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Defamation and Blackmail: an Italian Perspective on the Ilaria Salis Case

Hungary Today 2024.04.23.
A guest at the National Conservatives (NatCon) conference in Brussels holds an Antifa sticker left at the conference venue’s entrance.


As the alleged Italian Antifa extremist, Ilaria Salis’ case seems to continue to both divide and unite Italian and Hungarian public opinion, we have asked an Italian political analyst from the Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC) Brussels to give us an “Italian” perspective on the case. As Salis’ trial is still ongoing in Hungary, we have used caution not to violate the principle of presumption of innocence.


The ongoing media campaign surrounding Ilaria Salis’ case intended to denigrate the Hungarian judicial system, and by extension Prime Minister Viktor Orbán’s so called “populist” democracy, in the Italian print and television media is a classic case of what in technical jargon we could designate as “defamation.” In other words, there are foreign actors attacking Hungarian national interest. It is not for me to say here who is dealing the cards at the table, yet for me as an Italian the events related to Salis bring back memories of a similar, and in many ways more turbulent and complex affair. In 1993, during “Operation Clean Hands” (Operazione Mani Pulite), three young and rampant judges succeeded, thanks to files specially timed to arrive in van in front of a Milan courthouse, to decimate the Italian political landscape that was, until then, dominated by the Christian Democrats and Socialists. As a result of that judicial campaign, fed by ad hoc foreign sources, parts of Italy started to present themselves as “reborn”, or less corrupt, even going as far as to say Italy had entered its “Second Republic” phase (the first being the one established on the ashes of the Monarchy, destroyed by World War II).

Today, as my homeland did in 1993, Hungary is experiencing a campaign of defamation of its own. The simultaneous character of the attacks on Hungary, and especially on its judicial system might indicate two things: the barrage of attacks Hungary is undergoing is concentric, originating from multiple fronts. It is also a sign of an escalation in terms of political activism in the run-up to the upcoming June European elections, something made more evident by recent events at the National Conservatives conference in Brussels between April 16-17, where Viktor Orbán gave an inspiring speech. The conference had found itself on the precipice after owners of two different venues informed at the last moment that they are cancelling the organizers’ booking, as they were not available to host the show, clearly due to local political pressure. Ironically, this brought enormous global media attention to the event that eventually went ahead in a third venue. Hence proceeding on to the substantive consideration, it is clear that even in the case of Ilaria Salis, Hungary does have leverage, and an increasing amount of negotiating power. If Hungary succeeds in wisely applying its foreign policy, then it could well emerge a winner from the affair.

CCTV recording of the Antifa assault in Budapest. Photo: Facebook

However, beyond mere intellectual reflections, in Salis’ trial we are witnessing the elevation of an activist and schoolteacher to the rank of a national hero, alongside her father, who is decidedly more radical than she is in his statements. All this at a time when European democracy is being put to the test by the Italian left, or rather, by its skeletal remains, busy eating the leftover of the ideological banquet at which it has been guzzling for nearly seven decades without seemingly anyone paying the bill. The Italian media, with perhaps a few exceptions, are fed, pampered and spoiled by leftist politics. The self-styled liberal media linked to the Berlusconi family, on the other hand, have no real power in shaping public opinion, let alone influencing decision-making. That is why Salis, in the Italian collective consciousness has, for months, now been synonymous with a kind of Italian Joan of Arc. Indeed, with her letters from prison, she has almost become a new incarnation of the communist Antonio Gramsci, put in prison by the fascists a hundred years ago, and, a prolific author of letters written to his loved ones from prison.

Italian media, at their best, present themselves as neutral. Such is the case with the Italian news agency ANSA, recently bought by China, which in foreign policy matters often offers contradictory and biased news. With regards to the Salis trial it has even managed to mix things up: as Daniel Deme noted in Hungary Today, ANSA claimed that Salis is on trial for attacking two neo-Nazis when in fact she is in court accused of being part of a criminal organization and for endangering the lives of others. It is a matter of words, to be weighed carefully. This is why the Hungarian Prime Minister’s Chief Political advisor Balázs Orbán remarked on X that “leftist media, NGOs, and lobby groups orchestrated an attack against Hungary” and then physically attacked the Collegium Hungaricum in Berlin.

On the subject of cultivating solidarity between the international community and Hungary, another MCC member, Stephen Sholl, wrote in American Conservative: “If the United States wants to ensure that integral allies such as Hungary do not become the partners or pawns of countries such as China and Russia, our officials must respect our allies’ domestic political landscape. If they do not … they risk creating the very disloyalty they fear already exists. Any non-aligned country will look at the way the United States treats a loyal ally like Hungary, and determine being in America’s sphere will entail being pressured, talked down to, and often outright condemned … If the United States’ foreign-policy establishment were to engage with other NATO members the way it does with Hungary, we could expect a decline of American influence in Europe.”

Press conference depicting injuries suffered during the Budapest Antifa attack. Photo: MTI/Bruzák Noémi

If this is not the course of action will will see, and should the U.S. insist on a course of action that is in a collision course with the Hungarian national interest, there will only be an escalation in cases of defamation by the brazen foreign-financed Hungarian left-wing opposition. Furthermore, a recent article in the Hungarian press proves the Italian media’s claim that Salis would benefit from better treatment in the Italian prison system as unfounded. The facts say quite the opposite, in favor of the Hungarian prison system.

Here a powerful historical analogy comes to mind. When in the mid-19th century enlightened (and Freemason) liberal England decided to get rid of the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, which was preventing the union of southern Italy with the more dynamic Kingdom of Savoy (with Turin as capital), the campaign that was then orchestrated against the Italian South targeted, wait for it, the prison system. British liberal politician William Gladstone went so far as to say that the Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, because of the way it ran its prisons, was “the negation of God on earth“.

The result of the US elections in November will have an effect on how Hungary’s relations with Italy, Europe and the rest of the world, will evolve. Should Donald Trump win, there is a chance that American conservatives, such as the Heritage Foundation under the direction of Kevin Roberts, will succeed in presenting an alternative image of Hungary before the world: as Roberts said, “Hungary is not only a model for conservative statecraft, but the model”.

In the meantime, we could witness an escalation of campaigns denigrating Hungarian democracy. The hybrid warfare in Ukraine and in the Middle East could in turn result in an unprecedented shock with energy prices skyrocketing. Then perhaps there will be no light in European prisons, neither in Italy’s nor Hungary’s. But by then the judiciary in Budapest will have passed its judgment on Ilaria Salis.


Andrea Bianchi , Political Analyst, MCC Brussels


Italian Party Nominates Alleged Antifa Member Detained in Hungary as EP Election Candidate
Italian Party Nominates Alleged Antifa Member Detained in Hungary as EP Election Candidate

The case of Ilaria Salis dates back to February 2023, when a group of Antifa thugs attacked innocent people in Budapest.Continue reading

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