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Northern League / Padania

Padania There was a time in the 1990s when a brave and free people in the north of Italy dreamed a great dream of a new nation. It was to be called Padania. Followers organized joyful rallies festooned with clover green uniforms and flags where they decried the waste of Rome. Processions took place where sacred Po River baptismal water was carried to the new land's "capital" of Venice and legends from the heroic past were shared. Padanian ID cards were handed out. "Northern Bank" notes made a fluttering, fleeting appearance.

The party that drove it, the populist, anti-immigrant Lega Nord or Northern League, instead proposed two modest, legal and nonbinding referendums in the wealthy regions of Lombardy and Veneto 22 October 2017. They put to voters the question of whether they want regional representatives to negotiate with Rome for more autonomy and return on their taxes.

Since 2001, Italian regions have had the constitutional right to request further autonomy, in everything from education to finance. However, the right to financial management was suddenly curtailed with the European financial crisis. wWile a development and employment gap between the North and South remains, the resentment of the North toward the South is no longer what it was several decades ago.

PadaniaThe Northern League is short on subtlety and heavily reliant on mythology and folklorist symbolism. This flair for dramatic imagery has helped the Northern League stand out among the ever-evolving, and rhetorically boring, array of political parties in Italy. Furthermore, the LN leadership has managed to create a relevant and important party, at the national as well as regional level, because beneath its crude rhetoric and silly rituals, it understands and taps into the deep-seated and very real concerns of voters in northern Italy. Many in the affluent north, the traditional economic and industrial backbone of the country, feel that the central government in Rome takes their money and uses it to feed its enormous, inefficient bureaucracy and to subsidize the chronically underperforming South. Furthermore, the influx of immigrants to the region makes many northern Italians feel that their geographical and cultural spaces are under attack from outsiders.

The Northern League's dramatic increase in vote share in the 2008 national parliamentary election (almost double its 2006 result but still only 8% nationally) came after a campaign waged largely on the theme of domestic security. The establishment of new (and highlighting of pre-existing) volunteer security patrols (called le Ronde Padane or Patrols of Padania - the fictional "country" proposed by the Northern League) in cities and towns throughout Northern Italy were a key publicity tool in the electoral campaign. These grew out of the Green Shirt (Camice Verdi) group within the Northern League active in the mid to late 1990s used to enforce order at public demonstrations (similar to groups organized by other political parties on both the left and right).

In an environment of pervasive media coverage of violent crime perpetrated by immigrants (despite a significant statistical decrease in crime from 2007 to 2008), the Northern League (LN) has made political hay out of initiatives to bolster security, including its controversial initiative to found and promote volunteer neighborhood security patrols. Reportedly benign "neighborhood watch" style groups, the patrols are criticized by many as a mechanism to harass immigrants. Patrols of this kind have a long tradition in Italy and have been lent support from different political parties over the years - not just the Northern League. The patrols had a tight anti-immigrant ideological bent, and a level of unofficial local police support, but seemed to primarily serve as an informal surveillance force for the police.

Draft legislation to legalize the patrols, championed by Minister of Interior Roberto Maroni (LN), drew criticism from the rest of the center-right governing coalition, including from Berlusconi himself, as well as the opposition. Still, the patrols are politically useful for the Northern League and the party will likely continue to promote them in some form, legal or not.

In local elections that took place in June 2009, the center-right coalition (comprised of the People of Liberty (PdL) party and the Northern League (LN) party) scored impressive victories in the provinces and cities of Northern Italy. Within this coalition, the performance of LN is especially significant since it has traditionally been by far the weaker partner. Though in June this trend remained true in most of the country, in Veneto LN had a breakthrough, coming in only 0.9% behind PdL. The League also secured eight provincial presidencies in the north. Overall, the center-right won a decisive majority: of the 23 provincial elections, the center-right won 19. This is a substantial shift from the previous elections in 2004 demonstrating that the political climate in Northern Italy is evolving, and the LN is expanding its appeal well beyond the "fringe."

Though the League has become a more important player in the center-right coalition, the party's real objective remained solidifying its local power base. The next big opportunity to do so will be the March 2010 regional elections. Both Umberto Bossi (the leader of LN) and Mario Borghezio (a Turin-based LN Parliamentarian and an important party leader) have said publicly that based on the June election results, LN expects to take three regional governorships -- Veneto, Lombardy, and Piedmont. With elections eight months away, these declarations were a LN bargaining strategy to exact the best possible pre-election deal out of its PdL partners. However, they also reflected a growing sentiment within the League that it can contend with the PdL in dominating center-right politics in northern Italy.

