Like The Hub?
Join our community.
Join

Patrick Luciani: Which version of Giorgia Meloni will lead Italy?

Commentary

Last Sunday, the Italians did something they hadn’t done since Benito Mussolini was appointed prime minister by King Victor Emmanuel III in 1922. They elected a right-wing coalition with Giorgia Meloni as the leader of the largest party, the Brothers of Italy, Fratelli d’Italia, a name taken from the country’s national anthem. She’ll also be Italy’s first woman prime minister. 

To understand how this came to be, it’s essential to grasp Italy’s history with Mussolini. 

When writer Yascha Mounk, in a recent article in The Atlantic, was travelling in Tuscany, he noticed gas stations selling cigarette lighters with images of Mussolini; he was appalled. He shouldn’t have been. Statuettes and calendars of Mussolini are common in train stations throughout the country. One can find Second World War paraphernalia as standard fare at any open market, next to the provolone and balsamic vinegar. Benito’s face even shows up on wine bottles. 

Italians have a different sense of taste when it comes to the subject of fascism. We are shocked by open displays romanticizing fascist figures. What is expected in Italy would jolt a German to see commercial pictures of Hitler. Italians don’t see it that way. Fascist symbols blend into the cultural background. Many Italians seet Il Duce as a well-meaning nationalist, even a buffoon, and more victim than victimizer who made the tragic mistake of allying Italy with its historical enemy. That’s why Italians feel comfortable voting for a party that carries the symbols of Italy’s fascist past, signs that may be tasteless but not frightening. After the election of Silvio Berlusconi in 1994, Italians were well past the stage of bad taste and kitsch in Italian politics.

Italians weren’t voting for a return to fascism. The Brothers of Italy is just another anti-establishment party similar to Berlusconi’s Forza Italia or Beppi Grillo’s Five Star Movement that won power in the last decade. Both parties promised prosperity and were punished for their failures. Now it’s Giorgia Meloni’s turn to try and right the ship of state. Not only are Italians a hopeful lot, they also have a thing about voting against traditional parties, such as the politically moderate Democratic Party, which won only 19 percent of the vote. Once called the Christian Democrats, they ruled Italy for decades after 1950. The scent of favouritism and corruption from those years still lingers. 

It’s important to understand that there are two Melonis. First is the politician from a working-class section of Rome who grew up immersed in right-wing politics railing against the EU, the Euro, uncontrolled immigration, and adoption by gays. Meloni makes no excuses for her animosity towards Islam and supports a Europe with deep roots in its Christian past. In brief, she’s a social conservative that appeals to older Italians. On the political front, Meloni has close ties to illiberal leaders such as Viktor Orban in Hungary and the Freedom and Justice party in Poland. Even the Kremlin congratulated her victory, hoping to bring Rome and Moscow closer together. 

Italians voted for the second Meloni, the post-campaign politician who promised to govern for all Italians by stimulating growth and jobs, better social services, and controlling the runaway national debt, now over 150 percent of GDP. Italy is bleeding jobs, especially among young educated workers, for better opportunities abroad. Despite her ties to other right-wing factions in Europe, she remains a loyal supporter of Ukraine and favours strong sanctions against Russia. Most Italians support both. Here she’ll have to watch her back from her two coalition partners, Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini, both apologists for Putin’s war. 

Meloni will also have to tone down her rhetoric toward the EU for no other reason than to secure the billions of Euros from the  Next Generation EU fund set up to help European countries recover from the COVID-19 pandemic. The next few months will occupy her time getting a budget together by the end of the year, which should keep her mind off social issues for the time being.  

If she’s smart, she’ll maintain a strong relationship with Mario Draghi, the recent interim prime minister and former head of the European Central Bank, credited for saving the Euro. The highly respected Draghi did an excellent job nursing Italy’s finances. She should heed his advice.

Meloni would be wise to seek the help of Sergio Mattarella, Italy’s principled and stable president while marginalizing her two partners, Salvini and Berlusconi. They will undermine her power at the first opportunity. Italian politics is a nasty and cruel business. This is the land of the Caesars and the Gracchi BrothersThe Gracchi, Tiberius Gracchus, and Gaius Gracchus, were Roman brothers who tried to reform Rome’s social and political structure. https://www.thoughtco.com/gracchi-brothers-tiberius-gaius-gracchus-112494. You can google them. 

Karen Restoule: How to commemorate Canada’s National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Commentary

Today marks the second National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a day to honour survivors and deceased children of Indian residential schools, their families, and their communities, and to ensure public commemoration of the history and ongoing legacy of residential schools. 

In its introduction last year, many questioned the need to mark this as a federal statutory holiday with concerns as to whether the day would be respected and marked with reflection and atonement or whether the day would be treated flippantly as a “day off”. We witnessed a somewhat typical response aligned with other national holidays: some went about their day without much thought, some recognized the intent of the day without support for making it a national holiday, and others support the national holiday but forewent commemoration, ceremonial, or learning activities in favour of a long weekend trip

Curious, I took to a search engine to see the top searches related to the day for this year. I was encouraged to find that nobody was asking “what” the day is in the top searches. It seems that many, if not most, know what the day is for. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, there were many related searches as to how one could get engaged.  

