamentary system can empower even small coalitions.)
Salvini has been compared to Mussolini, which he doesn’t consider an insult. He has transformed himself from a northern Italian demagogue, who denounced southern Italians not long ago, into an anti-immigrant nationalist popular even in Sicily.
Where once the Italian Republic maintained the center of the political spectrum, Italy’s decline into the economic and social doldrums is splitting its citizens down the middle. Clearly, this same split is reflected in the U.S. as well as all the Western countries. There is a sense by many that globalism and the massive influx of foreigners will be our undoing. Favoring your own kind, be they fellow ethnics or assimilated citizens, is considered racism or tribalism to those who would judge traditionists.
Ambassador Varricchio in Washington and NY Consul General Genuardi represent a stark contrast to Italy’s diplomats of yesteryear. They exhibit only a superficial regard for Italian Americans. One telling example is their disdain for Italian American participation at La Casa Italiana (at Columbia University). In 1933 the Italian government awarded medals to the Paterno Family that built and donated the $15 million palazzo. (It made the NY Times, with photo!) Today, Italian diplomats consider us a nuisance.
Varricchio and Genuardi will rotate out of the U.S. this year. Whether they will be replaced by “nationalists,” who realize that American cousins should be respected, remains to be seen.
Speaking of the NY Times, I’ll stray a bit to show how the Italian diplomatic corps in the country doesn’t care a wit about Italy’s reputation in the media. In yesterday’s Times there was a story on Pope Francis’s visit to Romania, written by its Rome correspondent Jason Horowitz. Horowitz echoed the similarity between Matteo Salvini and Mussolini in the treatment of “Roma” (i.e. Gypsies) living in Italy. He could have stopped there and made a point. However, he continued with fake history: “[Mussolini] ultimately sent at least a half a million Roma to die alongside Jews in Nazi death camps.”
I immediately emailed a protest to the Times quoting this passage from the Holocaust Encyclopedia:
“In 1939, about a million Roma lived in Europe. About half of all European Roma lived in eastern Europe, especially in the Soviet Union and Romania. Hungary, Yugoslavia, and Bulgaria also had large Romani communities. In Greater Germany there were about 30,000 Roma, most of whom held German citizenship; about 11,200 of this number lived in Austria. Relatively few Roma lived in western Europe.” [emphasis added]
To go from “relatively few” to half a million Gypsies, and to accuse Italians – even Mussolini – of this holocaust is revisionist history at its worst.
I wonder if Italian diplomats here even read American newspapers. -JLM