Bossi, Umberto

(1943– )
   The charismatic leader of the Lega Nord/ Northern League (LN), Umberto Bossi was born into a working-class family in Varese (Lombardy). He was a dance-band guitarist, handyman, hospital orderly, and part-time medical student before he found in political activity his true vocation. Achance meeting in 1979 with Bruno Salvadori, the leading ideologue of the autonomist Union Valdotaine (claiming to speak for the Aosta region of northwest Italy), gave Bossi a taste for the autonomist brand of politics. In 1982, Bossi founded the Lega Lombarda/Lombard League and shrewdly gave this new movement a populist program (recommending, for instance, a “Lombards first” policy in public administration). He soon revealed a genius for political propaganda. A string of electoral victories followed, and in February 1991, Bossi successfully united all the autonomist parties in northern Italy into a single party under the leadership of the LN. His goal in this period was to break the mold of Italian politics and compel what he disparagingly calls the “Roman parties” to transform Italy’s highly centralized state into a federal republic based on three “macroregions”: the North, the Center, and the South.
   When the political system seemed to collapse in 1992–1993, Bossi briefly emerged as a power broker at a national level. The LN briefly became the most widely supported party in the country, with huge levels of support in the North. Much of the LN’s electorate was stolen from it, however, by the creation of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Bossi cooperated with Berlusconi initially; in December 1994, he brought down Berlusconi’s first government, provoking a five-year breach between the two men.
   Nevertheless, Bossi seems to have succeeded in establishing the LN as the party of choice for a substantial segment of the northern electorate (especially those who live in the Alpine regions of Lombardy, Venetia, and Friuli). In September 1996, following the LN’s outstanding performance in the April 1996 elections, Bossi proclaimed the foundation of the independent republic of “Padania” (the Po River valley) in northern Italy. Showing his usual flair for publicity, he embarked on a symbolic voyage down the Po to carry a flask of “sacred” water from the river’s source to the sea at Venice. Bossi changed the LN’s line in 1999 and made peace with Silvio Berlusconi to form the Casa delle Liberta/House of Freedoms (CDL). He became minister for constitutional reform in 2001. Prodded by Bossi, the House of Freedoms proposed a major constitutional revision whose centerpiece was “devolution” of significant powers to the regional governments.
   Bossi leads the LN as if it were a cult or sect rather than a political party. There is no doubt that he is venerated by the LN’s members and exercises a deep personal authority over them. In 2004, Bossi was stricken by illness and came close to death. None of the other leaders of the LN has emerged as a worthy substitute. For all his antics, and his sometimes unsavory rhetoric, Bossi is the colorful expression of a genuine mood of disquiet and frustration with central government among the small-scale entrepreneurs of the Paduan Plain.
   See also Pianurapadana; Regionalism.

Historical Dictionary of Modern Italy. . 2007.

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