Racism creeping up in Italy


6:09 pm - August 19th 2009

by Claude Carpentieri    


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Anyone still of the opinion Italy’s not going through a fascist comeback?

This is unbelievable. After a wave of ugly rhetoric and dubious policies, a number of northern Italian councils run by the far-right Northern League (Silvio Berlusconi’s biggest coalition partner in government) have gone on the rampage against anything foreign.

Top of the list, the town of Capriate, 20 miles from Milan, where the council announced a ban on kebab and ‘ethnic’ shops from the town centre. The news hasn’t reached the foreign press yet, so you’ll have to be able to understand Italian if you want to find out more here and here.

In a nutshell, a council ordinance tabled by the Northern League bans all ‘ethnic’ shops and businesses from Capriate town centre. Most stunning is the motivation offered by the Chair of Trade and Safety at the local council: “This is not a racist decision [of course, ed.]. The town centre is short of parking space and those businesses would worsen traffic congestion”.

The ban is a direct consequence of last June’s ruling by the Lombard Regional Assembly (also governed by Berlusconi’s coalition) which granted local councils power to shut down businesses that are deemed “incompatible” with the “local context”.

“We couldn’t just sit down in front of the invasion of kebab shops, internet cafes and Chinese restaurants that are sucking the identity out of our town centres”, explained Northern League Assembly Members Daniele Belotti and Giouse’ Frosio.

———-
cross-posted from Hagley Road to Ladywood

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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 ,Europe ,Foreign affairs ,Race relations

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Reader comments


And these people are our close allies…

No doubt the man who killed Baby P wold have fitted in well in Italy.

You won’t read that in the Daily Wail.

I can see this country slowly going the same way as we head more and more to wards Germany in what 1922.

The people at the bottom are slowly losing jobs and work, labour says with a big grin we have only reached 2.44 million unemployed add to that the rest the people doing two hours a week training or re-education and you have more like 7,5 million unemployed .

Who are looking after these people in political terms it’s not labour it’s not the Tories, if your disabled sick poor unemployed we do not have a party anymore, and to be honest just to prove to labour my vote counts I will vote BNP. yes they are racist git’s, but boy how else do I tell people what about me…

I know people say Italian voters only vote for Berlusconi’s coalition because the others are even less competent (and because of his media dominance) but this is just ridiculous.

Unable to read Italian, I can’t read the links – have there been any protests either by opponents to the racist element, or by the people who obviously bought enough kebabs to keep the shops in business?

When is Italy going to be chucked out the European Union? Place your bets now.

Speaking as a fan both of kebab shops and chinese restaurants, is there anything intrinsically wrong with a (suitably democratic and local) community choosing to maintain its distinctive ethos? Isn’t this what that anti-globalisation stuff was all about? Cosmopolitanism is obviously great for many of us, but does that mean it needs to become compulsory? Personally, I wouldn’t get too fussed and would allow these towns to become the backwaters they apparently eagerly want to be.

“Personally, I wouldn’t get too fussed and would allow these towns to become the backwaters they apparently eagerly want to be.”

Should we not get too fussed about what this trend towards racism and authoritarianism means for ethnic minorities and basic human rights in Italy?

What does it mean exactly? Opening a kebab shop isn’t a basic human right. I would concentrate your fire on the racist police, racial violence and still endemic corruption in Italy.

Cosmopolitanism is obviously great for many of us, but does that mean it needs to become compulsory? Personally, I wouldn’t get too fussed and would allow these towns to become the backwaters they apparently eagerly want to be.

Hmmm. As it happens, until very recently I helped run a shop in a small provincial town (in Spain) which is still quite unused to presence of foreigners. Every so often, the shopkeepers’ association – who were nice people who I personally liked – would send round an email telling some panicky story about how somebody in a Chinese shop (everything 1€) had been shortchanging people by giving them Thai bahts instead of euros or some such cock.

