The honorary citizenship granted to Jair Bolsonaro by the Italian city of Anguillara Veneto seems to have thrown the peaceful city of just over 4,000 inhabitants into a storm that does not end.
Leading a progressive and minority coalition in the commune governed by the extreme right, Antonio Spada proposed withdrawing Bolsonaro’s honor. In an interview with DCMthe councilor exposes a farce.
But the motion was rejected in a session last Saturday that he thought was a mere formality. “I think they don’t decide. I think someone in a high position either in the League party or in the Brothers of Italy party gave the order not to withdraw honorary citizenship.”
In 2021, Bolsonaro’s visit to Anguillara, called “historic” by the city hall, had been accompanied by powerful guides, such as Matteo Salvini. The leader of the A Liga party is now part of the Meloni government, also on the extreme right.
In parallel, the leading councilor of a progressive coalition that brings together center, left and right parties, filed a lawsuit in court to withdraw the honor. “Bolsonaro does not meet any of these requirements.”
He reports the negative consequences for the city and his warning to the national government about the risks of receiving the Bolsonaros in case of escape from justice.
DCM: Why did you propose to the Chamber of Councilors of Anguillara Vêneta to withdraw the honorary citizenship of Jair Bolsonaro?
Antonio Spada: It has two aspects. The first is the question of opportunity. The second is that which is right according to the law.
Bolsonaro is a controversial figure, which causes a lot of polarization in this historic moment. What I tried to say to the mayor of Anguillara is that we cannot judge Bolsonaro right now.
When they gave Bolsonaro the honor, they said it was a symbolic act for Brazil. But in fact, Bolsonaro no longer represents Brazil. It represents only a part of the population of Brazil.
This seemed like something done for him, not by Brazil, in favor of him, not in favor of the whole of Brazil.
DCM: Was this argument that it was an honor to Brazil repeated now (in the last session of the Chamber of Councilors)?
Antonio Spada: Yes. Bolsonaro (already) was a particular figure in world politics a year ago, two years ago, and even ten years ago. It was easy to understand that he was a polarizing figure.
Awarding Bolsonaro the honor was very risky because it polarized the perception of Anguillara in the world.
I don’t like Bolsonaro very much, but I understand that other people might say that he is a good politician. Not for me (laughs).
I try to maintain a neutral position in my judgment at this point.
DCM: What do you think of the House of Councilors’ rejection of the motion you proposed?
Antonio Spada: I think they don’t decide. I think someone in a high position either in the League party or in the Brothers of Italy party gave the order not to withdraw honorary citizenship.
Another issue has to do with pride. She (Alessandra Buoso) is very proud of what she does and what she thinks.
In court, I contested the technical aspect of the honor. With my lawyer, we have spoken with the judge and we are trying to demonstrate that it is not correct according to the law and the regulation that we have on (honorary) citizenship.
DCM: What’s the argument?
Antonio Spada: In the regulation it is written that citizenship is granted to a person who is universally recognized for having historically brought an advantage to the entire world population; in culture, which achieved universally recognized artistic, scientific and cultural results; or promoted, spread the culture, history and identity of Anguillara Veneta throughout the world.
These are the parameters of honorary citizenship. Bolsonaro has none of these requirements. Why? Because history has not yet judged. History is being made now. Ten years from now, it will be discovered whether he is a great politician.
Currently, he has not promoted Anguillara Veneta in the world, starting with the last two years.
If it were known that Bolsonaro was happy with his Italian origins, that he promoted Italian culture and in particular the commune of Anguillara Vêneta…
Technically, it doesn’t meet any requirements. I didn’t write the regulation. It was them! They grant citizenship without regard to what they have decided! It’s a paradox.
All Italians repeat respect for the principles of democracy, freedom and peace. Bolsonaro is at the center of so many controversies about this. And so, it was not opportune to give him citizenship.
DCM: What makes you think that the Brothers in Italy gave an order not to withdraw honorary citizenship?
Antonio Spada: I don’t know if it’s the Brothers of Italy, The League or something else. But speaking with Italian journalists, seeing how things develop, we said that it is difficult to think that all this was organized in just a few months with the (local) administration.
Surely, there was a bridge, a contact. When honorary citizenship was given, there were several characters who gravitated towards those parties, who were moving and doing the procedures. And probably to reach that citizenship, there was a common agreement, a pressure from these people.