As the Northern League became increasingly "mainstream" in the north, it's important to take stock of their goals and vision. The party's constituency and ambitions have not strayed significantly from the northern roots and identity that gave rise to the party. Certainly anti-immigration rhetoric, which was increasingly permeating much of Italy's center-right political groupings, finds its shrillest manifestation in the statements of LN leaders, including Bossi's. However, the LN remained first and foremost a populist party, rooted in the north and the region's thousands of small businesses, and committed to maximizing the control of local and regional politics by local people.

While Bossi remained at the helm, observers did't believe the LN would make a grab at becoming a broad national party, but would prefer to maintain its spoiler role in the north. A major "x-factor," however, is the health of the boss. As his health deteriorated, Bossi focused on the short and sentimental game which, for him, meant securing a regional presidency in Lombardy. But with the charismatic leader and old war horse failing, the question of who would replace Bossi was a major dilemma facing the party.

Giancarlo Giorgetti (born in Cazzago Brabbia (Lombardy), December 16, 1966, was the logical successor to Bossi because of his impeccable LN pedigree, ironclad personal ties with the boss, and extensive experience in Rome. He was the national secretary of the Lombard League (LN's "flagship" regional branch) and comes from Varese, the hometown of LN heavyweights including Bossi and Interior Minister Roberto Maroni. With a degree in economics from Milan's prestigious Bocconi University, Giorgetti is sharp and well-respected both inside and outside of his party. He was elected to the Chamber of Deputies in 1996 and has been reelected in each subsequent session. He served as president of the powerful Treasury Committee from 2001-06, and from 2008 to the present (he served as vice president of the Committee when the center-right was in the opposition from 2006-08). He has also served on the Foreign Affairs Committee and is a member of the Italian Parliamentary delegation to NATO.

Flavio Tosi (born in Verona (Veneto), June 18, 1969, began his political career in 1995 when he was elected to the Verona city council. From 1997 to 2003 he served as provincial secretary for the LN. He held the office of regional health assessore until June 25, 2007, when he resigned to become mayor of Verona. Although Tosi has a history of fiery rhetoric and populist action (or trouble-making, depending on one's viewpoint), he is an efficient administrator and has a strong base of supporters due to his attention to detail. He has earned kudos from Veronese voters in particular for cleaning up the streets and public spaces through a "zero-tolerance" campaign against crime and delinquency.

Luca Zaia (born in Bibano (Veneto), March 27, 1968, entered politics in 1995 as the Treviso provincial councilmember for agriculture. He was provincial president from 1998-2005 and regional vice president of Veneto until becoming minister in 2008, and is considered one of the two frontrunners (alongside Mayor Tosi) for the governorship of Veneto in 2010. Zaia is probably one of LN's most "palatable" leaders. He is very sharp and pragmatic, but is not as publicly well-known as Tosi, for instance. Zaia is well-educated (a graduate of one of the country's top oenological institutes and of the University of Udine) and has shown himself able to tackle large problems and forge important agreements. He is also a fantastic public speaker (especially off-the-cuff).

Umberto Bossi remained in poor health due to a stroke he suffered in 2004. Though Bossi continued an active and provocative political life, constantly in the media and public eye, judging by appearances he seemed decidedly unwell. He has refused to quite smoking, and required a personal assistant to ensure he gets up and ready, and stays on track during the day. There was a clear first rank of "colonels" in their 50s, including former Ministers Roberto Maroni, Roberto Calderoli, and Roberto Castelli, who would probably stake claims to the party leadership when Bossi goes.

In June 2011 the League demanded an end to Italys costly involvement in the NATO-led campaign in Libya. It also wanted to see a resolution to the continuing arrival of immigrants from Libya on the Italian coastline. In August 2011 Northern League leader Umberto Bossi questioned Italy's future as a unified country. He criticized the fact that rich northern regions have to subsidize the poorer south and called for independence for northern Italy.

The party's founder, Umberto Bossi, was forced to resign as leader of the party after being accused of misusing public subsidies to pay for perks for himself and his family. On 02 July 2012 Italy's right-wing Northern League elected ex-Interior Minister Roberto Maroni as its new leader, replacing the scandal-hit Umberto Bossi. Maroni pledged to "clean up" the party following a series of corruption scandals, which had seen its popularity dive.




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