When the Italian deputy Prime-Minister Matteo Salvini took office last year, he hinted a couple of times that in his opinion, spending public funds to protect Roberto Saviano was useless. At that time, these remarks were not much highlighted in the Italian media and few pundits highlighted the threat they were posing. Almost a year now, it’s clear that those remarks back then were part of the dog whistle politics that Matteo Salvini was implementing. Not only didn’t Salvini’s supporters hit back at those remarks, but they also cheered him for them. Salvini got the feedback that he was seeking.
Roberto Saviano, the Neapolitan writer whose books on the Italian Mafia revealed a lot to public and put his life in risk as well, has been living undercover for over 12 years now. During these years, there have been numerous debates over whether or not such measures were necessary but the Italian State officials have always distanced themselves from the debates. Saviano, who owes his reputation to his investigation over the Mafia, has expanded his career to a social commentator on a varitey of issues, including the culture industry, women’s rights and immigration. His comments have also sometimes led to controversial reactions from the Italian public.
After the current government in Italy, self-proclaiming “the Government of Change,” took office, the issues upon which Saviano had previously been commenting seemed more at stake. Over the past few months, Saviano has been calling Matteo Salvini “il Ministro della Malavita” (i.e. the Criminal Minister, the title of a political essay by Gaetano Salvemini about Vito de Bellis, an Italian elected official who rose to power thanks to the violence of his supporters and collusion with the State forces) because of the the Minister’s stances over such issues, specifically towards the immigration, and his inflammatory and divisive tone when addressing them. The nickname Saviano has picked for the Minister has obviously not been a pleasant remark to Salvini’s conservative supporters. The Minister who had previously gained assurance over a potential move to take over the Author, decided to make his move and sue him for “namecalling and defamation.” As it was expected, to his conservative base this was a welcoming idea; mostly because it suited perfectly to their conservative definiton of “freedom of speech.”
Saviano, who faces up to three years of incarceration for such a charge published a video on his Twitter account, confirming the relevance of the term he has been using to address the Minister and insisting that he is going to keep on using it. In the video message he also stated his will to appear in front of the court, unlike the Minister who used his political influence to avoid a subpoena for a charge that he had previously faced over disallowing a boat to dock on the Italian coast.
Salvini, who publicly slurs his opposers, regardless of them being politicians or common citizens, has managed to develop the hint among his supporters that it is allowed to press charges against those critics who do not follow the guidelines of “politeness.” While the Far-Right politicians are getting more political weight in International politics, and as they do not mind using a profane language in order to denounce their opponents’ “political correctness,” the threat they are posing to the freedom of speech with the label of “impoliteness” sounds more than real now.