Italy VS Gypsies


By Peter Popham in Rome Friday, 16 May 2008

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.

From The Guardian:

Gypsy girls' corpses on beach in Italy fail to put off sunbathers · Incident raises questions about attitude to minority · Civil rights group calls for inquiry into 'drowning'

John Hooper in Rome The Guardian, Monday July 21, 2008

Questions about the attitude of Italians to their Roma minority were again being asked yesterday after photographs were published of sunbathers continuing as normal with a day at the beach despite the bodies of two Gypsy girls who had drowned being laid out on the sand nearby.

A civil liberties group said it had asked for talks with the authorities to shed light on the circumstances of the girls' death. The incident took place outside Naples, where a Roma encampment was burned to the ground this year after its inhabitants had been evacuated for their own safety.

Accounts given by Italian media varied, but according to the news agency Ansa, the victims - aged 14 and 16 - and two other young Gypsies had been begging from daytrippers on the beach at Torregaveta, west of Naples, on Saturday. Other reports indicated they were selling trinkets. The area is easily reached from the city by a railway line that ends near the shore.

At about 1pm, the four girls decided to go into the water even though none of them, it seems, knew how to swim. They soon got into difficulties because of strong currents in the area and were hit by an unusually big wave.

Two of the girls were rescued by life-savers from a nearby private beach. But rescuers were unable to reach the two oldest until they were already dead.

Their corpses were dragged ashore and laid out on the sand under beach towels.

"But the knot of curious onlookers that formed around the girls' bodies dissolved as [swiftly] as it had formed," the newspaper Corriere della Sera reported. "Few left the beach or abandoned their sunbathing. When the police from the mortuary arrived an hour later with coffins, the two girls were carried away on the shoulders [of the officers] between bathers stretched out in the sun."

La Repubblica also expressed astonishment at the behaviour of those present. "While the lifeless bodies of the girls were still on the sand, there were those who carried on sunbathing or having lunch just a few metres away," it reported.

Corriere recalled that this was not the first time people had decided a death was no reason to give up their day at the beach. In August 1997, sunbathers carried on as normal after a man drowned near Trieste.

But the fact that the two victims on this occasion were Roma added an extra twist to the affair.

Italy is gripped by anti-Gypsy feeling. Since coming to office in May, Silvio Berlusconi's rightwing government has appointed three special commissioners to deal with the Roma in each of Italy's three biggest cities - Naples, Milan and Rome. It has also ordered the fingerprinting of the country's Gypsy population, including minors, who make up more than half of the estimated 150,000 Roma in Italy.

The European commission has asked the Italian government for more details on the census, and this month the European parliament approved a motion condemning it as an act of discrimination banned by the European convention of human rights. Berlusconi last week told the commission president, José Manuel Barroso, that the information was being collected to ensure Gypsy children went to school.

The civil liberties group EveryOne said it was unconvinced by reports of the incident at Torregaveta and asked whether there might be something more sinister behind it.

A statement from the group said: "Two young Roma would never have left their scant merchandise for 'a refreshing dip' in the waves. Two Gypsy girls would never have gone bathing in full view of everyone because of the modesty that is one of their distinguishing characteristics."

The group said it had asked for a meeting with the authorities, adding: "We await their response."

From CNN:

Rome mayor: Fascism not evil but 'complex'

ROME, Italy (AP) -- Italy's opposition politicians and Jewish leaders reacted with outrage Monday to a newspaper interview in which Rome's right-wing mayor refused to condemn fascism as evil.

Gianni Alemanno is a former youth leader of a neo-fascist party and Rome's first right-wing mayor since World War II.

Gianni Alemanno is a former youth leader of a neo-fascist party and Rome's first right-wing mayor since World War II.

Gianni Alemanno's comments were published Sunday by Italian daily Corriere della Sera as the mayor and other Italian politicians concluded a trip to Israel that included a stop at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

In the interview, Alemanno condemned the racial laws passed by Benito Mussolini's regime in 1938, but when asked if he considered fascism "an absolute evil" the mayor took a softer stance.

"I don't think so and I never thought so: Fascism was a more complex phenomenon," Alemanno was quoted as saying by Corriere. "Many people joined it in good faith, and I don't feel like labeling them with that definition."

Alemanno added that "the racial laws enacted by fascism, which caused its political and cultural end, were the absolute evil."

Center-left politicians accused Alemanno of rewriting history and ignoring earlier dictatorial actions by Mussolini, who seized power in 1922 and went on to curtail political freedoms and jail or murder opponents.

"It's hard not to define as an absolute evil something that for 20 years suppressed liberty," said Giuseppe Fioroni, a center-left lawmaker and former education minister.

"Before the racial laws, fascism had erased the freedom of citizens who didn't share its views. There was only one party in Parliament and unions had been destroyed," said Walter Veltroni, the opposition's leader and Alemanno's predecessor as mayor of Rome.

Veltroni said Monday he would resign in protest as head of a city commission charged with building a Holocaust museum in the capital. He said he could no longer work on the project with Alemanno, who is also a member of the commission.

Renzo Gattegna, the president of Italy's Jewish Communities, criticized Alemanno's comments, telling Corriere that "it is difficult to separate" the judgment on fascism from that on the anti-Semitic laws it passed.

"Without fascism there wouldn't have been any racial laws," Auschwitz survivor Piero Terracina told the paper.

Alemanno was quoted as saying by the ANSA news agency on Monday that his comments had been misunderstood and that the outcry had been based on "journalistic headlines and not on the reality of my statements." He also called on Veltroni to reconsider his resignation.

The 50-year-old Alemanno is a former youth leader of a neo-fascist party that turned mainstream conservative during the 1990s. He won local elections in April to become the capital's first right-wing mayor since World War II