Italy used to be a tolerant country, but now racism is rising
Pape Diaw, originally from Senegal, arrived in Florence to study engineering in the late 1970s. Part of a group of 15 African students, he inspired curiosity among his Italian counterparts and the wider community, but never encountered racism. “I remember walking along the street and people would ask to have a photo taken,” he said.
“We were seen as a novelty, but never insulted. When we went to process our residency permits, the police officers would give us coffee.
“Yes, Italy might have been behind [other countries] when it came to cultural mindset, but we were well-received.”
Different times. Ahead of national elections on 4 March, xenophobic rhetoric is dominating a campaign that has turned nasty and divisive. Matters took a toxic turn earlier this month, when 28-year-old Luca Traini injured six African migrants in a racially motivated shooting spree in the central city of Macerata.
Traini had been a candidate at local elections last year for the Northern League, one of two anti-migrant parties that form part of a motley coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. Both the League and its junior ally, Brothers of Italy, are crusading on an “Italians First” platform, targeting the 600,000 migrants who have landed on Italy’s southern shores over the past four years, fleeing war, poverty and oppression. For immigrants of longer standing, the rising hostility towards outsiders has been a profoundly depressing development after years of gradual integration.
Diaw, who helps integrate newly arrived migrants on behalf of Il Cenacolo, a Florence-based social cooperative, traces the change in feeling towards immigrants back to 2007, the year the financial crisis took hold. “When Italians are doing good, when they have money and work, they don’t worry about immigrants. But when they suffer, they lose their heads and look for someone to blame.”
Anti-fascist protesters rally against racism in Italy
Protesters have gathered to denounce racism after an Italian man opened fire on African migrants in Macerata. Immigration has become one of the most important political issues in the run-up to parliamentary elections.
Thousands of anti-fascist protesters on Saturday took to the streets to rally against racism in the eastern city of Macerata, where an Italian man earlier this month opened fire on African migrants, injuring six people.
Up to 30,000 demonstrators marched through the streets of Macerata carrying placards and shouting slogans against rising right-wing extremism. Protesters also gathered in Milan and other cities across Italy.
“We are here because we want to be a dam against this mountain of hate which is spreading continuously, a social hate against migrants and, in general, against the poor,” Francesco Piobbicchi, a protester, told Reuters news agency.
Tensions reached a fever-pitch on February 3, when Luca Traini, a 28-year-old who ran as a candidate for the far-right Northern League at local elections, went on a two-hour shooting spree targeting African migrants in Macerata.
Traini reportedly told police he was out to avenge the death of Pamela Mastropietro, an 18-year-old Italian woman who was found dead by police. Authorities arrested a suspected drug dealer with Nigerian origins for the murder of Mastropietro.
‘Hate, terror and division’
Protesters also decried political parties’ attempts to use migration as a scapegoat for other issues in the run-up to parliamentary elections slated for March 4.
“If there’s unemployment, blame the government, not the migrants,” protesters chanted during the rally. “The political parties are using populism to create hate, terror and division,” said Valentina Guiliodora, who joined the demonstration.
Italy has witnessed a resurgence of far-right activity, including growing support for the neo-fascist party New Force (Forza Nuova), in tandem with a wave of migrants reaching Italian shores from North Africa over the past four years.
Italy’s campaign for more babies called racist, sexist
ROME — Italy launched a program Thursday aimed at reversing one of the world’s lowest birthrates, but the first “Fertility Day” produced a backlash with charges of sexism, racism and comparisons to wartime dictator Benito Mussolini.
The Ministry of Health campaign focuses on measures to combat sterility, but causing the most uproar was the part encouraging women to think about having children earlier in life.
One ad, for example, showed a smug pregnant woman holding an hourglass with a tagline that reads, “Beauty doesn’t have an age. Fertility does.” Another showed the outline of a long-beaked bird reading, “Hurry up! Don’t wait for the stork.”
“It’s incredibly condescending to think that Italian women don’t understand how their biological clock works,” said Rebecca Winke, 45, a Chicago native operating a bed and breakfast in the central Italian town of Assisi. “What women here need is the same opportunities men have in the workforce, affordable child care and a generation of Italian men who can do their fair share at home.”
Alessandra Fortuna, 23, a Rome waitress, agreed: “The only thing this sloppy campaign shows is that the Ministry of Health has no idea about the challenges regular women face.”
The Italian newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano wondered tongue-in-cheek if a “bachelor tax” was in the works, and several Italian media said the “Fertility Day” campaign smacked of Mussolini’s own policies that said women had a “national duty” to produce many offspring.
Last year was the fifth consecutive year that the average childbearing age rose in Italy, reaching 31.6 years, one of the highest in Europe. The average of 1.35 live births per woman is the lowest ever recorded in Italy and well below the average of around 2.1 needed for a population to remain stable.
“There’s a cliché about the Italian mama who stays home all day cooking tomato sauce with a house full of kids, while the husband is out working in the factory,” said Maria Rossi, co-director of the polling firm Opinioni. “But that reality died in Italy 40 or 50 years ago. Today, most Italian women have to work, which means that at best they have fewer kids, and they do so later in life.”