Bossi, Umberto

Bossi, Umberto
▪ 1997

      In the already fractious world of Italian politics, secessionist Umberto Bossi raised eyebrows in 1996 by calling for a complete break—dividing Italy into separate nations. In September Bossi, the leader of the rightist Northern League political party, declared independence for a portion of northern Italy that he dubbed the Republic of Padania. Exploiting the economic and cultural differences between north and south, he argued that wealthy northern cities were hampered by poorer, less-developed cities to the south and that the breakaway republic would hold its own as a member of the European Union. He illustrated his vision of Padania with flashy iconography that recalled the historic Lombard League, a medieval alliance between northern Italian towns that defeated the Holy Roman emperor Frederick I Barbarossa at the Battle of Legnano in 1176.

      As a political reality, however, the proposed republic remained mired in mythology; very few Italians actually supported secession. In fact, on the day of Bossi's main rally in Venice, many more attended a counterdemonstration in Milan held by the far-right National Alliance, led by Gianfranco Fini. Observers noted, however, that despite widespread indifference to Bossi's separatist agenda, he succeeded in garnering support for his platform of federalist reform and participation in the European Monetary System.

      Bossi was born on Sept. 19, 1941, in the Varese province town of Cassano Magnago, north of Milan. He received a high-school diploma and worked as a hospital orderly in Pavia before entering politics. In 1979 he met Bruno Salvadori, a federalist reformer from the northwestern Italian region of Valle d'Aosta, who inspired him in the mid-1980s to form a regional party called the Lombard League, which captured seats in the national legislature in 1987, installing Bossi as senator. Two years later the Lombard League won representation in the European Parliament.

      In 1991 Bossi refashioned the Lombard League as the Northern League, which soon proved dominant in northern Italy. The party's membership in government swelled after the elections of 1992, when Bossi was voted into the Chamber of Deputies. In 1994 the Northern League became the largest political faction in the nation on the strength of its federalist message, distance from incumbent corruption, and timely alliance with Silvio Berlusconi, who was elected prime minister that March. By December 1994, however, the Northern League had retreated from this alliance, and Bossi's threat of a no-confidence vote forced Berlusconi's resignation. In the 1996 national elections, the party won 10.1% of the vote for the Chamber of Deputies and 10.4% of the Senate vote. (TOM MICHAEL)

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Universalium. 2010.

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