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ITALY

Italy should ‘take back’ the Mona Lisa from France: Salvini

The Mona Lisa, the world's most famous painting, should be brought back home to Italy from France, Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Wednesday, before clarifying he was joking.

Italy should 'take back' the Mona Lisa from France: Salvini
Photo: Wikicommons
His comments come as French-Italian relations have nosedived following a series of rows over illegal immigration, domestic policies and personal attacks directed at French President Emmanuel Macron. 
   
“I announce that we're working with the French ambassador to take back the Mona Lisa,” Salvini said at a press conference to announce events commemorating 500 years since the death of the artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci.
   
“It would be more convenient for everyone who wants to see her up close,” said Salvini, who is also interior minister.
   
“Joking apart, obviously, we don't need more international crises.” 
 
Photo: AFP
   
Da Vinci was born in the Medici-ruled Republic of Florence in 1452 but died in France in 1519.
   
Salvini said he would visit Da Vinci's Last Supper fresco in Milan before May 2nd, the date of the Renaissance polymath's death.
   
“As for the Mona Lisa, as long as she is in Paris, that will take a bit longer,” Salvini said.
   
The painting, whose mysterious smile has long captivated artists and admirers, draws millions of people to the Louvre museum in the French capital each year.
 
France and Italy's relationship has soured since Salvini and populist leader Luigi Di Maio formed a government in June. The two governments have clashed on a variety of issues, including the Lyon-Turin train line, migrants and the loan of art works for this year's Da Vinci events. France in February recalled its ambassador after a series of “outrageous” statements by Italian officials.
   
On Wednesday the Italian government presented a wide-ranging schedule for celebrations to mark da Vinci's death over the next year.
   
“It's a holiday that will last all year and it's an opportunity for Italy to celebrate a genius, a genius that is ours, universally appreciated, so much so that the celebrations will take place around the world,” said Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
   
Dozens of events are planned until April 2020. A major exhibition dedicated to Da Vinci's scientific genius opened on Wednesday at the Scuderie del Quirinale palace in Rome, entitled “La scienza prima della scienza” ('science before science'). 
 

Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
 

Member comments

  1. ‘See it up close’. Like you require a pair of binoculars to view Dantes Inferno even with no one else near you.

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IMMIGRATION

Migrant row between France and Italy caps a history of prickly relations

A war of words between France and Italy over migrants has set the scene for a testy European summit this week after the latest spat between neighbours who have had complicated relations for centuries.

Migrant row between France and Italy caps a history of prickly relations
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. Photo: AFP
Emmanuel Macron's rocky relationship with Italy's ruling populists worsened this weekend when far-right Interior Minister Matteo Salvini blasted the French president's “arrogant” stance on immigration.
   
Salvini further accused Macron of hypocrisy for criticising his hardline approach while France continues to “push back women, children and men” across the border back into Italy.
   
Macron, who argues that France has taken in more asylum seekers than Italy this year as the massive influx across the Mediterranean has slowed, hit back: “We won't take lessons from anyone.” 
   
The heated exchange overshadowed a weekend meeting in Brussels that was supposed to find better ways to handle the hundreds of thousands arriving from Africa, the Middle East and Asia since 2015. European leaders are set to meet on Thursday and Friday in Brussels to discuss the issue as well as eurozone reforms.
 
'Irresponsible': France blasts Italy but defends not taking in stranded migrant ship
Photo: AFP
   
Macron was perhaps destined to get on badly with Salvini after coming to power in an election that pitched his pro-EU centrism against the far-right populism of Marine Le Pen.
   
He won no friends in Rome last week by likening anti-migrant sentiment to “leprosy”, and compounded the row by suggesting that with arrival numbers down, Italy did not have a migrant crisis but a political one. He had already attracted Italy's ire by criticising its refusal to take in 630 migrants onboard the Aquarius rescue ship, and a Franco-Spanish proposal for “closed” migrant camps in arrival countries went down similarly badly.
   
France's ambassador to Rome was summoned this month over the row, and while Macron is heading to the Vatican Tuesday to meet Pope Francis, he is not stopping in Rome to meet Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.
   
“The political leaders of Italy and France have not treated each other this badly since they were at war,” Aldo Cazzullo observed in the Corriere della Sera newspaper.
 
From Napoleon to Libya
 
Analysts say the chill reflects not just a clash of political worldviews but a long history of animosity.
   
The 20th century saw times of both bitter enmity during World War II and close cooperation as the neighbours worked together to build the EU afterwards.
 
Gilles Bertrand, co-author of a history of Franco-Italian relations since 1660, sees traces of centuries-old invasions by European powers, including France under Napoleon Bonaparte, in contemporary suspicions.
 
“Even though they are extremely close culturally, with ties going back to the Middle Ages — commercial, intellectual, artistic — it goes down badly when France acts superior,” said Bertrand, a professor of modern history at the University of Grenoble Alpes.
 
'I never meant to offend you': Macron tries to smooth over migrant row with Italy
Photo: AFP
   
More recently, resentment brimmed over the 2011 NATO intervention in Libya — a former Italian colony — which was heavily backed by France. 
   
“The Italians are hugely sensitive when it comes to Libya,” said Jean-Pierre Darnis, a lecturer at the University of Nice Sophia Antipolis who specialises in Franco-Italian relations. “Their reading of it is that in 2011 France intervened in Libya to dislodge them” in their former sphere of influence, he told AFP.
 
Italy also views Libya's current lawlessness — a driving force in the migrant exodus from the North African country — as the direct result of the intervention, an additional source of anger, he said.
   
The bombing campaign was before Macron's time, but soon after his arrival in power last year he aggravated tensions over Libya again by organising a spontaneous peace conference independently of Italy.
 
Photo: AFP
 
'Economic colonialism'
 
The last few years have also seen growing tensions between the neighbours over investment projects.
   
French companies invested heavily in Italy in the 1990s and 2000s, including luxury group LVMH's acquisition of the Fendi label in 2001 and Bulgari a decade later.
   
Yet the value of French takeovers since 2000 has been more than five times higher of the value of Italian takeovers in France, according to financial analysts Dealogic — leading to regular accusations of “economic colonialism”.
   
On this front, again, Macron's presidency got off to a bad start — he temporarily nationalised the STX shipyard instead of giving a majority stake to Italy's Fincantieri, reneging on an agreement between Rome and the previous French government.
   
A face-saving deal was eventually worked out to hand the Italian shipbuilder 50 percent of STX, “but it did a huge amount of damage,” said Darnis.
   
“It wiped out pretty much all of Macron's political capital in Italy,” he added.
 
By AFP's Katy Lee and Marie Wolfrom
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