5.17.2008

mob rule - with government blessing and assist - in italy

Europe's favourite scapegoat is being persecuted again, and believe it or not, it's not the Jews. It's the Roma people, known popularly as Gypsies. I urge you to read the whole story; it is chilling.
In cruel and unusual concert, Italy's new government, its police and paramilitary carabinieri, and even its gangsters, have turned their joint might against the nation's enemy number one: the Gypsies.

Yesterday Pope Benedict XVI and a small number of left-wingers raised lonely voices in central Naples against the national hardening of hearts towards Europe's perennial outsiders. To little avail: the Pope's appeal for a spirit of welcome and acceptance was met with a hail of angry rejection in blogged comments on news websites.

But what will remain scorched in the nation's memory – as a mark of shame, or a beacon pointing the way forward, depending on how you see it – are the flaming structures of the Gypsy camp burnt in the Ponticelli district of Naples on Wednesday.

Residents of the former communist stronghold on the northern outskirts of Naples have been raising hell about the camp since Saturday, when a woman claimed a Gypsy girl had entered her flat and tried to steal her baby.

The first Molotov cocktails descended on the improvised huts and cabins on Tuesday evening, after which the 800-odd inhabitants began moving out of the area in groups. On Wednesday the fire-raisers, said to belong to the Camorra, the Neapolitan equivalent of the Mafia, burnt the camp in earnest, watched by applauding local people and unchallenged by the police. When firefighters showed up to douse the blaze, local people taunted and whistled at them. The last Roma moved out under police protection.

Only then did local politicians shed a few crocodile tears: Antonio Bassolino, governor of the Campania region, declaring: "We must stop with the greatest determination these disturbing episodes against the Roma." Rosa Russo Iervolino, the Mayor of Naples, chimed in: "It is unthinkable that anyone could imagine that I could justify reprisals against the Roma."

But the first act of ethnic cleansing in the new Italy passed off with little fuss. Flora Martinelli, the woman who reported the alleged kidnap attempt on her baby, said: "I'm very sorry for what's happening, I didn't want it to come to this. But the Gypsies had to go."

Roma have been living in Italy for seven centuries, and 70,000 of the 160,000-strong population have Italian citizenship. They amount to less than 0.3 per cent of the population, one of the lowest proportions in Europe. But their poverty and resistance to integration have made them far more conspicuous than other communities. And the influx of thousands more from Romania in the past year has confirmed the view of many Italians that the Gypsies and their eyesore encampments are the source of all their problems.

The forces of law and order took up the struggle yesterday. In Rome, some 50 Roma without identification and living in the city's biggest Gypsy camp were arrested as part of a crackdown on illegal immigration which resulted in more than 400 arrests nationwide.

Meanwhile, the government announced that its new diktat on security is almost ready and will be approved at its first cabinet meeting in Naples, as announced by Mr Berlusconi, to symbolise his determination to crack the city's chronic refuse problem.

The "decree law", which will have immediate effect, is expected to make illegal immigration a criminal offence, punishable by up to four years in prison. The discussion of the draft of the law and the announcement that there will be no more amnesties have thrown the hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants who work informally as nurses and old people's companions into a panic. Now the government is trying to fine tune the law so it only applies to criminally inclined clandestini – and Gypsies.

Fascism is on the rise in the country where the word was born.

4 comments:

Nancy said...

I don't get it. Gypsies stealing babies...isn't that something out of nineteenth century fiction?

Cate said...

Hi Laura, I feel like I should say something,but infact there's nothing I can say. It's just like that. I am in Italy right now, visiting family, and I feel as unconfortable as ever. Once upon a time,I didn't like my country's politicians. Now I'm starting to dislike people, more generally. I hear people talking on the bus, in the offices, in the cafes. I don't like what they say. Of course, not everybody is ready to go and set a fire:but the general feeling is fear and hate. We used to be "good people". Sometimes I think we are no more. During the WWII my granfather used to hide jews in his basement. He didin't have any political view.It was just a good thing to do. Now everybody is looking after their own yard, and the fences are taller and taller. We don't want to pay taxes, but we argue about our public services, as if they are run out of air.
I'm glad I moved to Canada. I did not do it to fled Italy, but now I think that if it wasn't Canada, it should be some place in Europe, maybe Spain, any place but Italy.
Nancy, as for gipsies stealing babies: someone here still thinks that communists eat them.

Caterina

L-girl said...

Caterina, thanks so much for your comments. It's very sad. I hope Italy can find some real leadership to promote tolerance and co-existence.

richard said...

This is so terribly sad. My experience with the Roma is limited to a brief time living in England. My impression was that they were nice people who were as suspicious of the English as the English were of them. They certainly had good reason for their aloofness as this article shows.

I hope Italy can find some real leadership to promote tolerance and co-existence.

Here is a cautionary tale for us in Canada. Italy operates under a cumbersome system of Proportional Representation which makes it 1)difficult for real leadership to emerge and 2)too easy for wingnuts (from either end of the political spectrum) to gain a slice of power. By all means let's explore PR, but let's tread carefully. I'm confident we can design a better system.

Not to say that this is the cause of this particular outrage. Alas the wretched wells of xenophobia run deeper, but it does make it more possible for such views to gain a hearing, or even support, in the halls of power.