Saturday, May 17, 2008

"Ethnic Cleansing" in Italy

Apropos this, this is depressing. 61% of Italians want the Roma expelled. Got that? Ethnic cleansing is a public priority. In Naples, organised thugs are trying to make this a reality by attacking Roma camps with molotov cocktails, and bragging of "ethnic cleansing". Locals allegedly watched and applauded as this happened, after a woman claimed that gypsies had broken into her flat and tried to steal her baby. The idea that gypsies steal babies is quite a common racist claim. Before travelling to Rome myself in 2006, I read several accounts on travel websites which insisted that this was true, and that sometimes they might even chuck the baby at you as a prelude to stealing your stuff. This isn't a joke. People are being murdered because this sort of tale is widely believed.

So what is going on in Italy? The far right Northern League doubled its electorate in the recent elections, gaining 8.3% of the national vote. Rome now has a neo-fascist mayor. He was greeted by cheers of Duce! when he was elected, while Umberto Bossi told reporters: "I don't know what the left wants [but] we are ready ... If they want conflicts, I have 300,000 men always on hand." Berlusconi added: "We are the new Falange." And, on top of it all, he was backed by a sizeable portion of Rome's Jewish population because of his support for Israel. (Importantly, however, the Jewish quarter was also the site of early protests against the new mayor). This is a stunning reversal in a country that has hitherto boasted the biggest anti-capitalist and antiwar demonstrations, and one of the strongest votes for an explicitly anti-capitalist party in Europe. There, Berlusconi's government was broken by waves of mass strike action and protest, and eventually kicked out. Now, he's back and his closest ally in government is Bossi.

In truth, the previous centre-left government had connived in the demonisation and repression of Roma gypsies. It was Prodi who introduced an emergency decree authorising expulsion of the Roma in October 2007. And whereas Berlusconi had been unable to drive gypsies outside Rome's city limits because of protest, Veltroni responded to racist hysteria about gypsy criminality by pledging to drive them into 'solidarity villages' - small camps outside Rome controlled by police. It's hard to imagine a more disgusting politically correct term for such an obscenely racist measure. This followed the rape and murder of one Giovanna Reggiani, it turned out by a Roma gypsy. The reason the police were able to track down the suspect quickly was that a resident of the same camp on which the man was living had alerted them. Still, anxious to jump on the racist bandwagon, Veltroni coyly let it be known that 75% of arrestees came from a "particular country" (absolutely untrue, but it became a reference in the Italian media). And it was widely reported that expulsion plans were being expedited. Police statistics had said that gypsies accounted for just over 15.4% of all murders committed by 'foreigners' in Italy, which was the source of some national outrage, except among those who noticed that Roma gypsies accounted for just over 15% of all 'foreigners' in Italy, and that there was no disproportion. Thanks to this racist climate, Roma gypsies have been made to channel everything that's wrong with Italy. From economic failure to crime, they've been successfully depicted as somehow responsible for it all.