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Conservative Conference Incites Division in Verona

The 13th international conference of the World Congress of Families (WCF) — a US-led, far-right, Christian coalition — commenced on Friday at Gran Guardia Palace in Verona, Italy. Northern Italy’s “city of love” funded the three-day conference, which was backed by Italy’s far-right League party.

The conference, headed by WCF President Brian Brown, who led efforts against the legalization of same-sex marriage in the US, was attended by dozens of international anti-LGBT, anti-feminist, and anti-abortion activists. Included in the conference’s events was the introduction of a new committee encouraging a referendum to abolish Italy’s 1978 legalization of abortion.

WCF president Brian Brown addressed reporters on the first day of the conference in Verona. Photo:  CNN

WCF president Brian Brown addressed reporters on the first day of the conference in Verona. Photo: CNN

In response to the WCF conference, an estimated 40,000 protestors from throughout Italy and Europe attended a march on Saturday in Verona, some for and some against the ultra-conservative congress. Francesca Delise, 29, who came to march from the Italian city of Bolzano, commented, “We’re here because we feel we are in danger and that our right of self-determination as women and individuals is under threat.”

The feminist movement “Non Una di Meno” joined protests against the World Congress of Families conference in Verona. Photo:  NUDM Verona

The feminist movement “Non Una di Meno” joined protests against the World Congress of Families conference in Verona. Photo: NUDM Verona

Saturday’s march saw a display of feminism, with many women dressed up as handmaids from Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale. Nandini Archer, a human rights activist and member of feminist direct action group Sisters Uncut, protested despite noting that “there were many Facebook posts from fascist ‘swat teams’ beforehand, telling us to stay indoors or we’d be beaten up — which left many of us a bit panicked.” Archer is also involved in Open Democracy research, which found that the last few years of WCF gatherings have seen a significant increase in attendance from far-right politicians.

Despite Saturday’s show of solidarity against WCF, the conference added to growing division in Italy. On Sunday, tens of thousands of Italians arrived in Verona in support of the conference, carrying pink and blue balloons and signs that read “Yes to life, not to abortion.”

Italy’s leading coalition was also divided over the issue. League leader and deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini attended the conference “to support a festive day with a smile: the right to be a mother, a father and a grandparent.” Salvini added, “Italians need to start bringing children into the world. A country that doesn’t make babies is a country that dies.”

League coalition partner Five Star Movement (M5S), however, condemned the conference. M5S leader Luigi Di Maio criticized WCF, remarking, “The vision defended by this congress in Verona is a vision of the world that belongs for the most part to the Middle Ages, which considers women as submissive.”

Italy’s playing host to the conservative congress sheds further light on stratified views on individual rights and family values among the populist government and the people.