DCM: Talvez Matteo Salvini?
Antonio Spada: I don’t know. I didn’t say it was necessarily Salvini or another (determined) person. When there was lunch with the president, there were so many exponents, including European parliamentarians from the A Liga group, let’s say that it seems unlikely that it was pure work of the mayor’s group.
There is another fact that made me think a lot. Saturday morning, in session, another minority leader and I had a meeting with the mayor of the majority to discuss the issue (of honorary citizenship). When my other colleague asks the mayor: “instead of citizenship, why don’t we do a twinning with São Paulo?”
Because São Paulo is the city where most Italians migrated the most. She replies “I can’t”. But why couldn’t it? If she could give citizenship, why couldn’t she do something else? I believe they are in a situation of great pressure.
Strangely and rudely, the mayor said no to twinning (with São Paulo).
DCM: So the mayor turned down both proposals?
Antonio Spada: Yes. The argument for refusing fraternity with São Paulo was that I appealed to the Court to withdraw honorary citizenship from Bolsonaro. But it’s a strange motivation. Because Bolsonaro’s honorary citizenship has nothing to do with twinning. It’s very strange as an answer.
DCM: Is it strange that Alessandra Buoso doesn’t want to talk to journalists?
Antonio Spada: Yes. There’s a lot of embarrassment. The mayor does not respond to journalists. I understand that two years ago she spoke with virtually only one right-field television presenter. But she struggles to respond to interviews with the press. She only posted the statement on Facebook, essentially for her supporters.
I heard about a case that we are investigating, about an Italian journalist who, trying to interview the mayor and the majority councillors, was attacked. We are trying to understand what happened because it is very serious.
DCM: What does the population think of this honorary citizenship?
Antonio Spada: The issue itself is not well understood and is not very interesting. There is a tiredness of being the center of this discussion.
It is a peaceful people. Some lament that this honorary citizenship created all this trouble. The other half didn’t want me to say anything and leave it alone so as not to create a fuss.
There is a difficulty in understanding the international weight that this gesture causes, including for the country’s image. Unfortunately, the population (of Anguillara) is a little afraid of being exposed.
A part of the population, if they could cancel honorary citizenship, would do so immediately.
DCM: A part?
Antonio Spada: I think that a third are absolutely against honorary citizenship for Bolsonaro and all the problems that this is creating.
Another third is against honorary citizenship but prefers, out of fear, that the subject should not be discussed further.
And then a third have little interest in honorary citizenship, who think that journalists are just making controversy and that’s enough.
DCM: So the majority is against citizenship?
Antonio Spada: I don’t know if it’s a majority. But there is little desire and a lot of fear to express themselves. Also fear of repercussions.
DCM: Do you know what they think of Jair Bolsonaro and if there is an identification with him?
Antonio Spada: No, I don’t think so. Most know almost nothing about Bolsonaro. Perhaps in sectors of the right, they have an important exponent of the right. But I don’t think there is identification with the figure. I believe not even among relatives.
DCM: In Brazil, there is talk of the risk of Bolsonaro and his family fleeing justice by going to Italy. Two of his children applied for Italian citizenship. Should they make it?
Antonio Spada: From a bureaucratic point of view, probably yes. Because, according to our legislation, it is enough to have an Italian parentage.
In Bolsonaro’s case, honorary citizenship does not automatically give him legal Italian citizenship. But, in practice, let’s say he can help, because he is a person who has recognition.
From a technical point of view, it is enough to have Italian origin to apply for citizenship and obtain it. We alert the public administration, not in the sense of intervening in the technical process, but on the political aspect, of sending a message to the government.
One of the sons is investigated for corruption. We are in such a delicate moment that getting involved in these issues is a risk for Italy itself because it would mean taking sides.
DCM: Giorgia Meloni apoia Bolsonaro?
Antonio Spada: I don’t know. So far, they are a bit ambiguous. When the attack took place, let’s say the occupation of the seats of Powers on January 8, the government condemned it. The League also condemned. After these facts occurred, many members of the League, who had supported Bolsonaro four years ago, are now washing their hands.
For example, Roberto Marcato, who is a very important parliamentarian in the League, said in a press interview that he had supported Bolsonaro four years ago, but that he did not know what would happen four years later.
I think that within the League there is a debate about whether or not they support Bolsonaro. I believe that this administration and the mayor may have substantially abandoned their destiny.