Si Salvini chi può. When Italy’s two most bellicose parties finally agreed to form a government on June 1, following 88 days of post-election grandstanding, the left daily Il Manifesto led with a title playing on si salvi chi può, or, as we say in English, “every man for himself.” And indeed, Matteo Salvini, 45, federal secretary of the fearmongering, xenophobic Lega party and the man whose surname lent itself to the pun, had been quick to grab more than his share of the seats on the lifeboat of government.
The Lega took 17 percent of the vote in March 4 elections—only about half of the 33 percent won by their new government comrades in arms, the Five Star Movement (M5S). But Salvini and Co. will field almost as many ministers (six, including the key post of undersecretary to the prime minister) as the M5S (eight). And the brash, demagogic Lega chieftain will not only hold down the interior ministry (controlling the police, intelligence services, and the handling of migrants, whom he has repeatedly demonized); he will be deputy prime minister to titular premier Giuseppe Conte, a law professor with no political experience. To M5S leader Luigi Di Maio, 31, falls the ministry of labor and economic development. Although he’s never actually held a job, Di Maio will be responsible for the job market, characterized by high unemployment and widespread conditions of precarity. He, too, will be a deputy prime minister, in a two-pronged strategy to supervise Conte, who looks set to be little more than a fig leaf for the fractious duo Salvini–Di Maio. It didn’t take the new prime minister long to acquire a nickname: Conte Non Conta un C**** (“Conte doesn’t Count Jack”).
But “every man for himself” was exactly what Salvini had in mind when on Sunday he ordered Italian ports to refuse to dock the Aquarius, an SOS Méditerranée rescue boat with 629 migrants aboard, among them 123 unaccompanied minors, 11 other children, and seven pregnant women, that was approaching Italy. Those on board had been rescued in several operations off the coast of Libya, some of them pulled out of the water by the Italian navy. The mayors of Naples, Palermo, Messina, and Reggio Calabria all quickly announced that their ports were open to the Aquarius. But on Monday, Spain’s new prime minister, Pedro Sánchez, offered to allow the migrants to come ashore at Valencia, and Italy will provide smaller boats to help make the crossing.
When an Italy-bound boat sank off Tunisia the week before, killing dozens, Salvini had warned that “the good times are over for the clandestini,” the migrants without papers. “They’ll have to pack their bags now.” The Tunisian migrants were “jailbirds,” he said. That and his cruel quip about “good times” was as clear an announcement as any that migrants will continue to be the bêtes noires and rallying cry of the right. They’ll pay a high price for their scapegoat role.