Controversy is the best publicity, or so it appears, as a highly divisive book by an outspoken Italian General is topping an Amazon bestseller ranking.
Self-published on August 10, Il Mundo al Contrario (“The World Back-to-Front”) has now been the number one book on Italian Amazon for almost three weeks running.
Dubbed by many Italian media outlets as “homophobic” and “racist”, the book ignited a firestorm in Italian politics. It also led to the author, former paratrooper General Roberto Vannacci, being stood down pending a review by his superiors.
Despite media condemnation, many people have stood by the book, applauding the General for simply stating the views held by many regular Italians. Others have criticised the response of Italy’s defence ministry on the grounds that it is not a question of what Gen Vannacci has said but of his right to say it.
There remains a grey area, as soldiers are generally expected to remain neutral and silent on political issues. Yet unions representing the military have claimed that members of the armed forces do have a constitutional right to free expression.
Among the controversial statements are his views on homosexuality and multiculturalism. While claiming he that he has little problem with gays he maintains that their nature as an exception to the rule needs to be acknowledged. “Dear homosexuals,” he wrote, “you are not normal, get over it!”
He also criticises “rules of inclusion and tolerance imposed” on Italians resulting in ethnic minorities and immigrants benefitting from de facto “privileges”.
The scandal has also opened rifts within Giorgia Meloni’s right-wing government coalition.
As Gen Vannacci’s book shot to fame, Meloni’s defence minister Guido Crossetto, a prominent member of her Fratelli d’Italia party, was quick to denounce it as “personal rantings” that had “discredited the army”.
Crosetto soon found himself coming under fire from both backbenchers within his own party and from coalition allies in the national-populist Lega party.
Matteo Salvini, Deputy Prime Minister and firebrand leader of Lega, signalled his sympathy by contacting Gen Vannacci shortly after he was stood down. Neither have divulged the details of their discussion, with the General merely telling the media that it was “cordial”.
Salvini simply said that he would read the book and judge for himself, while criticising “those leftist journalists, who commented and condemned [the book] without having read it at all”.
This had led to many speculating that the Lega party may try to poach Gen Vannacci as a potential candidate ahead of next year’s European Union elections.
Speaking to the Italian newspaper Corriere Della Sera, deputy Lega leader Andrea Crippa said his party was receptive to Gen Vannacci.
“We don’t pull anyone [up] by their coat lapels. But if General Vannacci wanted to run with us, the doors of Lega are open,” he said.
Crippa also added that the General’s “positions and values … align with ours as well.”
He praised Gen Vannacci for bringing tough questions back into the centre of Italy’s national debate.
“On the need to claim a more influential role in Europe, on dealing with … immigration from various perspectives, on rejecting uniformity of thought … I would add that he has also shown courage; he could have easily remained silent,” Crippa stated.
“Instead, he sparked a debate, with viewpoints that we absolutely want to consider. I repeat: if he wanted to embark on a political path, we are ready to welcome him.”