At Italy On This Day you will read about events and festivals, about important moments in history, and about the people who have made Italy the country it is today, and where they came from. Italy is a country rich in art and music, fashion and design, food and wine, sporting achievement and political diversity. Italy On This Day provides fascinating insights to help you enjoy it all the more.

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Umberto Bossi - politician

Fiery leader of separatist Lega Nord


Umberto Bossi founded Lega Nord in 1991
Umberto Bossi founded Lega Nord in 1991
Controversial politician Umberto Bossi was born on this day in 1941 in the town of Cassano Magnago in Lombardy.

Until 2012, Bossi was leader of Lega Nord (Northern League), a political party whose goal was to achieve autonomy for northern Italy and establish a new independent state, to be called Padania.

With his distinctive, gravelly voice and penchant for fiery, sometimes provocative rhetoric, Bossi won a place in the Senate in 1987 representing his original party, Lega Lombarda. He was dismissed as an eccentric by some in the political mainstream but under his charismatic leadership Lega Nord became a force almost overnight.

Launched as Alleanza Nord in 1989, bringing together a number of regional parties including Bossi’s own Lega Lombarda, it was renamed Lega Nord in 1991 and fought the 1992 general election with stunning results.

With an impressive 8.7% of the vote, Lega Nord went into the new parliament with 56 deputies and 26 senators, making it the fourth largest party in Italy.

By 1996 that share had risen to 10% and Bossi had become a major figure in Italian politics.

Three times he was Silvio Berlusconi’s key ally, helping the former prime minister win power in 1994, 2001 and 2008 - and lose it in the first instance, when his withdrawal of support for Berlusconi’s centre-right Forza Italia-led coalition brought about the government's collapse.

Bossi had a reputation for provocative speeches
Bossi had a reputation for provocative speeches
Despite that, Bossi served in the next two Berlusconi governments as a minister. In time, he accepted that a secession from Italy was an unrealistic ambition, but he continued to press for greater autonomy for the northern regions and extracted promises from Berlusconi in return for his support.

He was Minister for Institutional Reforms and Devolution from 2001 to 2004 and Minister of Federal Reforms from 2008 to 2011.

Bossi may well have become an even bigger figure on the Italian political stage had he not suffered a serious stroke in 2004, a setback from which he ultimately recovered but which cost him considerable momentum.  Shortly before the illness, he had become a member of the European Parliament.

He resigned as general secretary in 2012, having become embroiled in a financial scandal, with accusations levelled at him by prosecutors that he misappropriated funds directed to Lega Nord through the Italian tax system.

Bossi had become interested in politics while at the University of Pavia, where he studied medicine, through a meeting with Bruno Salvadori, leader of the centre-left Valdostan Union party.  During this time he also had a brief flirtation with a music career, performing as a singer-songwriter under the name of Donato.

Advancing years and the effects of a stroke did not stop Bossi campaigning
Advancing years and the effects of a stroke
did not stop Bossi campaigning
His own political motivations were quite narrow, driven by the perception that the rich north is burdened with subsidising the poorer south.  In 1982, the autonomist Lega Lombarda was born.  Lega Nord emerged from alliances made with similar movements in Veneto and Piedmont, driven by calls to break away from Rome and build a new country called Padania.

Most of Bossi’s firebrand speeches at the time depicted the south of Italy and the capital, Rome – which he dubbed ‘Roma ladrona’ or ‘thieving Rome’ – as a black hole of corruption and waste, relentlessly eating up the taxes of hard-working, decent northerners. He and his fellow Lega Nord politicians brazenly pandered to the pockets of old-fashioned contempt for southerners that still existed in the north of the country.

Apart from southerners, targets for Bossi’s ire included the European Union, which he once described as a "the Soviet Union of the West”, while his outspoken comments on homosexuality and immigration provoked at times fierce reactions.

Married with four children, Bossi voluntarily stepped down as leader during the 2012 investigation, claiming he was doing so “for the good of the party”.  He was immediately made Lega Nord’s honorary president.

Lega Nord supporters gathered in Venice as Bossi made his 1996 'declaration of independence' from a floating pontoon
Lega Nord supporters gathered in Venice as Bossi made his
1996 'declaration of independence' from a floating pontoon
Travel tip:

Despite the sense of theatre attached to as Umberto Bossi’s symbolic ‘declaration of independence’ for Padania at a rally of green-shirted supporters in Venice in 1996, the ‘country’ of Padania has never existed as anything other than a geographical or socio-economic term to describe the area that encompasses Val Padana – the Po Valley.  There is some evidence also that Padanian was a term once used to group languages spoken by population groups north of a line linking La Spezia in Liguria with Rimini on the Adriatic coast.  Bossi’s Lega Nord tended to define Padania as a broad area of northern Italy consisting of Veneto, Emilia-Romagna, Lombardy, Piedmont and Liguria.

A view over the rooftops of Cassano Magnago
A view over the rooftops of Cassano Magnago
Travel tip:

Bossi’s home town of Cassano Magnago is situated about 20km (12 miles) south of Varese in Lombardy, adjoining the city of Gallarate and close to the Valle del Ticino national park.  The area is said to have been populated since around 500BC and there is evidence that it held a strategic position and was the scene of a battle during the Roman conquest of Milan in 225BC. Apart from being Bossi’s birthplace, it is the home of the 18th century sculptor Giovanni Battista Maino and the two-times Giro d’Italia winner Ivan Basso.







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