“Rome and Italy today are responsible for a racial segregation unique in the west"(La Republica)
On 30 March the Guardian newspaper carried an editorial "Italy Fascism’s Shadow", commenting on the merger of Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia with Gianfranco Finis ex-neo fascist Alleanza Nationale party. The newspaper pointed out how, alone of the former axis powers, post-war Italy had never completely confronted its fascist past, concluding that despite the efforts of Fini to distance it from that legacy it remained tainted by that tradition. "A day of shame", it further declared.
Whatever the formal correctness of the argument it takes a remarkable dose of liberal naivity — or cynicism? — to imply that Berlusconi’s part in this exercise was some kind of fall from some hitherto democratic credentials. The is the notoriously ruthless billionaire monopolist of a lying propaganda empire, a convicted criminal associate of the mafia and a one time member of the secret post-war "shadow goverment" of the masonic P2, responsible over thee decades for "counter insurgency" murders and bombings, including the massacre at Bologna railway station in 1981.
There is indeed real cause for shame for what is happening in Italy today. But it has little to do with how the leaders of the parties concerned organise their respectively odious administrations and much more to do with the content of the hate-filled racist campaign they, along with Umberto Bossi’s Northern League Party, have been orchestrating across the country.
The last two years has witnessed a fulminating cancerous growth of racial intolerance, abuse and orchestrated violence by the forces of the state, fascists and the rash of vigilante committees which have sprung up among larger sections of Italian society, aimed particularly at Romanian immigrants, the Roma population, Africans and foreigners in general.
Such a situation is a potential disaster for the working-class struggle in Italy at the moment, when in the depth of economic crisis the fight to unite all workers against the system that breeds inequality, can be the only road to salvation from an even worse outcome.
Although the first signs of open expression of racist sentiment emerged around the turn of this century it had been a relatively unfocused xenophobic staple of Northern League propaganda against foreigners in general (including Italians!) who physically or "spiritually" didn’t belong to the fantasy land of Bossi’s "Padania” — a deranged confection of the northern Italian provinces along the Po river valley.
But as the early effects of the approaching economic crisis first manifested themselves in mounting inflation and the subsequent failure of the trade unions to at the very least hold the line against falling living standards for millions of families, the League abruply changed register, tone and focus, demagogically and violently singling out the immigrant population as a threat to law and order of their towns and cities... places that historically have been the most prosperous regions of an otherwise enfeebled capitalism. Thousands of immigrants had found work there, legal or illegal in the thousands of small and medium sized enterprises. With the abject performance of the Prodi government within which the radical Italian left found itself the defender of the government’s anti-working class policies, the scene was set for what has been described as the most racist election campaign since the war (Italian elections were in spring 2008).
The outcome was inevitable, and the massive increase in the vote for the Northern league among the working class voters of the northern and eastern regions signalled the extent of the defeat. A feeling of paranoia pervaded the country, with centre left strongholds like Florence Genoa, Bologna joining in the racist frenzy to cleanse their cities of the threat of the "mounting crime waves". More and more vigilante committees appeared and also the demands to drive the Roma population and other immigrants from the makeshift "homes" these persecuted poverty stricken peoples have been forced to build under bridges and flyovers.
The mayoral elections for Rome (also spring 2008) saw another turning of the screw of racist hatred. Following a horrific rape and murder by a Romenian (many Italians have been duped into believing that the latter and the Roma people are the same i.e. all "gypsies") and a crazed crowd of locals attacked and set fire to a camp of the Roma, and a pitched battle ensued, resulting in hundreds of families once more fleeing in search of shelter further and further out in the desert of the periphery of Rome.
The newly elected ex-young fascist mayor, now Alleanza Nationale announced a hue and cry campaign to clean up Rome and empty the camps, forcing the immigrants into one of the 53 enclosed camps that dot the roman littoral (there are 340 in all in Italy ,the only country in Europe that in spite of the Roma’s persecution and annihilation in the lagers of the Nazis, still demands the enclosure of a people 70% of whom are Italian citizens descended from people living in Italy from the 13th century).
The camps to which they are condemned to exist are like army barracks, surveilled 24 hours a day, with exit and entry controlled by resident permit, work permit, passport, identity card. The gates are locked at 10 o clock-for everyone. Many have no heat or light, none have drinking water nor sewers, many are not accessed by bus routes and those that are require long walks. Many schools are only accessible by special coaches, requiring long journeys and late arrival in school with early departure. The cold and stark language of statistics speak of the consequences of the inhuman condition the Roma and other Slav immigrants suffer.
Among the Roma population(140,000-170,000 — the lowest percentage of any population in europe) the life expectancy is 50 as against the 70 years for the average Italian.
In rome, the epicentre of Roma life in Italy there are 16,000-20,000. Only one of those registered is over 80. Of the 13,000 Roma children in Rome 2,500 attend school. Only two go to a high school, none has ever graduated, nor has any member of the Roma ever been offered a normal house of bricks and mortar.
The onset of economic crisis makes matters worse, not only through the increase of racist attack but also economically. "We are living through the most dramatic days since the fall of fascism", says one of the men who act as cultural go-between, "the hatred and violence unleashed by the accusations against the Romanians, by the policy of witch-hunting and incarceration, is closing the door on their only chance of work — in the black economy on which many depend.
Without income one cannot renew the residency permit, nor guarantee the children’s citizenship. The price o f scrap iron has fallen drastically, and to beg is now a crime.
The camps are now the brand of one’s destiny — from marginalsation to criminalisation."
But the Roma have had enough ! "We are not maggots though they treat us as such" says one of the organisers of the demonstration in Rome of the whole population that hopefully will see united thousands of other similarly oppressed immigrants, demanding their right to homes, jobs, education and citizenship if they so desire. The presence of the Italian left and workers movement in a massive show of solidarity would be the most fitting way to demonstrate that the rot within the struggle that has led to the present critical situation is over and that a united working class fightback has begun in Italy.