June 23. 2024. 1:40

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Italy mulls measures to protect cultural heritage from climate activists


A draft law proposed by the far-right Lega party introducing a new type of criminal offence for those who vandalise cultural assets is under review in the Italian Senate.

The proposed law aims to crack down on environmental activists who have vandalised artworks or cultural buildings in the last few years to draw attention to the severity of the climate crisis.

“In light of the events that have occurred recently, it is important for the government to show some strictness when faced with certain behaviours,” stated lawyer and Senator affiliated with the Lega party Giulia Bongiorno, as Domani reports.

Lega Senator Claudio Borghi presented the draft law in November 2022. Its review in the Italian Senate kicked off on 4 April, with Giulia Bongiorno as the rapporteur for the justice committee, and will now need to be reviewed and approved by both chambers of parliament.

The proposal foresees fines of up to €1,500 and imprisonment of up to one year for those who damage cultural assets or display cabinets and other structures dedicated to the exhibition, protection and preservation of cultural artefacts.

The second article of the proposed law introduces the possibility of arresting those caught in the act of vandalising cultural assets.

It is necessary to “further strengthen the protection of the conservation of cultural heritage, anticipating the threshold of sanctionability” to “respond to a deliberate choice of criminal behaviour,” the proposal reads.

Green activists in the crosshairs

In January 2023, climate activists of the ‘Last Generation‘ group daubed washable paint on the base of Maurizio Cattelan’s artwork ‘Love’ in front of the Stock Exchange building in Milan, calling on Italian banks to stop financing fossil fuels.

In January again, activists from the same movement were stopped by the police after throwing washable paint on the Palazzo Madama building, seat of the Italian Senate in Rome. Last February, the same thing happened in Florence to Palazzo Pegaso, the seat of Tuscany’s regional council.

Environmental activists argue that these actions are necessary to draw the attention of policymakers to the climate issue.

“This paint will no longer be there tomorrow, but the hands of our political class will remain stained with blood if they continue to finance fossil fuels with public subsidies in the coming years,” said Simone Ficicchia, one of the activists who stained the Florence palace, according to news agency Adnkronos.

Many see this newly proposed law as the umpteenth limitation to the right to protest and an attempt to shut down dissenting voices.

“For some time now, several police headquarters have taken measures against climate activists that limit constitutionally guaranteed rights, such as those of residence and free movement,” Giuseppe Onufrio, director of Greenpeace Italy, told EURACTIV.

“While Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni defines the drought wave in Italy as a ‘cyclical phenomenon’ – with an obvious exercise in climate denialism – the Lega’s proposal wants to repress those who, with acts that are in any case not dangerous, raise the issue of the climate crisis,” Onufrio added.

Despite protests by climate activists and green organisations, the Italian government reiterates its pledge to introduce stricter measures to protect cultural heritage from damage.