That’s a real example, by the way, and quite a silly one, but the point is that the reason they did this was that they weren’t used to these people and so without meaning any harm they found it very easy to believe any scare story they heard. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the same was true of Capriate.

Cosmpolitanism is, as it happens, compulsory. It’s compulsory because otherwise you don’t have common human rights, you have needlessly scared locals and you have the Other.

I don’t see what this issue has to do with violating common human rights, though. It is perfectly consistent to say that all local communities should be able to regulate what they want to have on their highstreet or market place. That can be a common right too. No violation of equality there.

And sure, people make plenty of cock up about others they don’t know very well. But you don’t need to be yokel to do that – any old idiot can do it: http://mreugenides.blogspot.com/2009/08/israel-kills-palestinians-harvests.html

All I am saying is why not concentrate on the real human rights issues: things like assault, rape and murder, theft and destruction of property, of which I am sure many immigrants are more exposed to than others.

Nick, stop clutching at straws. This is a common human rights issue. Whereby if you’re not Italian and of a darker hue (they aint gonna do the same with so called Irish pubs or German bier kellers, or are they?) you’re not allowed (that is it is PROHIBITED) to open a shop, a restaurant, a take away place, because you are not Italian.

Are we joking? Is this ok? 21st century, Europe, liberal democracies and all that jazz? WTF?

And it’d be bad enough if this was a one-off, but it comes hot on the heels of racist aggressions against immigrants going up tenfold, draconian new anti-immigrant legislation, government parties saying they should “sink the boats” (yes, what Nick Griffin says in Britain, Government Ministers say in Italy), councils banning ‘foreigners’ from sitting on park benches (seriously), you name it.

I wasnt around in 1922 (obviously and thankfully!), but I’m guessing a fair number back then was saying “it’s not so bad”, “we need a bit of this”, “about time” and “life goes on anyway, lets focus on more important things”.

Or do you really think you cross a line and it says in big red letters “you have now entered fascist territory?”. Please.

#4 Timothy Wallace

Good question. From what I hear and read, there’s been some timid protest, but the thing is, especially in Northern Italy the opposition is in tatters and Berlusconi’s coalition rules everywhere with massive majorities. Also, I myself worked and lived in Italy for 15 months around three years ago and I cannot express in words how casually racists a lot of people (not all, but a worrying lot) over there are. Seriously. Food’s the most grotesque example.

You simply mention Chinese food, Balti, Indian, English for fucks sake, and you’re met with loads of ‘eeeew’, ‘yuk’, for no reason. And then you ask “have you ever tried any of that?” and you’re met with a shrug and a contorted face. Food fascism. Which may be laughable, except that then you look at the grander picture and you see it in a larger context and it’s appalling. I am so glad I no longer live in Italy, as bad as it sounds, I wouldn’t be able to cope.

A guy I know from there read this same OP here and he messaged me on Facebook saying “Dont be so superficial, didnt you have similar problems with Shilpa Shetty getting some racist stick on Big Brother in England?”.

This is the level I’m talking about. Jade Goody’s racism used as smoke and mirrors to justify (?) active racist governmental legislation!!!!!!!

‘Or do you really think you cross a line and it says in big red letters “you have now entered fascist territory?”. Please.’

Of course not. I am just saying it would be better to concentrate on the many problems that are human rights issues. It is not as if these things necessarily denote a particular direction of travel in Italy. I am told that if you try and set up a business in the south, especially if you are a foreigner, first your place of work gets blown up. Then if you don’t get the message the first time, you get shot or stabbed. It doesn’t get much more fascist than that, but thats been a fairly common practice since the end of the war.

Nick…all true, but what on earth (to put it politely) has that got to do with legislating in such a clear-cut manner against people of different ethnic extraction (that is: racism, you can argue the toss as much as you like, but that is racism)? In fact, perhaps there is a direct link: let’s focus on the political punchbag that migrants have become and let’s not bother the powerful mafia that causes so much social pain but brings in thousands of votes…

And…”It is not as if these things necessarily denote a particular direction of travel in Italy.
No? The most right-wing government in Europe since Generalissimo Franco and you dont see “a particular direction of travel”? What would it take for you to see it? The SS knocking on someone’s door dragging them to a camp? Would that do?

