Many Italians are making immigrants subject to the same nativistic prejudices, racism, and hate crimes that have harassed their grandparents and great grandparents in foreign societies.
Afflicted by over a century of humiliating emigration, legendary misgovernment, mountains of contaminated mozzarella, and seas of uncollected garbage, mobs from the outskirts of the “City of Sun” are exploding in a carousel of rage and violence.
But it is not against their history, political authorities, or the camorra business that the violence is directed. It is the gypsies who attracted the fury of a crowd of angry people in Ponticelli on Wednesday. And it’s still on. The anger mounted over the attempted kidnapping of a baby by a 17-year-old Roma girl earlier in the week. The girl broke into an apartment and tried to take the child from its baby seat in the kitchen. She was stopped by the family and then arrested.
But the day after a crowd of angry residents broke into the nearby gipsy camp armed with iron bars and threatened to burn it to the ground – which they did, threwing Molotov cocktails agaist the barracks just after the police had evacuated them. When firemen arrived to stop the fire, the mob jeered and shouted, ''You put these fires out and we'll start them again''.
The images of gypsies leaving the camps in vans provoked condemnation from the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), which drew parallels with Roma being forced to flee from the Balkans. ''In Italy there are around 170,000 Roma, of whom 34,000 from ex-Yugoslavia, who came to our country to seek protection from ethnic cleansing,'' said UNHCR spokesperson Laura Boldrini. ''We never thought we'd see such images in Italy,'' she added.
It is at the least the second of such episodes to have occurred in Italy in the past few months. Last November the murder of an Italian woman triggered a racist attack in Rome, when masked assailants with knives, clubs and canes stabbed and beat four Romanians, killing one. "We must prevent this terrible tiger, which is xenophobic rage, the racist beast, from getting out of control," commented Giuliano Amato, then Italy’s center-left Interior Minister.
But in April, the right swept to victory in legislative elections after leading a campaign centred on security issues and largely blaming Romanians for immigrant-related violence. The new Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has announced measures to control or expel immigrants, especially the Roma, if they are illegal, found guilty of offences or have no visible means of support. "The security decree will be adopted by the council of ministers in Naples," Berlusconi told the Senate on Wednesday, describing his bid to associate immigration and crime as "an important twist in security policy."
In the last decades, Italy has definitively turned from an emigration into an immigration country.
As historian Stefano Luconi, an expert scholar of Italian/American affairs, writes: “Oblivious of the experience of their destitute ancestors who went abroad to make a living and ended up confronting ethnic bigotry and discrimination, many Italians have made immigrants subject to the same nativistic prejudices, racism, and hate crimes that had harassed their grandparents and great grandparents in foreign societies.”