Growing racism in Italy


8:20 am - December 7th 2008

by Claude Carpentieri    


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A strange mix of racism and authoritarianism is surfacing in Berlusconi’s Italy.

Since Silvio Berlusconi’s landslide victory last April, it’s as if the country started to passively give the nod to a disturbing series of populistic and semi-authoritarian measures. Whether it’s style, rhetoric or actions, whatever the government is doing is increasingly greeted by a collective shrug.

Berlusconi’s victory wiped out of Parliament the radical and green left and dropped the decimated centre-left into a morass of petty infighting. That allowed the Government to hit the ground running. Propped up by the type of anti-immigration rhetoric that Britain would only tolerate if the BNP were in power, the new Italian executive agreed to some seriously draconian legislation. Immigrants are now officially b-citizens.

One measure, for instance, requires their expulsion the moment they get a criminal record – and the grounds for appeal are strictly limited. In the meantime, reports of immigrant-bashing and racist incidents, in some cases involving the police, are just piling up.

In September, Giancarlo Gentilini, a pro-Berlusconi mayor (famous for his calls for “the right to carry out ethnic cleansing against the faggots”) said: “I wanted our streets cleansed of all the ethnics groups that are destroying our country”. He taunted the immigrants that “piss in our streets”. “Let them go and piss in their own mosques”, he barked, adding “I don’t want to see any blacks, browns or greys teaching our children”… Only two months ago, members of the ruling Northern League, including MPs, took part in the pan-European far-right gathering in Cologne, the type of event you’d want to pop to if you fancied a picnic with the NF or Combat 18.

Next, the Government proceeded to set up ‘special‘ classes for children of non-Italians at school. And while Berlusconi grabbed the headlines for calling newly elected Obama “suntanned“, only muted grumbles met his new ad-hoc law that will grant the Italian Prime Minister (himself, that is) immunity from all criminal courts.

And then came the student strikes. Unhappy with budget cuts proposals as detailed in the White Paper on higher education, undergraduates and college students alike took to the streets in numbers. And this is where it turns sour. After scuffles erupted in Rome when a mob of organised skinheads attacked unarmed teenagers (see pictures here), the hawkish former Home Secretary (and later President) Francesco Cossiga went on record saying that the best way to deal with such protests is to infiltrate them with agent provocateurs and shoot (or beat) at random.

“This is how I dealt with them when I was at the Home Office”, he revealed in an interview. Cossiga was speaking of Italy’s so-called ‘years of lead’ in the late 70s, at the height of the country’s own terrorist crisis. Between 1977 and 1979, a period of high civil unrest, several demonstrators died in dubious circumstances. Some were shot by random fire during protest rallies. Although the courts were never able to convict anyone in particular, we now officially know that the government was directly behind it.

In the words of Cossiga:

The security forces should massacre the demonstrators without pity, and send them all to hospital. They shouldn’t arrest them, because the magistrates would release them immediately, but they should beat them up. And they should also beat up those teachers who stir them up. Especially the teachers. Not the elderly lecturers, of course, but the young women teachers

No doubt Cossiga is pleased that only in 2001, during Berlusconi’s last stint in power, the Italian police pulled off that magnificent mix of Pinochet-style torture, mass-beating and planted evidence that stoked up the infamous riots at the G8 in Genoa. And they really did pull it off because no police officer will ever spend a minute in jail for that.

Yet, what’s most disturbing is the Italian’s sense of resignation, as well as Berlusconi’s enduring popularity in the polls. The temptation is to say that, after all, Italy is the place where fascism was invented. But it wouldn’t be fair on all the Italian trade unionists, socialists and liberals who lost their lives fighting for their freedom.

This was first published on Hagley Road to Ladywood blog

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About the author
Claude is a regular contributor, and blogs more regularly at: Hagley Road to Ladywood
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Crime ,Foreign affairs

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Reader comments


Very interesting article Claude. Along with Nick Davies’ piece on the Genoa protests it all paints a rather worrying picture.

“One measure, for instance, requires their expulsion the moment they get a criminal record”

Can’t say I disagree with this – it doesn’t help the pro-immigration cause when people defend the right of criminals to remain in the country. If only law-abiding immigrants were permitted to stay then a lot of the hostility to immigration might die out.