In discussing the search results with friends, one put it to me clearly: “Honestly, and maybe I’m just an idiot, but one of the main questions for someone like me is how should I properly and respectfully mark the day, and in a tangible way—especially in comparison to National Indigenous Peoples Day?”

I can appreciate the confusion.

National Indigenous Peoples Day, observed on June 21 of each year, is a day for Canadians to recognize and celebrate the unique heritage, diverse cultures, and contributions of First Nations, Inuit, and Metis peoples. It was introduced in 1996 through the Proclamation Declaring June 21 of Each Year as National Aboriginal Day, since then renamed National Indigenous Peoples Day. It was established in response to calls from Indigenous leadership and a 1995 recommendation set out by the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Peoples.  

As reflected in the proclamation, June 21 was selected to align with a day of significance for Indigenous peoples—the summer solstice. It is this day that Indigenous peoples honour the Sun as it takes its place at the highest point in the sky. It is the day most filled with light and one that has been celebrated for thousands of years by Indigenous peoples who gather to give thanks for the bounty that has been provided by Mother Earth. 

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30, on the other hand, is a day to ensure public commemoration of the tragic and painful history and ongoing legacy of residential schools. It was introduced in June 2021 and is an official federal holiday. It is also considered to be a government response to one of the calls to action issued by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

September 30 was chosen to recognize Orange Shirt Day: Every Child Matters, an Indigenous-led commemoration that came out of a 2013 reunion of residential school survivors who had attended the St. Joseph Mission Residential School in British Columbia. A spokesperson for the reunion, Phyllis Webstad, who was forcibly removed from her family at six years old and brought to the residential school in 1973, shared her story of how she was instructed to remove her favourite orange shirt gifted to her by her grandmother and change into the residential school’s uniform. She never saw her orange shirt again.

What many, myself included, struggle with on holidays like these is the lack of clarity around societal expectations. I can appreciate that it might feel the events and decisions have not necessarily been within our control. This type of holiday tends to have a heavy focus on building knowledge and creating awareness and leaves little instruction as to what steps can be taken to correct our course and better position ourselves moving forward. To help clarify, I believe our responsibility as citizens of this country is to take up the Calls to Action from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. 

When the Truth and Reconciliation Commission released its final report in 2015, it issued a call to Canadians to “redress the legacy of residential schools and advance the process of Canadian reconciliation” in tangible ways. The short document, which can be found here, offered clarity on how to do that with 94 separate calls to action.

While these are essential to moving us in the right direction, they should not be seen as a checklist of items that, when completed, guarantee us a reconciled state. Reconciliation requires the sharing of truth, apology, and commemoration—all of which acknowledge and redress past harms. It requires, like a marriage, an ongoing commitment to continuing to learn about and respect one another, an ongoing commitment to renewing that relationship every year, and a willingness to want to make it work—not only for the betterment of Indigenous peoples but for the benefit of the country as a whole. 

The question becomes: what range of power and influence do you hold? And are you honouring your leadership in those roles? What opportunities exist within your range? I once described this as, “Doing what you can within your hug range.” And if your wing span is wider than the norm, bonus for us! Take action on what is within your range of responsibility and accountability, and whatever isn’t, influence it. And while a demonstration of support and commitment to reconciliation on September 30th is welcomed, it’s the follow-through on real, tangible initiatives on every other day of the year that are most important. 

For instance, we have recently seen some exceptional advancements on large-scale projects like the precedent-setting deal that saw Hydro One and First Nations across Ontario coming together to launch an industry-leading equity partnership model on new capital transmission line projects with a value exceeding $100 million. Or like Enbridge, who recently announced an agreement whereby 23 First Nation and Metis communities will acquire an 11.57 percent interest in seven pipelines in the Athabasca region of northern Alberta for $1.12 billion, making this the largest energy-related Indigenous economic partnership transaction in North America to date. 

Maybe you’re not a corporate shark who is in a position to sign off on multi-million dollar deals with Indigenous communities. Or maybe you’re at the very beginning of your learning journey. That’s okay. We all start somewhere. Wear an orange shirt. Buy the orange sprinkled donut at Tim Horton’s. Pull together your friends and colleagues for a book club and read that bestselling novel written by an Indigenous author. Hire an Indigenous caterer. Watch an Indigenous produced and directed film. Purchase birthday gifts from Indigenous artists and designers. Make a commitment to procure products and services from Indigenous businesses. 

Revisit your own assumptions about your surroundings from your living room by checking out www.whose.land to learn more about Indigenous communities in your region, or whether there was a residential school in operation near where you live now. Maybe you grew up down the street from a residential school and you didn’t know it. 

In any event, regardless of where each of us is on the journey to reconciliation, the challenge is still there. Let us reflect together, on a day set aside for just that. Take what actions are achievable. 

As Justice Lamer of the Supreme Court of Canada put it in his 1997 decision in Delgamuukw: 

“Let us face it, we are all here to stay.” 

So, let’s put in the work to make this work.