And you wonder why we (libertarians) warn you guys about watering down private property rights by turning them into some wishy-washy ‘social’ right granted at the state’s discretion? This is exactly why.

I am told that if you try and set up a business in the south, especially if you are a foreigner, first your place of work gets blown up. Then if you don’t get the message the first time, you get shot or stabbed. It doesn’t get much more fascist than that, but thats been a fairly common practice since the end of the war.

Could you source that?

And you wonder why we (libertarians) warn you guys about watering down private property rights by turning them into some wishy-washy ’social’ right granted at the state’s discretion? This is exactly why.

Can you tell me what libertarians say about the rights of the property owner to admit whoever they choose to their property and to employ whoever they choose?

@Claude, OK, I’m devil’s-advocating here a bit, but they aren’t banning foreigners from opening restaurants, are they? If a Turkish chap wants to open a pizzeria or a gelateria, then he’s allowed to – similarly, if an Italian chap wants to open a kebab shop or a Chinese restaurant, then he can’t.

(for the avoidance of doubt, I fully agree that this kind of cultural provincialism is stupid, and that it’s being imposed for the kind of petty racist reasons that EJH lists).

Can you tell me what libertarians say about the rights of the property owner to admit whoever they choose to their property and to employ whoever they choose?

Sure, we believe in freedom of association (and the corollary, namely freedom of disassociation). There is no perfect way to eliminate discrimination or racism, obviously. But it’s not at all obvious that states have done more good than harm in that respect now, is it?

@18 john b:

Hmm…I’m not sure. I will admit I’m simply translating, but from what I’m reading it looks like foreign people trying to open a business in Italy are up against more serious bureaucratic obstacles than the ‘locals’.

Cutting to the quick, here’s a transcript from something called TG.COM which is part of Berlusconi’s own media group, hence not indymedia or similar:

Niente kebab nel centro storico di Capriate, piccolo centro nella Bergamasca. Lo ha stabilito una delibera della giunta comunale leghista che vieta l’apertura di locali pubblici gestiti da immigrati nella centralissima via Vittorio Veneto. La decisione ha già provocato polemiche. Il divieto, infatti, non vale per gli imprenditori italiani che vorranno aprire pub o ristoranti nella zona.

Translation: “No kebabs in the town centre of Capriate, a small town near Bergamo. This was ruled by the [Northern] League-run town hall, which is banning public commercial activities run by immigrants along the extremely central Via Vittorio Veneto. The decision has already caused a stir. The ban, in fact, does not apply to Italian businessmen who wish to open pubs or restaurants in the area”.

I’ve also just found out that the same decision is being adopted by an increasing number of Italian town halls – copycat style-.

Apologies, I don’t read Italian and had placed a charitable interpretation on the original translation. Yes, that’s undeniably, outright, appalling, undisguised bigotry.

Sure, we believe in freedom of association (and the corollary, namely freedom of disassociation). There is no perfect way to eliminate discrimination or racism, obviously. But it’s not at all obvious that states have done more good than harm in that respect now, is it?

Well, let’s put it more bluntly. If an Italian shop owner declared that they would only employ white native-born Italians, would libertarians defend their right to do so?

“Could you source that?”

Well my girlfriend told me and she grew up there, and goes back every few months.

But I don’t want to push this point too far. If you give states the right to dictate what local highstreets look like, then this is the sort of legislation you will see. Indeed, we have seen some fairly poorly disguised racism of a similar type in London too: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/6605/

I honestly don’t think London is about to go fascist. Italy might well be, but I don’t think this is a clear indicator that it is.

Update: having seen the translation, and its overt racism in the legislation, perhaps it is after all. Couldn’t an appeal to ECHR get that law taken down?

Given that it involves blowing up premises, shooting and stabbing people and has apparently been common practice for more than sixty years, you don’t think it ought to be possible to provide a source?