“- and the grounds for appeal are strictly limited.”

That is more concerning though. Innocent until proven guilty etc.

“If only law-abiding immigrants were permitted to stay then a lot of the hostility to immigration might die out. ”

No it wouldn’t. Something else would be used to generate hostility (welfare, taking our jobs/women, different culture etc), and that is if the media succesfully managed to convince the ignorant that immigrants were law abiding.

Richard,
it’s also worth mentioning that racially-motivated attacks in Italy are rising exponentially and they never make it to the front page.

Also, no-one’s defending criminals here. However, the reasons for being arrested can be endless and they may turn out not to be criminal after all. In the midst of such a witch-hunt if I say an immigrant’s done something wrong he/she’ll get nicked in no time at all and without the same constitutional guarantees as the Italians. In essence, inferior citizens.

Say, imagine a Tunisian citizen having a car crash and severely injuring someone. The new measures are just one extra reason to drive off and disappear.

Also, can you imagine the ‘nicked and you’re kicked out’ system happening to the 800,000 Brits in Spain? At the first vomiting session in public? Come with us, you pisshead, spend the night in jail, rubberstamp that piece of paper and bugger off back to where you come from…

Wow, what a world that would be…

I love Italian politicians, they are so preening and bellicose in comparison to our more normal and mundanely incompetent representatives!

But the issues remain exactly the same as they are in this country.

This is a shoddy scaremongering article.

thomas,
if I understand you correctly then…
At worst you love this:
“Giancarlo Gentilini, a pro-Berlusconi mayor (famous for his calls for “the right to carry out ethnic cleansing against the faggots”) said: “I wanted our streets cleansed of all the ethnics groups that are destroying our country”. He taunted the immigrants that “piss in our streets”. “Let them go and piss in their own mosques”, he barked, adding “I don’t want to see any blacks, browns or greys teaching our children”…

And at best you think that denouncing it is “scaremongering”.

Nice chap you are.

When a former home secretary says:

And they should also beat up those teachers who stir them up. Especially the teachers. Not the elderly lecturers, of course, but the young women teachers

You can’t call it scaremongering. Its frightening this is happening in Europe, now.

I think it displays a stunning lack of sensitivity towards Italian culture to take leading political figures at their word.

Italian political history is a fascinating subject which goes back several millenia, for those of you who are interesting in placing speeches within their proper context.

I’d be interested to know what you think has changed so much to be able to say that what is happening now is more frightening than anything which happened in the past.

Didn’t Julius Caesar have something to say on denouncing enemies? Coalition-builders everywhere should have something to learn from that.

thomas,
“Italian political history is a fascinating subject which goes back several millenia, for those of you who are interesting in placing speeches within their proper context”.

Typical straw man argument. Who’s saying the opposite? The rise of fascism was a fascinating subject to study and ready about. So what’s your point?

As to “a stunning lack of sensitivity towards Italian culture to take leading political figures at their word”, I cited the Genoa icidents…taking at their word. Ask Mark Cowell who ended up severely battered for life (courtesy of the carabinieri) if politicians in Italy aren’t to be taken “at their word”.

thomas I have the suspicion that you’re one of those who loves arguing the toss. Quoting Julius Caesar when there’s one episode a day, literally of immigrants being attacked or set alight in Italy sounds a little odd to me.

So Thomas, the fact that this happens in Italy means that its all a bit of a laugh, all very ‘Italian’ and ‘cheeky’, does it? Pardon us for insulting Italian culture by not accepting the disgusting homophobia and racism that its politicians are spewing. We simply must be more sensitive in future.

Your attitude is patronising, condescending as well as ill-informed, because the only time in the past when Italy was any more right-wing than now was under Mussolini.

Would you take it any more seriously if the facts and quotes reported in this article had happened in, say, France, Belgium, Germany or Holland by any chance?

I think it displays a stunning lack of sensitivity towards Italian culture to take leading political figures at their word.

And I find this curious too. You constantly accuse politicians here of empty words… and when politicians in Italy display such brazen disregard for democracy and rule of law (which they constantly change to suit themselves) then its being nasty to take them at their words?

