The Mayor of Milan Giuseppe Sala raised controversy after making an appalling analogy between Anne Frank and Greta Thunberg. “I think Anne Frank was a trailblazer for women at such a young age,” he said before adding, “It comes naturally to think of Greta Thunberg because they are two young women of enormous courage.” He gave this statement to RAI Documentary at Milan’s iconic Piccolo Teatro before the short film preview of Anne Frank. Parallel Lives, which will air on Saturday, January 23 on Italy’s national TV channel RAI Uno.
Anne — Sala explained — wrote a diary that became a tool of education and memory. Likewise, Greta began by standing up with a sign and became a symbol of environmentalism.
The comparison made by the Mayor is aberrant and received criticism from across Italy’s political spectrum. “Comparing Anne Frank, a victim of monstrous racial persecution and a symbol of the struggle for freedom, to Greta Thunberg, who fortunately lives a quiet and comfortable existence, as should be the right of all children, means being disconnected from reality,” said Lombardy’s Assemblyman Gianmarco Senna (Northern League), who demanded that Sala apologizes to the Jewish community and to all the citizens of the city he represents.
Senna’s words were echoed by MP Andrea Orsini (Forza Italia), who declared, “How can one compare Anne Frank to Greta Thunberg, who travels freely around the world, has vast prominence in the media and has even been given the floor at the United Nations to express her ideas? Anne was a German-Dutch Jewish girl, who at the age 16, the same age that Greta started her environmental campaign, died in a camp after exile, persecution and deportation.”
Sala is only the latest in a string of public figures to downplay the Shoah, says Claudia Segre of the Global Thinking Foundation, a think-tank devoted to fighting inequality and injustice. “Downplaying and normalizing is a way for politicians to pass off their personal value narrative.” And that, Segre claims, reveals their deep bias.
CDEC, an observatory on anti-Semitism, points out that the trivialization of the Shoah flies in the face of the working definition outlined by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) and constitutes anti-Semitism.
Senna is trenchant: “With his words Sala not only insults the memory of Anne Frank, but also puts Greta Thunberg herself on a tight spot, making her vulnerable to exploitation for political purposes.”
This is a major setback for Sala who will seek a second mandate as mayor in the spring. Rather than a slip, this episode is evidence of cognitive bias. That will not sit well with his coalition partners.