A Brothers of Italy politician who was once photographed wearing a Nazi swastika armband is among the junior ministers appointed in Giorgia Meloni’s government.
Galeazzo Bignami, named undersecretary at the infrastructure ministry, caused controversy after a photograph of him wearing the armband was published by an Italian newspaper in 2016. The photo dated back to his stag party in 2005, and after it initially emerged in the press he shrugged the gesture off as a bit of “lighthearted” fun.
Bignami, a 47-year-old lawyer, secured a second term in parliament in the late September general election won by a coalition led by Meloni’s Brothers of Italy – a party that traces its origins back to the neofascist Italian Social Movement (MSI).
On Monday Bignami said he felt “profound shame” over the Nazi armband photo while firmly condemning “any form of totalitarianism” and describing nazism as “the absolute evil”.
In another controversial incident in 2019, Bignami published a photo on social media of the names of foreign residents listed on the intercom of a council-owned apartment building in Bologna, saying he “couldn’t give a shit” about their privacy.
His appointment was condemned by the Italian anti-fascism association, Anpi, and opposition politicians, including Marco Furfaro, a deputy with the Democratic party who said the move was “an offence, an indecency against the constitution, history, memory and victims of the swastika”. Furfaro added: “Shame on you Giorgia Meloni.”
Bignam is not the only minister whose appointment has drawn criticism.
Claudio Durigon, who proposed renaming a park in the Lazio town of Latina after the brother of the Italian fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, is now an undersecretary at the labour ministry.
Durigon, a politician with the far-right League, a junior partner in Meloni’s government, was forced to resign as an economy ministry undersecretary last summer over his proposal to replace the names of the assassinated anti-mafia judges Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino with Arnaldo Mussolini, whom the park was originally named after.
Meanwhile, Isabella Rauti, the daughter of Pino Rauti, who was an official within MSI, a party established in 1946 by Mussolini’s supporters, has been named a junior minister for families and births.
Despite the appointments, Meloni, who in the past has praised Mussolini, continues to reiterate that she has no fascist sympathies. When a journalist from La Stampa asked for her reaction to the thousands of Mussolini admirers who converged on the dictator’s home town of Predappio over the weekend to mark the 100th anniversary of his march on Rome, Meloni replied: “You know what I think. It is something that is politically very distant from me. You always return to this [question], and you can ask it again, but my response will always be the same.”
Other junior appointments include Valentino Valentini, a politician from the former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, another member of Meloni’s coalition, who over the years has nurtured ties with Russia, at the ministry of economic development.
Lucia Borgonzoni, a former culture minister who in 2018 said she hadn’t read a book in three years, is now back at the ministry, as is Vittorio Sgarbi, a close friend of Berlusconi who served as cultural minister in his second government.