Is the finger-print of Roma children just words?

So is the correct way to respond to polemical hyperbole is to escalate the hyperbole?

Fight fire with fire, right?

Frankly it is hugely ironic that foreign immigration policy is condemned as xenophobic!

Instead we should be looking at the social causes for any political shift and understanding that this is a reaction to the political failure to provide alternative solutions.

It is pure dishonesty and cowardice of the highest order to be selective about political targets because we should all be concerned about the stubborness of persistant crime levels and other enduring problems like housing, unemployment, bad education, bad health and social immobility. Attacking potential allies over mutual concerns reduces the tools at your disposal and destroys the ability to reach satisfactory resolutions.

To be blunt Emma, if you want to discover some really obnoxious authoritarians then Italy’s classical, medeival or renaissance past offers plenty of better examples than the recent 20th century. Mussolini was positively lily-livered by comparison with the Borgias! Make accusations all you like, but unless you can answer the criticisms seriously your prescriptions won’t stand up.

Claude, I’m amused that you attempt to invert my criticism in order to try to defuse it. My point was precisely that we should not take politicians at their word and instead pick apart their actions. The horrifying incidents are more indicative of right-wing inaction and incompetence which allowed public violence to occur rather than any worrying incitement though rhetoric. Sticks and stones and all that…

Simply: scapegoating is intellectual and political fraud. Both by them and by you.

thomas,
i think you’ve had a few.

I’d prefer to take up the issue of Roma seperately… there is also a big issue in this country regarding the travelling community which the left are incapable of dealing with and in some cases make worse with their appeals to popular discontent – especially at local level.

So I’m not sure anyone here can take the moral high ground.

There is an important point here to do with accountability.

I think Sunny makes a good point that the fingerprinting of Roma children is an instance where the politicians words do match up with their actions, however (from my limited knowledge of the internal debate in Italy) this seems to be the most viable way of getting Roma to account for themselves.

It is hard to escape the relationship between immigration and the mafia in Italy, just as exists between it and organised crime in all countries. What appears less hard is to lapse into middle-class complacency about how to deal with it.

As yet the debate has hardly opened up to many new ideas or voices, so we are still a long way from changing this disagreeable situation.

Claude,
a few what? Regrets? Words? Well there’s still plenty of time for a few more of those.

Thomas,

Are you in some way related to any particular members of Italy’s government? :-)

Seriously though, I’m curious as to your particular sources of superior knowledge regarding Italian politics, politicians, and their motivations, etc? Are you, yourself, Italian? Do you live in the country?

I’m not stirring, it’s just that I have an Italian friend who’s an academic, working in Britain, who swears she’d never consider going back to live there because of, (to give a few examples from a long list) the way women are treated [even in educated, 'liberal' society], how Silvio and chums have turned the country into a ‘kleptocracy’, racism, organised crime, control of the media, etc…

Please enlighten me as to why she’s wrong…?

Pick apart their actions, thomas?
When I watched that video of Mr Gentilini shouting racist stuff (there’s no other way to define it) about “black faces and brown faces” with ministers sitting next to him and the crowds cheering, I felt sick. Or at least very worried.

When I read that Berlusconi is passing an ad hoc law to make himself immune from criminal investigation,more alarm bells ringing.

Then there was the fingerprinting of the Roma people. Then there’s the Northern League’s leader (and Government Minister) REPEATING that Southern Italians should not be allowed to teach in Northern schools. thomas, I have Italian family and I can confirm this is new. It never happened before, and it’s disturbing.

When I read, on a daily basis, that immigramts are getting attacked or killed by racist ‘vigilantes’ or ‘skinheads’ or by the Neapolitan camorra, I feel pissed off.

And when I read that Berlusconi and theirt government keep going on about “the communist press and the enemies of Italy”” whenever these episodes are mentioned, without ever, a word of condemnation, I feel disturbed.

Pick apart their actions?
The butchering police from Genoa found not guilty? And you come here with that pap about the Borgias? What’s that got to do with it? It’s like pontificating that nevermind Northern Rock and the repossessions, we should all read about Henry VIII? What in the holy name of **** are you on about?

