An Awkward Silence

2 minute read

As a rule, Italian politics is low-down, loud and dirty. But for nearly a month, Rome has been silent on what is potentially one of its biggest political stories: Umberto Bossi, the charismatic and outspoken leader of the once separatist Northern League, is gravely ill. Bossi, 62, has been in a medically induced coma since suffering a heart attack on March 11. But after his wife demanded a press blackout, coverage has been limited to brief League declarations that Bossi is expected to be back in fighting form for the European Parliament election campaign this spring.

Still, amid the public silence about Bossi’s condition, there are private whispers about the ramifications of his illness for the League, a key member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s coalition. Despite a strong grassroots following, it’s difficult to envision the League without the fiery Bossi — who has denounced the Rome establishment as “thieves” and called for immigrant quotas “like for merchandise” — leading the way. “It’s a silent earthquake,” says one opposition insider. “This could change the face of Italian politics, and no one’s talking about it.” Avoiding talk of illness is an old taboo that requires someone as bold as Bossi himself to break.

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