When asked if he was the right person for the job, in one of his first interviews as Italy’s culture minister, Gennaro Sangiuliano quoted the poem “Towards Italy” by Giacomo Leopardi. “O my country, I see the walls, arches, columns, statues and towers of our ancestors,” he quoted the 1818 work lamenting Italy’s decline from the past glory of Italy. ‘Roman Empire.

But beyond his apparent appreciation of 19th century poetry, what else do we know about the new Minister of Culture?

Sangiuliano is a journalist and author with degrees in law and economics. Before being appointed culture minister on October 22, he was director of the Italian public news channel TG2, produced by the national public broadcasting company Rai. He resigned from Rai – where he had worked since 2003, rising through the ranks – after joining the far-right government of Georgia Meloni. But during his time at the media company, numerous left-leaning outlets leveled accusations of biased and partisan programming at TG2, which was seen by critics as Sangiuliano’s efforts to normalize right-wing discourse.

In Italy, Sangiuliano is also best known for his work as a writer of historical non-fiction focusing on political figures. He has written volumes on former US politicians Hillary Clinton, Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. His book on Russian President Vladimir Putin, Vita di un tsar (Life of a Tsar), is now in its fourth reprint. And in 2013 he co-wrote a controversial critique of Germany’s role in the European Union, in a book titled The Fourth Reich: How Germany Subjugated Europe.

Sangiuliano’s political experience, on the other hand, was rather short-lived. Like Meloni, Sangiuliano was part of the far-right Youth Front as a teenager. Between 1983 and 1987 he was a district councilor in his native Naples for the Movimento Sociale Italiano—Destra Nazionale, a political party with neo-fascist aspirations. And in 2001, he ran for a local position in the Naples Chamber of Deputies, but was not elected. In Meloni’s government, he is considered a technocrat and is listed as an independent politician with no direct affiliation to any of the coalition parties.

Sangiuliano’s first gesture in his new role was to give the green light to two major exhibitions in public institutions: one dedicated to the painter Umberto Boccioni and the futurist artistic movement of the early 20th century, which later inspired thinkers fascists, and another focused on the Renaissance. . “The two historical and cultural moments, each in their own way, projected Italy onto the world,” he told the Roman newspaper. Il Messagerio.

Ahead of last month’s snap general election, Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party, which is directly linked to post-fascist movements, presented a program pledging to ‘defend Italy’s historical memory’ and to fight “the intolerable and widespread anti-Western ideology” of “cancel culture”. Meloni was sworn in as Italy’s first female prime minister on October 22, forming a far-right coalition government with the parties Forza Italia by Silvio Berlusconi and Lega per Salvini Premier by Matteo Salvini.

Sangiuliano has not yet clearly defined its cultural program, but on Friday October 28, the centenary of The March on Rome, when Benito Mussolini provoked a coup – he made a symbolic gesture by visiting the Naples home of anti-fascist intellectual Benedetto Croce. The move echoed Meloni’s first speech as prime minister on Tuesday, in which she distanced herself from fascism, racism and anti-EU views.

A look at the other ministers in Meloni’s cabinet, however, reveals a disturbing picture. The new Minister of Education, Giuseppe Valditara, published a discredited book claiming that immigration was the cause of the collapse of the Roman Empire. And the ministry of the “Family, birth rate and equal opportunities” has been entrusted to the anti-abortion activist Eugenia Maria Roccella.

In the past 77 years, when Italy introduced democratic elections at the end of World War II, the country went through 69 governments. It is therefore understandable that the cultural scene takes a “wait-and-see” approach to Sangiuliano’s appointment.

His predecessor, Dario Franceschini, was the longest-serving culture minister – from 2014 to 22, with a one-year hiatus from June 2018 to September 2019 – and he was able to introduce significant reforms. The centre-left politician has streamlined bureaucracy and connected the management of cultural heritage and tourism. Most notably, it removed a dated structure that only allowed directors of national museums to rise to the post after a career in the government-run museum system.

Indeed, the directors of foreign museums could work for the first time in the most prestigious institutions in Italy following this reform. It also opened up opportunities for independent Italian curators who did not hold positions in public institutions.

Many fear that Meloni’s government will reverse this.

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