@Nick, from the piece you quoted “few people think the ban on the restaurant is racially or culturally motivated”. That’s the *complete opposite* of the Italian situation, especially as Claude has confirmed that it’s the ethnicity of the owner & not the cuisine that’s relevant.

“Given that it involves blowing up premises, shooting and stabbing people and has apparently been common practice for more than sixty years, you don’t think it ought to be possible to provide a source?”

Well, its called the mafia, EJH. News stories on that are just a google search away.

Then it should not trouble you too much to find one, no?

You mean like this one? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/europe/7253800.stm or this one? http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2009/03/22/2522742.htm

I mean it is like trying to find an article on the greyness of English skies.

Slightly harder, though, is trying to find any reference in those articles to the practice described thus:

I am told that if you try and set up a business in the south, especially if you are a foreigner, first your place of work gets blown up. Then if you don’t get the message the first time, you get shot or stabbed. It doesn’t get much more fascist than that, but that’s been a fairly common practice since the end of the war.

Well it is the bread and butter of what they do, EJH. How do you think they maintain their territory otherwise? http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pizzo_(extortion)

That is the description of someone who lived there. You can’t expect to see careful records kept of every successful extortion, as by definition the successful ones aren’t well publicised.

Well, let’s put it more bluntly. If an Italian shop owner declared that they would only employ white native-born Italians, would libertarians defend their right to do so?

I can’t speak for all libertarians, but I personally would, yes. Of course I’d also defend the right of everyone else to boycott it, pressure its suppliers, ostracise its customers, etc.

@ 26. Nick
I personally dont dispute your claim.
I just think though it’s vintage whatabouterism.

Because the mafia is one problem, and if you follow Italian affairs even a tiny bit, you’ll find that Silvio Berlusconi has had more than a shady encounter or two with ‘Cosa Nostra’.

But this anti-immigration hysteria that is taking place in Italy is a totally – I repeat totally – different affair. And perhaps, in fact, a convenient distraction. And a more fascistic one, because based on people’s ethnicity, and a more alarming one, because it’s rapidly spiralling out of control.

Each time the bar is set a notch lower and people just get used to it.
It started out with draconian anti-immigration legislation (non-EU people now can only remain in Italy if they have a job lined up, basically a direct link between work contract and residence permit, which failed to halt immigration, in fact it simply ended up fostering more illegal entries).

Then there was the anti-gypsy hysteria. That went along with an extraordinary increase in the number of brutal attacks (see this) against immigrants. Openly racist and homophobic rhetoric from government ministers and right-wing mayors. In one case, Government Minister and Northern League leader Umberto Bossi referred to non-white immigrants as “bingo bongos” saying that no council homes should go to “them”.

Then it went on with ‘Italians-only’ park benches in the city of Parma; then there was the Northern League proposal to enforce ‘locals only’ priority seats on Milan’s buses and tube. Then the legalisation of vigilante groups.

Now anti-kebab ordinances and restrictions to foreign-owned businesses in town centres.

This is starting to get a little worrying for my liking. The EU should say something.
(Note: wherever possible I tried to provide links in English).

Ok, those are all pretty indefensible things, and in that context this ban is another attempt to ratchet up racist inspired controls on immigrants. Bear in mind I orginally thought they were banning what type of food could be sold, not who could be selling them.

I can’t speak for all libertarians, but I personally would, yes.

Right. Well in that case, could you spare us the humbug that it’s to prevent discrimination is the reason why you’re against state involvement?

Well it is the bread and butter of what they do, EJH. How do you think they maintain their territory otherwise?

Probably not by blowing up the premises of concerns from whom they propose to extort, I’d have thought.

Well, whatever their intentions EJH, the result is that Sourthern Italy remains much more homogenous (and slower growing) than Northern Italy and much of the rest of Europe. Just think of it as being a bit like a state, except where tax levels vary sharply according to your connection (usually familial) with local officials and if you miscalculate, there is no court in which to contest the case before a hefty penalty is levied. You can imagine that would be enough to put off rather a lot of foreign investors and immigrants.

