Far-right politicians, anti-LGBT and anti-abortion activists, and Putin-affiliated Russian power brokers are all converging in Italy for the World Congress of Families (WCF) conference in Verona, a small city that has recently become infamous for its efforts to roll back women’s rights.
Brian Brown, the Californian founder of the conference — and crusader against same-sex marriage — chose Verona to host this year’s gathering after the city passed anti-abortion legislation in 2018. The so-called Zelger law, named after its sponsor, Alberto Zelger, funded “crisis pregnancy centers” that masquerade as abortion clinics in a bid to prevent women from accessing the procedure. While such places have become common in the U.S., they were virtually unheard of in Italy before the bill’s passage. Since then, local governments across Northern Italy have passed their own Zelger laws.
This year’s WCF conference will host speakers such as Italian Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini of the far-right Lega party, a minister from the far-right Hungarian government, the Russian-backed president of Moldova, and Brown himself. Another key figure at the conference is Alexey Komov, a Russian national who brought WCF to Moscow in 2014 with financial backing from Russian oligarchs such as Konstantin Malofeev.
The WCF’s odd mix of far-right populists, religious hardliners, and Russian power brokers are united by a common goal: rolling back women’s and LGBT rights. Under Salvini, members of the Lega party have reportedly led movements to fight abortion rights, proposed measures that would bar gay couples from adopting, and moved to weaken protections against domestic abuse. In recent years, Putin has also embraced legislation that bans promotion of homosexuality and successfully moved to decriminalize domestic violence.
“It’s common ground in ideology. They come together … on women’s bodies,” said Giulia Siviero, a journalist from Verona and spokeswoman for the Non Una di Meno movement, which opposes violence against women. “It’s just a way to put women back in their place.”
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