Far-right sets up base in Milan, Italy

 

My Brother is an Only Child is one of the best foreign language films I’ve seen all year.

 

The director, Daniele Luchetti, managed to capture on celluloid the draw of extremism and how during the 60s and 70s belief in political ideas was so strong that that loyalty to left or right could even rise above family ties.

 

Today’s Corriere has an exquisitely written article by Alessandro di Lecce which shows how the current climate in the Bel Paese is harkening back to those politically charged days.

 

In Milan’s Certosa Garegnano district, Black Heart (Cuore Nero) a far-right social club has opened a centre just meters from the base of Milan’s historical left-wing group.

Italy: segregation in schools, “black kids painted white”

 

 

 

 

 

While Americans prepare to vote for a black president Italy, it appears, prefers to be inspired by the days of Jim Crow.

Not that the issue of race is something that’s constantly on my mind (I’m far from right on and definitely don’t have a chip on my shoulder) but my daily visits to the Corriere website fill me despair.

Today’s offering? The Italian parliament has voted 265 to 245 to have separate classes for foreigners in schools.

 

Now I know many Italians see the Roman Empire as their glory days but have they not noticed we’re in the 21st century? How can the European Union allow this?

 

Aiming to “enable integration”

The motion was proposed by the Lega del Nord. The party’s leader claims the measure serves to prevent racism and actually enable real integration. Erm, really?

 

Probably the only time young Italians are going to be able to interact with immigrants and gain a real understanding of who they are as people rather than the stereotypes that they see on TV or hear from their parents is at school.

 

A new generation

I remember the funniest thing when my ex’s 6-year-old niece came home and told her grandmother that she was in love with a Moroccan boy in her class.

 

For Francesca it was nothing out of the ordinary, he was her friend – the fact that his parents weren’t born in Italy had nothing to do with anything.

 

What was beautiful was that the grandmother, who would distinguish between someone being from her village or the next one three miles down the road, wasn’t bothered that her granddaughter was friends with a Moroccan either.

 

A despicable proposal

The Il Popolo della Libertà, a liberal conservative political party that was once in coalition with the Lega del Nord, has said the motion is “despicable and inserts descrimination in schools”.

 

It says quite a lot if the party fronted by Berlusconi, who famously apologised for Mussolini’s actions, starts complaining about discriminatory measures.

 

The proposal also intends to ban any foreign student from joining an Italian after 31 December in any year.

 

“Black children painted white”

That said it seems as the issue of race has captured the interest of the Italian media.

 

Below the article on school segregation Corriere runs a story on cut-outs of black children that were painted white. The tagline reads “Racism in Varese”.

Isn’t it more mindless vandalism than racism?

 

Is Italy racist?

 

 

My Italian love affair has endured for almost half my life. From studying the language at school, to dating (too many) Italian men and then living and working in the country it would be fair to say that I’m a fully paid up member of the Italophile crew. Yet when people ask my ‘but aren’t’ they a bit racist’, I’m always stumped for words.

 

If you’d asked me ten years ago my answer would most likely have been ‘no’. Yes, some Italians were without a doubt ignorant and even prejudiced, but to define their stance as racism, on my part, would have been too extreme. Any population that all of a sudden comes into contact with foreigners is likely to have a reaction that’s based on fear, even more so Italians who, despite their history of great migrations, tend towards the insular.

 

Yet there has definitely been a shift in the mood surrounding immigration; it’s not just Bossi and his cronies ranting about immigration and the flood of foreigners taking over Italy. In May, Amnesty International said it was concerned about the growing “climate of discrimination” in the country, in particular towards increasing attacks on the Roma community. Last month Abdul Salam Guibre, an Italian citizen originally from Burkina Faso was beaten to death in Milan after allegedly stealing a packet of biscuits. The death of Guibre was preceded by an attack on an Angolan student in Genoa in August and another on a 15-year-old boy from Sri Lanka in Milan in July.

 

From the reports I see in the Italian papers the country is beginning to seem remarkably similar to Russia where immigrants are beaten and even killed on a far too regular basis simply due to the colour of their skin.

 

 

Give immigrants a kick on the arse

 

So it’s interesting to see Daniela Santanche, former journalist and speaker for Francesco Storace’s La Destra party, is today moaning in a Corriere article about accusations that she represents the side of politics that throws petrol on the flames of intolerance. This, after all, is the woman who said illegal immigrants should “chucked out and given a kick on the arse”.

 

Last night in a special edition of the programme Anno Zero entitled “Italians, bad people”, politicians and journalists discussed the growing tide of violence against immigrants that is currently gripping the country.

 

Santanche claims in the Corriere article that during a break in filming, “two blacks insulted me with unjustifiable violence”. I’d never be one to excuse violence of any kind towards any human being but if these two unnamed “blacks” did insult her (Corriere appears to have made no to attempt to stand up Santanche’s assertions)  maybe she now knows how the tens of thousands of immigrants who are verbally abused by Italians on a daily basis feel.

 

It is a deeply unsettling experience to see swastikas and neo-nazi crosses daubed on walls in pretty much every city centre. The last time I was in Bologna with a white French guy I was dating at the time a group of skin-headed neo-fascists tried to hand him a leaflet calling for the expulsion of immigrants from the country. Worse while on holiday near lake Garda a few years ago I had a young kid on a school trip point his fingers at me while imitating the sound of bullets flying towards my head.

 

Enduring love for il Duce

 

Still I try to question rather than to judge. For my final year dissertation I took the time to explore something that had always puzzled me about the Italian experience – the long held celebration of Benito Mussolini – whose face popped up all too frequently on lighters, tea towels, calendars and even bottles of wine in respectable restaurants.

 

I travelled to Predappio, the birthplace of Il Duce and place of pilgrimage for neo-fascist sympathisers from all over Italy. Walking into his tomb, accompanied by a British author who had penned about the fascist leader and coming face to face with a caped black shirt standing the guard of honour was a heart-stopping experiences (although the look on his face was probably more horrified than the look on mine).

 

Undeniably racist

 

I say all this to explain that I’m not some bleeding-heart lefty who’s quick to label Italians as racist but the current situation is disturbing and it would be remiss of me to downplay a trend in behaviour that is undeniably racist.

 

Maybe it’s the increasingly tense financial situation that’s making Italians turn in a violent manner against outsiders. I remember when I was living in Milan back in 2005, the rise in Chinese manufacturing and the ensuing pressure it placed upon the traditional Italian artisan was a constant topic of fear mongering in the media. Pejorative jokes commoplace, the Chinese were regarded as untrustworthy, almost inhuman; all in all it was like being in California in the 19th century.

 

I do love Italy. I feel incredibly privileged to have been given an insight into a deeply fascinating and complex country. None of this would have happened if I hadn’t been welcomed into the lives and homes of some of the most beautiful and loving people I have ever met. So why do I now have second thoughts about travelling to Italy on my own?