No surprises here…

And look at the mess the government they keep on selecting has put them in! It’s insane! It’s like the repubs in the US and their working class followers. You can beat them till they are blue and black all over but they’ll still dogmatically think you are for them, when you aren’t! You’re for the rich and the richer-you and your mates!

Urgh!

First they came for the kebabs….

Right. Well in that case, could you spare us the humbug that it’s to prevent discrimination is the reason why you’re against state involvement?

Actually, it is part of the reason. It can’t have escaped your notice that states aren’t always run by fine upstanding people or that in a democracy where a good proportion of the population are prejudiced, government policies will reflect that (I say it can’t escape your notice because that is what this very thread is about.) And if your right to open a shop or otherwise do what you like with your personal property is seen revocable and contingent on the arbitrary will of the state, can you guess what happens next?

The poor, the discriminated against, and the politically unconnected are precisely the people who benefit the most from secure property rights.

Indeed, we have seen some fairly poorly disguised racism of a similar type in London too: http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/article/6605/

Describing that as “poorly disguised racism” and comparing it to Italian towns banning immigrant businesses is madness.

The bias isn’t just against “foreigners”. I’ve spent most of my life in the UK, I speak Italian very well as well as a local southern italian Albanian known as “arbresh”. Since the creation of the Lega whenever I’m in “Padania” my supposedly heavy southern accent is commented upon – presunably because its not “lumbard” or “bergamasco” and these comments don’t come from supporters of the Lega but from people who I would describe as left-liberal. The other irony is that most of the votes the Lega receives come from southern immigrants and Bossi is extemely aware of this. Racism awareness has never been taken seriously in Italy with many people in the past claiming that Italians are “brava gente” (i.e.nice people). This defence in the past was used to claim that even Italian Fascism was not as ugly as German Nazism because we weren’t seriously racist. I could go on at length about this issue but…
Since the rise of the Lega things have taken a decided turn for the worst and to my mind it raises a whole set of issues which can’t just be dismissed as the re-birth of Italian fascism. The Lega are in favour of Federalism, local people taking charge of their own affairs and not being imposed upon by “Roma ladrona” (Rome the Thief). They often cite the efficient decentralised Swiss cantons as examples of good government. The nice neutral decentralised Swiss held several referendums in which they tried to get rid of all immigrants (mostly Italians) and the same nice people also gave women the vote as “early” as 1948 AD. I fail to see this as Fascism in the classical sense – but Racism definitely and it should make us all worried on a European-wide level. This is a new phenomenon which it is difficult to pin a label upon (Alpine racismwurst?)
By the way if any of you come from small villages and after some time in London, say, you go back “home” and try to set up a business…what do you think will happen? That is what its like trying to make an impact in Southern Italy and if you try to do anything serious you will inevitable come across many different mafias with both a small as well as a large M.
The left sadly is totally unprepared to even start understanding the issues involved. God help us!

Nino – one of the consequences of democracy is having to contend with views you find contemptible, particularly in a direct democracy where there is no establishment barrier to entry to putting a policy on the agenda. But isn’t it also a credit to Switzerland’s democratic system that anti-immigrant referendums almost always fail?

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=MSVary9Nf2wC&pg=PA107&lpg=PA107&dq=anti-immigration+referendums+switzerland&source=bl&ots=Zagun58YpC&sig=fFxS89qfZujoIelXZr2lomVpI5I&hl=en&ei=EnaOSoDdJsTI-Qahv-3zDQ&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2#v=onepage&q=&f=false

I have a feeling a lot of home office policies towards asylum seekers would be struck down in the UK if they exposed to more democratic oversight, even if there were overall fewer immigrants allowed in.

And 1948 aint that bad a time to be introducing voting rights for women, if at least it was a democracy that managed to stay in place for the whole 20th century, which is more than can be said for Germany, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Japan, South Korea – you know: places we now consider fairly civilised.

