Italian outcry over Swedish ‘slander’

The Italian Ambassador to Sweden has slammed a petition raised this week by a Swedish member of parliament in support of high profile Italian author Roberto Saviano.

Ambassador Anna Della Croce Brigante Colonna said her objection regarded the wording of the document, which suggested that Italy did not enjoy freedom of speech and that Saviano had been forced to flee the country by officials.

Roberto Saviano is in Stockholm to promote the film Gomorrah, which is being shown in Sweden for the first time on Wednesday night at the Stockholm Film Festival.

The film is based on Saviano’s book of the same name. Since writing Gomorrah, Saviano has received death threats from the Camorra – or Mafia – in Naples, which has forced him into hiding and left him needing round the clock police protection.

Liberal Party member of parliament Cecilia Wikström presented a list of names from the Swedish Parliament to the ambassador on Monday.

Speaking to The Local on Wednesday, the Italian Ambassador explained that she had “nothing against the appeal itself. I am an admirer of Saviano and want to safeguard his wellbeing”.

In her appeal for signatures, Wikström wrote:

“Sweden was one of the first countries in the world to enshrine freedom of speech in its constitution. Consequently, we have a duty to stand up for this freedom and show the world, and in this case Italy in particular, that freedom of speech is a basic and inviolable human right. Italy must now take responsibility and protect those individuals who are courageous enough to make use of this fundamental freedom.”

“This implies something which is terribly slanderous to Italy and it is my duty to reply,” Della Croce Brigante Colonna told The Local.

In a letter addressed to Per Westerberg, the Speaker of the Swedish Parliament, the Ambassador stated that the comments from Wikström were “totally unwarranted, particularly where it assumes that Italy does not recognize the freedom of speech.

“Mr. Saviano’s activity and publications against criminal organizations in the Naples region are in fact daily debated both on the national press and in the TV media”.

Della Croce Brigante Colonna went on to explain how the high level of security awarded to the author, “testify to the commitment of the Italian State to protect Mr. Saviano’s right to speak freely, and to the recognition of his contribution to the fight against organized crime”.

The letter concluded: “Far from restraining the freedom of expression, Italy has constantly shared this value, which is enshrined in the Constitution and in the laws”.

Speaking to The Local, Della Croce Brigante Colonna said that despite sending the letter to Wikström and having a meeting with the member of parliament to discuss the situation, Wikström proceeded with the petition in its original form.

“I was very surprised that even after my remarks, Wikström still went ahead with the petition. She told me that although she agreed that some of the comments could be misread, it was a political issue and she needed to go ahead with her plans to create a petition”.

“I have a feeling that if those in parliament had truly realized what they were signing, then maybe they would not have done so,” said the Ambassador.