18. Green Socialist

As an ex resident of Italy I’d like to echo what Andy Gilmour says, democracy is only just holding on in the Face of Burlusconi/Mussolini and his fascist colleauges in the National Alliance (post fascist my arse)

with Burlusconi dominating the print and visual media and the fractured left opposition I and my Italian leftie friends are pretty depressed.

Oh dear, the left demonises the right, the right demonises the left, and ordinary people everywhere roll their eyes as the vicious circle continues and nothing improves. That’s entertainment, not politics – good luck with it, I hope it makes you happy!

Andy, for my qualifications on the subject, I once had a pint of Guinness but it made me violently ill so I didn’t like it – oh yeah, that only qualifies me to talk about Ireland.

Thomas,

I was genuinely inquiring as to whether you had any particular insider knowledge of the country, it’s political/economic structures, etc, which would justify the dismissive position you have taken in your posts.

Thank you for clearing that one up so succinctly.

As for your being qualified (or not) to talk about Italy, well – that was never for me to say, now was it?

Anyone wishing to probe further into that particular little teaser can simply peruse your contributions to the thread, and I’m sure they will find an answer sufficient to their needs…

Andy, I won’t say more than that I’ve been lucky enough to experience two Italian general elections at close quarters.

This showed me how diverse the country is in all senses – though I’d have thought that this would be assumed by anyone attempting to move beyond a subjective view.

Obviously I was wrong to make this assumption during discussions of a political nature, as it is still the overwhelming case that most people think they and people who agree with them are wholly correct.

Thomas,

Come now sir, this is far too interesting for you to be coy…!

so which is it:

- you’re a distant relative of Mussolini?

- you acted as an adviser to Berlusconi’s nephew?

- you’re secretly one of those desperately conflicted Catho-Communists?

- all of the above?

:-)

Andy,
having an opinion shouldn’t prevent you from seeing the situation from both sides.

So just because I’ve actively opposed Berlusconi’s regime doesn’t mean I have to agree Claude’s particular reasons for doing so.

There is correct way of winning your case, but it isn’t by failing to address the real concerns which are rightly or wrongly stirred up by your opponents.

5 – Thomas, this article is in no way scaremongering. Go and read a little about the new policies towards immigrants, or the new Mayor of Rom (who is called Il Duce by his supporters), or Silvio calling for a new Falange. Italy is worrying and in a very different way to the UK.

“One measure, for instance, requires their expulsion the moment they get a criminal record – and the grounds for appeal are strictly limited.”

So what ? My dad came here in the 50s from Italy, had to report to a Police station once a week, and knew that even getting arrested would likely mean being sent back, as did all immigrants. Result ? On the whole they behaved.

If someone came to your house and pissed on your carpet, would you throw them out or let them stay and do it again ?

Thomas,

I’m a flippant, under-achieving sonofabitch, but your arrogance is almost astonishing:

“having an opinion shouldn’t prevent you from seeing the situation from both sides. ”

You make too many patronising assumptions about others. Perhaps we’re actually intelligent adults (maybe almost as intelligent as yourself?), who *have* looked at different sides of the issues, but have come to conclusions based upon where the evidence leads?

From your comments you would appear to have forgotten that the truth does not necessarily lie at the midpoint between two opposing views.

And you finish with this:

“There is correct way of winning your case, but it isn’t by failing to address the real concerns which are rightly or wrongly stirred up by your opponents.”

Hmmm…but that’s exactly what you have done. You’ve answered specific allegations against/criticisms & condemnations of Italian politicians with utter flannel:

“Oh dear, the left demonises the right, the right demonises the left, and ordinary people everywhere roll their eyes as the vicious circle continues and nothing improves. That’s entertainment, not politics – good luck with it, I hope it makes you happy!”

What aspect of your upbringing managed to instill you with such an unerring sense of self-confident superiority? Again – serious question. You’re really quite a fascinating case…

Andy, are you a professional sportsman? Your ball-playing skills are really quite magnificent!

Maybe we could compare concerns about Italian racism with the rioting in Greece.

The underlying dissatisfaction with economic and social conditions (be it unemployment, housing or policing etc) is pretty much the same, but do you think hurling insulting epithets or throwing rocks will cause the bigger improvement to those conditions?

Are you in the business of real, effective political change?


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