Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Right-Wing Party Gains Support in Northern Italy

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Right-Wing Party Gains Support in Northern Italy

Article excerpt

THE rise of the Lombard League, a new right-wing movement, has stunned Italy's political establishment.

The independence movement made spectacular headway at last month's elections, which catapulted it to the second-ranking party after the Christian Democrats in the northern Italian region of Lombardy and to the fourth rank nationally.

Political analysts here see the League's success and the decline of the Italian Communist Party as a shift to the right by the Italian electorate.

One of the League's campaign themes was its opposition to the central government of Rome.

"We are tired of supporting a government that only gives us disastrous public services. And we feel above all Lombard, not Italian," says Sen. Umberto Bossi, the League's leader and founder.

The former mathematics teacher adds that the League aims to change Italy's Constitution to grant autonomy for Lombardy, which has Milan as its capital and is Italy's richest and most-advanced region.

In principle, Socialist Prime Minister Bettino Craxi supports the League's demand for greater regional autonomy. "They want to liberate Lombardy," he says. "But if they don't get back to a democratic platform, we'll make sure that Lombardy is liberated from them."

In fact, the League's politics trouble many analysts. The party's sudden popularity feeds on the same xenophobic and racist sentiments that boosted France's National Front of Jean-Marie Le Pen, says Joseph LaPalombara, professor of political science at Yale University. "The racist dimension is hardly even camouflaged," he says.

The League is hostile toward Italians who left the poor southern regions en masse in the 1960s for opportunities in the industrialized north, say political analysts. And, they add, it is racist toward Italy's burgeoning masses of recent third-world immigrants.

Italian President Francesco Cossiga and other leading politicians have also sharply criticized the League for undermining national unity and contravening the basic principles that led to Italian unification in 1861.

League officials deny charges that they are racist and that they want to destroy the unity of Italy. …

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