A close government ally of Italy’s Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni has attracted claims of white supremacy for saying Italians are at risk of “ethnic replacement”.
Agriculture Minister Francesco Lollobrigida said: “Italians are having fewer children, so we’re replacing them with someone else.”
“That’s not the way forward,” he added.
Mr Lollobrigida is from the same far-right party as Ms Meloni and he is also her brother-in law. “We have to incentivise births. We have to build welfare to allow everyone to work and have a family,” he said in a speech to a trade union conference.
Elly Schlein, the leader of the opposition centre-Left Democratic Party, condemned his remarks on ethnic replacement as “disgusting” and said they were reminiscent of the fascist regime of Benito Mussolini. “The minister’s words take us back to the 1930s. They are words that have a flavour of white supremacism,” she said.
Italy’s low birth rate has been a key concern of Italy’s right-wing government, which came to power in October 2022.
Ms Meloni, who leads the Brothers of Italy party, had campaigned on a platform that included a pledge to help Italians have children. She said on Tuesday that for too long Italy had failed to invest in incentives to boost the birth-rate.
The birth-rate has come into sharper focus in recent weeks after it was announced that Italy had one of the lowest birth rates in the world, with fewer than 400,000 births in 2022. A significant number of births are also registered to non-native Italians.
The phrase “ethnic replacement” used by Mr Lollobrigida has echoes of the so-called Great Replacement theory, a racist far-right conspiracy theory adopted by white supremacists around the world. It claims falsely that there is a secret plan to replace white people through increased immigration and other means.
The gunman in the killing of 10 black people in a Buffalo grocery store in the US allegedly wrote a document endorsing the theory. The man behind the 2019 Christchurch massacre in New Zealand wrote a “manifesto” entitled The Great Replacement, and Norwegian mass killer Anders Breivik is known to have espoused the theory too.
Giorgia Meloni has not yet commented on Mr Lollobrigida’s statement, but she has made similar remarks in the past.
In 2016, she said “ethnic replacement” was underway as “over 153,000 immigrants, primarily African men, arrived in Italy”. In 2019, she accused the then-government of wanting to “destroy our European and Christian identity with uncontrolled mass migration”.
She also said NGOs working with refugees ignored “the starving Venezuelans of Italian origin” in favour of a plan to “bring in people different from our identity”.
Since she became prime minister six months ago, Giorgia Meloni has won praise at home and abroad for her moderate stance on a variety of issues – from support to Nato and Ukraine to the Italian budget. But critics say recent events show the governing coalition in its true colours.
Recently, the government instructed Milan’s city council to stop registering the children of same-sex parents. MPs are also debating a bill to prosecute couples who go abroad to have a baby via surrogacy.
Senate Speaker Ignazio La Russa came under fire in February for saying he would be disappointed if his son came out as gay. He said he would accept the news “with sorrow… It would be as if he were an AC Milan fan”.