Italy’s been slipping into extreme right-wing governance for some time.

An eye needs to be kept on them…

Agree with Nick’s first point about the failure of these referenda because when it comes to the point the exploiters realise that if they get rid of the exploited then they can no longer feel superior and then there is always the objective fact of the demand for cheap labour. I predict that by September industries in the North of Italy will be complaining that they are losing money because the Lega’s new anti-immigrant legislation means that they can’t fill all their vacancies. There is also a farcical as well as a sad situation due to the fact that the new legislation involves the enforced detention and fining of all “clandestine” immigrants – and guess what? nobody thought to check whether there were enough detention centres and the staff available.
However, my main concern is that to dismiss all this as the re-emergence of Italian Fascism is frankly misleading and incorrect. The Lega is working for the breaking up of Italy into some semblance of the pre-unification states and this is finding a certain degree (if only minor for now) of consensus in the South. The main danger as far as I’m concerned is not the re-emergence of Fascism but the repetition of the ex-Yugoslav Civil War. The Lega has shown that the seeds of this are present in that whole geographical area. I repeat – I used to feel quite comfortable travelling all round Italy but this no longer the case especially in Padania.

I dunno why you need to use such a loaded (and discredited) Marxist term like exploitation. Both immigrants and the indigenous benefit from more liberal borders, so it isn’t really a question of exploiter and exploited.

And, if it did come to a split, it could turn out to be just like the splitting up of Czechoslovakia. Both sides seem to have benefitted moderately from that. Smaller units of governance is often better governance. The same might go for Scotland. I have no love for the actual policies of the fairly reactionary SNP, but their desire for independence might well turn out to be a longterm benefit for the Scots if it ever came to fuition.

Except that in Scotland my English accent isn’t a problem (barring some drunken nutter) whereas in Padania my non-Northern accent gets me comments and looks from many different sober people and not just fanatical Lega supporters. I could also go on at length about various proposals by the Lega to artificially limit earnings in the South as well as making any attempts to invest there highly unattractive – the mafia in this case can also be a good alibi. If you object to “exploitation” as somehow being Marxist then I suggest you find some other suitable term because the relationship doesn’t change because you call it something else.
You can also keep clinging to the image of blackshirts marching on Rome and tell yourselves that its all to do with the re-birth of Italian fascism – if only it were that simple! A serious amount of tension is building up and this winter could see further negative developments. To my mind it raises many questions about local independence movements and many of these have ended up with serious violence being done and I insist that the nearest parallel that I can find with current events in northern Italy is the fate of ex-Yugoslavia. Italy has thankfully been ruled by many different powers but never the British. I fear that we could end up with Tony Blair and friends bringing us their special brand of “peace”.

45. christian zanone

Can every one please calm down?

I’m a dual national Brit.I have lived in Poland for nearly 2 years. Lived in Spain briefly.

And i’ve lived in Italy.

Off and on.

My father is going to Rome next month to the Thai Embassy as his son is part Thai. My couins were in the the former Yugoslavia as soldiers in the Italian army.

My father who is from the North couldn’t open a business either in the local town because it wouldn’t make any money. You couldn’t make a living there in this provincial backwater either way whether it was a Thai, kebab shop or anything else for that matter because no one has much in the way of a disposable income either to try new food or to pay the rent when the business is going too well.

Italy is fairly well connected through humanitarian efforts and in the north and south they have done their bit to try and not let laws tie them down, in general.It’s a system that protects smaller towns who want to retain some of the historic centres and keep their own distictive culture. Actually this law is meant to protect what is possibly ethnically distinctive about an actual place( my father’s village for instance has ties to Spain). The moment the law is relinquished through petitions we might as well have italians lobbying iraquis who open italian themed takeaway shops in Scotland or Poles who open countless authentic ‘italian’ restaurants because the owners aren’t italian!

CAN we calm down? There won’t be a Yugoslavia situation in Italy. But i take your point.


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