By Dr Federico Faloppa, Lecturer in Italian Studies
Ahead of the General Election that will take place on 4 March this year, President Sergio Mattarella urged all parties to keep their electoral promises realistic, practical and responsible, and notably, to calm down.
In his New Year’s speech, Mattarella attempted to remind the campaigning parties, and the general public, that jobs and the economy are “the primary and most serious social issue, especially for the young.”
However, it seems that the advice has fallen on deaf ears. Not only are Italian election campaigns dominated by unfulfillable promises, but they are also presenting immigration as Italy’s biggest concern: the perfect scapegoat not to tackle the real problems of the country, and to cover for main parties’ political failure to offer Italians decent socio-economic prospects.
Despite the decline of Italy’s economy, the persistent high unemployment rate (especially in the South), widespread corruption, and the virulence of organised crime; immigration has shot further up the political agenda especially since the shooting of six Africans by far-right extremist Luca Traini on 3 February in Macerata.
Traini, 28-year old, a candidate for the Northern League in last year’s local elections, went on a two-hour shooting rampage in his car on Saturday 3 Feb. Six people were wounded before he was arrested, giving a fascist salute as police led him away. At his home, officers found a copy of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and a flag with the Celtic cross, a symbol often used by far-right parties.
The shootings happened a few days after a Nigerian man was arrested in connection with the death of an 18-year-old Italian woman, Pamela Mastropietro, whose dismembered body was discovered hidden in two suitcases near Macerata. Following the events, right-wing politicians seized on her death to promote anti-migrant messages, which may have motivated Traini.
Rather than rally to the beleaguered migrants targeted in the Macerata shootings (none of the major political leaders has gone to pay visit to the wounded), several politicians blamed the victims, or misleadingly framed the criminal attack as a consequence of the immigration crisis. Berlusconi has said that migrants are “a social time bomb ready to explode”, promising that if elected he would deport 600,000 of Italy’s migrants. However, no details have been provided about how and where to.
Berlusconi’s coalition partner, Matteo Salvini, has offered words amounting to absolution for Traini, declaring that immigrants bring drugs, theft and violence, and blaming the Democratic Party, who has run the country for the last five years, to “flood Italy with migrants”, transforming the nation into a giant refugee camp. Salvini has for years been encouraging hatred against foreign nationals living in Italy, demonising them and creating a situation in which verbal aggression and physical violence towards minority ethnic groups seems almost unavoidable.
With the General Election less than a month away, the forging of a coalition of right-wing parties – the strongest of which is Berlusconi’s Forza Italia (Go Italy!) – includes the Salvini’s Northern League and Brothers of Italy, a party with neofascist roots led by Giorgia Meloni. Politically, they are openly and virulently anti-immigrant, defending what its candidates to the Presidency of the Regione Lombardia, Attilio Fontana, has called the “white race”, threatened by migrants and foreigners.
The shooting in Macerata on Saturday that left six Africans injured was the latest in a series of attacks perpetrated by people linked to the extreme right. Anti-fascist organisation Infoantifa Ecn reports that there have been 142 attacks by neo-fascist groups since 2014. While Luca Traini was questioned over the Macerata shooting, on Sunday 4 February, four North Africans in Pavia told the police that they had been beaten up during the night by a group of 25 “skinheads”. On 13 January in Naples, dozens of people belonging to the far-right association Forza Nuova broke into a bar where a meeting on Roma culture was being held, causing damage and wounding a female organiser.
One of the most concerning elements about the Macerata episode is that Traini’s and his neo-fascist fellows’ views are becoming increasingly mainstream. Fascism is alive and well in Italy, and it is growing stronger with thousands of Italians joining fascist groups. In 2001, Forza Nuova (New Force) had just 1,500 members. Today, it has more than 13,000 and its Facebook page has more than 241,000 followers, almost 20,000 more than the Democratic party, Italy’s biggest left wing party. The fascist-inspired Casa Pound association has almost 234,000 followers. Its secretary, Simone Di Stefano, is running for prime minister in the 4 March general election.
The Italian constitution forbids the “promotion of any association that pursues the aims of the Fascist party or anyone who exalts its principles.” However, the authorities have never intervened against Casa Pound and Forza Nuova, whose members show off swastikas and fascist flags during their demonstrations. The National Association of Italian Partisans (ANPI) last year drew up a list of 500 internet sites praising fascism in Italy, asking that they be blocked. Nothing was done.
The Interior Minister Marco Minniti, from the Democratic Party, has expressed more interest in persecuting the NGOs that were saving migrants’ life in the Mediterranean Sea than in prosecuting neo-fascist and neo-nazi associations. As a result, there seemed to be very little vigilance on right wingers and their websites which spread hatred especially against migrants, by disseminating fake news, such as false account of rapes and crimes by refugees, on social networks.
Targets for this type of hate-mongering extend beyond migrants and refugees. One of their most frequent targets is in fact MP Laura Boldrini, the President of the chamber of deputies, who is known for having a humanitarian approach to the migrant crisis. Immediately after the shootings in Macerata, a photo depicting her “severed head’’ appeared with the inscription: “Decapitated by a Nigerian: this is the end she needed to meet in order to appreciate her friends’ customs.”
This is the language, and the violence, which has turned 2018’s election into an intolerable scuffle. In doing so, it shows Italy’s darkest face by also threatening the solidarity and the cohesion of its national community – and it goes without saying that the historic parallels are chilling.
Top: Irish Defence Forces, 2015, Irish Naval personnel from the LÉ Eithne (P31) rescuing migrants as part of Operation Triton, https://www.flickr.com/photos/42787928@N06/18898637736, (CC BY 2.0).
Bottom: Cassatonante, 2011, Manifestazione in difesa dell’economia nazionale, Napoli 2011, https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Manifestazione_Napoli_2011.jpg, (CC BY-SA 3.0).