Italy’s new government only took office in early June, but the country is already facing an alarming rise in racist violence, writes Daniele Fulvi.
Incidents of racial discrimination have risen in the past few weeks, with large numbers of immigrants being attacked — and in some cases killed.
The most outrageous case involved 29-year-old Soumayla Sacko, who was shot dead in Calabria, in southern Italy.
Born in Mali, Sacko migrated to Italy where he got work as a labourer.
Sacko was also a union activist, who was committed to combating labour exploitation and poverty. His murder therefore carried with it strong symbolism — it was not only a crime against an immigrant, but against a “troublemaker” who spoke out for better working and living conditions.
In response, Italy’s new deputy prime minister Luigi Di Maio and interior minister Matteo Salvini — leaders of the governing coalition’s Five Star Movement and the Northern League party, respectively — had nothing to say about Sacko’s murder, instead indulging the possible motivations of the killer.
When key members of a government refuse take a stand on situations like this, people feel entitled to view immigrants and refugees as second-class citizens whose lives are worth less.
The case of the NGO ship Aquarius, which made international headlines, is also a case in point.
Salvini refused authorisation to the Aquarius, which had 630 asylum seekers on board, to dock in an Italian port. After the Aquarius was allowed to dock in Spain, Salvini said the asylum seekers had “taken a free cruise on the Mediterranean Sea” and that “Italy will not accept new immigrants anymore”.
At the same time, Salvini has also repressed any form of opposition to the government.
Three journalists, who were investigating the League for alleged involvement in illegal funding, were recently taken in by police for interrogation and prevented from carried on with their investigation.
Similarly, a group of people who requested that Salvini pressure the Egyptian government over the death of Giulio Regeni, a young Italian student and union activist brutally murdered in Egypt in 2016 under mysterious circumstances, suffered the same fate.
It appears that anyone who dares to protest the government, and especially Salvini himself, will be taken in and intimidated by police, in typically fascist style.
Salvini has proposed a census of all nomads and Roma to expel them from Italy. This follows in the footsteps of Mussolini’s fascist regime that, 80 years ago, carried out a census of all Jewish people before sending them to their death in Nazi concentration camps.
Since the traditional centre-left parties seem unable to effectively oppose the government’s agenda, the left faces an almost unprecedented challenge in terms of building a credible alternative to the government and combating the racist and conservative mentality gaining ground inside the country.
A key figure standing up now could be Naples mayor Luigi De Magistris, a left-wing politician and former magistrate who, in defiance of Salvini’s ministerial order, said Naples was ready to welcome refugees and allow the Aquarius to dock in its port.
De Magistris is a leader of Democracy and Autonomy (DemA), a local party based in the southern Italian region of Campania. DemA has close links to the Italy-wide left-wing Power to the People movement and is a participant in Democracy in Europe Movement 2025 (DiEM25), a progressive Europe-wide platform launched in 2015 by former Greek finance minister Yannis Varoufakis.
Some other mayors and politicians, mostly from southern Italy, have followed De Magistris’s example and publicly opposed Salvini’s anti-refugees policies.
They are showing that another Italy exists — one that rejects racism, fascism and xenophobia, and embraces solidarity, cooperation and internationalism.
De Magistris has emerged as a potential leader of a broad, popular and inclusive front that could unite progressives and revolutionaries, and help generate a new resistance to the rise of neo-fascism.
The left should seek ways to embrace De Magistris’s resistance and form a united front against Salvini’s atrocious agenda. Now is the time to build the kind of alternative to the far right and neoliberal establishment that the Italian left desperately needs.