Italy: Massive protests as racist offensive launched


Two-and-a-half million people marched through the streets of Rome on October 25 in opposition to the policies and corruption of the right-wing government of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

The demonstration was organised by the centre-left Democratic Party (PD), led by former Rome mayor, Walter Veltroni. "It is proof that democracy is alive and well ... We could never have imagined such a large turnout", Veltroni stated at the rally.

Berlusconi's right-wing bloc came to power in April after a motion of no-confidence in the then-PD government was passed by parliament.

The rally, which didn't have any specific demands, was seen as a show of strength by the PD, which, has been very weak in opposing Berlusconi's agenda. The PD have accused Berlusconi of moving Italy far to the right and of "flirting with fascism".

Open fascists, including Benito Mussolini's granddaughter, have a big influence within the People of Freedom (PdL) party, which is the majority party Berlusconi's government.

The government is also in an alliance with the Northern League — a racist, far-right party, whose leader Umberto Bossi recently boasted that his party had "300,000 martyrs ready to come down from the mountains" in order to hunt down immigrants.

Cabinet ministers have also defended fascism, as has Berlusconi himself, recently stating, "We are the new Falange" (the party of Spanish fascist dictator Franco), according to an April 30 London Telegraph article.

Berlusconi made this statement after the election of the far-right Gianni Alemanno as the mayor of Rome, whose election was met by supporters with widespread chants of "Duce, Duce!", as hundreds raised their hands in a fascist salute.

The Berlusconi government has engaged in widespread racist attacks. It has ordered the finger printing of the entire 150,000-strong population of Romani people in Italy, including children.

According to the government, this was needed to "prevent begging" and make it possible to remove Romani children from their parents.

According to a July 10 British Guardian article, "Italy's highest appeal court ruled that it was acceptable to discriminate against Roma on the grounds that 'all Gypsies were thieves'".

Berlusconi's government has also begun forcibly closing Roma camps and rounding up Romani people. This has been accompanied with violent attacks by iron-bar-wielding racist thugs, including the burning of Romani camps to the ground.

The interior minister Roberto Maroni has justified such actions by stating, "That is what happens when gypsies steal babies".

Bossi said after the attacks, "The people do what the political class isn't able to do".

The Guardian article reported that, in response, "Roma groups have demonstrated, wearing the black triangles Gypsies were forced to wear in the Nazi concentration camps, and anti-racist campaigners in Rome this week began to bombard the interior ministry with their own fingerprints in protest".

Berlusconi's racist attacks have extended to all immigrants. In May, 400 immigrants were arrested and detained, with more than 100 immediately expelled.

In July, a "state of emergency" was declared to stop immigration. In early August, thousands of Italian soldiers were deployed to find "illegal" immigrants.

A bill was passed by the parliament, which made illegal immigration a jailable offence, made it easier to expel immigrants and allow for the confiscation of property rented to illegal immigrants. Any immigrant rejected as an asylum seeker can be deported before an appeal can be heard.

An October 19 Guardian article quoted Italy's only black MP, Jean-Leonard Touadi from the Values Party, stating that, "Immigrants are becoming the enemy".

"With an economic crisis under way, Italy has found a scapegoat to blame its woes on."

These laws have emboldened racists, with the Guardian reporting that in Milan "last month Abdul William Guibre, 19, originally from Burkina Faso, was beaten to death in an attack. After accusing Guibre of stealing a packet of biscuits, a bar owner and his son called him a 'dirty black' and set on him with a metal pole."

The article reported: "A Senegalese man selling handbags in a Milan street market was beaten with a baseball bat after stallholders reportedly accused him of 'stealing work from Italians'.

"Outside Naples, six African migrants were shot dead recently by the local mafia, while in Rome a Chinese immigrant was beaten up by boys as young as 15.

"A Somalian-born woman claimed that at Rome's Ciampino airport she was strip-searched and verbally abused when going through customs. ... The Interior Minister ... said he would personally sue the woman for lying. 'Between her version and that of the police I would have no doubt about believing the police,' said Senate leader Maurizio Gasparri."

Such policies have provoked outrage among large section of the population. The Catholic Church has also criticised anti-immigrant racism, with Pope Benedict XVI calling for a "culture of welcome", rather than "closed borders".

Berlusconi's government has combined these racist assaults with a neoliberal assault on the education system, which has provoked widespread anger amongst students and teachers.

The Berlusconi government has proposed a 1.5 billion euros cut in spending on the university system, decreased the number of courses offered, reduced the number of hours teachers are employed and carried out mass sackings of teachers.

In response, students and teachers have engaged in strikes, protests and occupations.

The largest protest against the education laws was on October 30, the day the laws were passed through the parliament. More than 1 million people marched in Rome. A strike was called by the union movement and virtually all schools were shut down.

Tens of thousands of students have been protesting daily against the reforms across Italy. Peaceful demonstrations have been met with right-wing thugs wielding clubs and chains. Berlusconi has vowed to use police to break-up student sit-ins.

Further strikes have been called for November 7 and 14.

Associated Press reported on October 31: "Opposition leader Veltroni ... launched a petition for a referendum to repeal the measures and needs 500,000 signatures for the vote to be held."

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