Laura Boldrini, the speaker of Italy's Chamber of Deputies. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
House Speaker Laura Boldrini has demanded an apology from the far-right Northern League after a regional youth wing of the far-right party burned a model of her in a public bonfire.
The figure was set alight on Thursday night in Busto Arsizio, a city near Milan in the north-western region of Lombardy, where it is traditional to hold a bonfire in the last week of January.
The dummy of Boldrini, president of Italy's lower house of parliament and part of the centre-left government that the Northern League hopes to defeat in an election in March, was placed in a model boat named the “Costa Discordia ONG”, a reference both to the Costa Concordia cruise ship that sank off the Italian coast in 2012 and to the NGO rescue boats that pick up migrants shipwrecked as they attempt to sail from North Africa to southern Italy.
A poster behind the model said that the ship would head to “Africa” on March 4th, the date of the upcoming election, and wouldn’t be coming back.
Boldrini, a vocal defender of women’s rights who has repeatedly come in for sexist abuse and threats of violence, called the incident a dangerous example of incitement.
“This shows that hate speech is never just speech, but turns into deplorable acts and can trigger an even more dangerous spiral,” she wrote on Facebook.
“It’s time for Matteo Salvini to apologize,” Boldrini said, referring to the national leader of the Northern League and its candidate for prime minister. “Not to me, he wouldn’t be capable of it. But at least to the citizens of Busto Arsizio and all Italians for the terrible impression he’s giving of our country.”
Others on the left joined Boldrini in condemning the burning, accusing the League of stoking a climate of hate in Italian politics. “Those who burn puppets remind us of those who burned books and why they did so,” tweeted Pietro Grasso, speaker of the senate and head of the left-wing Free and Equal movement.
The League, however, dismissed the burning as a harmless tradition.
“The fire isn’t intended as a form of protest,” insisted Francesco Enrico Speroni, local secretary of the League in Busto Arsizio. “Every year we light a bonfire in the square and burn models of political figures, including the mayor.”
Previous dummies have included Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, former PM Matteo Renzi and US President Donald Trump, Speroni said, without attracting protest.
Salvini nonetheless distanced himself from the incident, which he called a “slip-up”.
The national youth wing of the Northern League also denied involvement, saying that it opposed the government with ideas and not violence. Those responsible would be disciplined, it added.
The Busto Arsizio Northern League youth branch, which built the guy and published photos on social media, has since removed all references to the event from its Facebook page.
In parts of northern Italy, the last Thursday in January is the festival of Giobia or Gioeubia, when locals build a pyre and ceremonially burn wooden figures.