Women on the Right-wing of Italian politics are not as good looking as in the past, a key ally of prime minister Giorgia Meloni said, sparking anger, accusations of sexism and demands that he resign.
Ignazio La Russa, one of the founders of Ms Meloni’s hard-Right Brothers of Italy party, also said that he would be dismayed if one of his three sons was gay, and complained that “political correctness” prevented him from speaking of his admiration for Benito Mussolini.
The prominent politician’s middle name is Benito, a tribute to the memory of “Il Duce”, the wartime dictator who persecuted opposition politicians, embroiled Italy in a disastrous alliance with Hitler and colluded with the Nazis in sending Jews to death camps.
Opposition politicians accused him of being sexist, bigoted and homophobic, saying he was not fit to hold the second highest institutional role in Italy, after that of the president of the republic.
“The aesthetic level of Right-wing women has fallen, while their quality, their capability, has increased,” he said in a wide-ranging television interview on Tuesday night with RAI, the public broadcaster. “I don’t look at [women on] the Left.”
Laura Boldrini, a centre-Left politician and former speaker of the lower house, accused him of being sexist. “Parliamentarians should not have to answer to the aesthetic standards of Ignazio La Russa. In any other country he would be forced to resign.”
Mr La Russa, who is speaker of the Senate, the upper house of parliament, is a longtime admirer of Mussolini.
His father was an official in the Fascist party in Sicily during the Second World War.
He was asked how he would feel if one of his grown-up sons, who are named Geronimo, Leonardo Apache and Lorenzo, had turned out to be homosexual.
“I would be sorry. It would be as if he was a Milan fan, therefore different to me,” said Mr La Russa, who is a fan of Milan’s rivals, Inter. “A heterosexual father wants his son to be like him.”
‘Disheartening and offensive’
Alessandro Zan, an openly gay MP from the centre-Left Democratic Party, said: “To compare the sexual orientation of someone, which is something that a person does not choose, with being a football fan is very disheartening as well as being offensive.”
Alessandra Moretti, an MEP from the Democratic Party, said: “The State’s second-highest official has insulted women and homosexuals. Rights are at great risk with this government.”
Mr La Russa said he regretted showing off his extensive collection of fascist memorabilia to Italian journalists five years ago.
The collection includes a bust of Mussolini, fascist military insignia and photographs of Italian soldiers fighting in the North African desert, where they were pitted against the British Eighth Army.
In the wake of the controversial segment, he said he had learned to be more cautious in expressing his views on Italy’s fascist past, adding he had given the bust of Mussolini to his sister.
“Sometimes it would be nice to make jokes. I hate all this politically correct thinking,” he said.
Simona Malpezzi, a senator from the Democratic Party, said: “It’s not about being politically correct – it’s about respecting the institutions that he represents and that we will continue to defend.”
‘He is inadequate’
Carlo Calenda, the leader of a small centrist party, asked whether Ms Meloni could not have found someone “less fascist” to fill such an important institutional role.
Silvia Fregolent, another opposition senator, said Mr La Russa had “pulled off the miraculous feat of expressing himself inadequately about women and homosexuals in the same interview”.
Defending his remarks in an interview on Wednesday with Corriere della Sera newspaper, he said he had not brought up the topics of homosexuality and fascism, but had simply answered questions with honesty.
It would have been worse to have said things he did not believe and to have been “a hypocrite”, he said. “I think the overwhelming majority of people who watched the programme would not criticise me.”