Listening to Italy
Politics and Immigration
In August a young Polish woman was raped in Rimini by a non-Italian migrant. This type of violence against women and the behaviour and rights of migrants suddenly became a hot topic for the press. Importantly for Italy, it also fuelled political debate at a time when a general election must be held within a year. The focus of this interest lies in the articulation of anti-migrant pressure that is building and can easily, as seen in the UK, be escalated by the press.
Italy has officially, and on a local level, proudly welcomed migrants who have been spread around the country, although there has been some resistance. The EU expects its members each to take a quota but this hasn’t happened in practice; borders have been closed and refusals have been given. This has obviously led to anti-EU feeling within the country. On 7 September La Repubblica ran a double page spread headed “The fracture of Europe” , which included discussion on contentious topics such as Catalonian succession, Turkey, Brexit and the Visegrad countries. La Repubblica grouped the four eastern members: Poland, The Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary together and noted the refusal of Hungary, The Czech Republic and Poland to take migrants. Péter Szijarto, Hungary’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, considered the EU ruling “political and illegal”. Milos Zeman, the Czech Leader is on record as saying that he would renounce EU funding rather than change his country’s decision.
Many Italians hear what the Northern League’s leader Matteo Salvini is also saying about migrants and agree with his stance, that it is “an invasion that threatens our society, our life and our security”.
The details of the Rimini rape have precipitated Italians into examining critically the consequences of their laudable actions in welcoming migrants. The Rimini story has provided absolutely classic fuel for generating and stirring anti-racial hatred. Two of the raping gang were born in Italy but they have illegal migrant Moroccan parents. The boys were also minors. Father had been deported for violent crimes but had returned. His wife, who remained in Italy, then had two more children. As the sexually abused young woman is Polish, the Polish Government have said that they would like to extradite the gang to be prosecuted in Poland.
In September the press were reporting more rapes by migrants. A Finnish woman was raped in Rome by a Bengali. An older woman was found in Rome’s Borghesi Palace park. She was naked, muzzled and had been raped and robbed. Her attacker was possibly East European; she said he had a “clear” complexion. (A taxi driver found her, put her in the back of his cab, switched on the heater and called the police.)
Populism is currently gaining votes from the previously identifiable right or left. Or, when voters are quizzed in opinion polls they appear to be struggling to make decisions on who to vote for. A forthcoming Sicilian regional election is being seen as a predictor for the general election. La Stampa of 21 September said that 37% would vote for the centre-right candidate, with M5S and the centre-left on 29% and 28% respectively. But a distinctly different answer was given to the question of who would actually win. 32% were “don’t knows”, while the centre-right and their candidate Musumeci was given a 28% chance. M5S were a clear 10% higher than the centre-left.
The Sicilian elections have other complexities; the M5S candidate has been declared illegal after problems with his registration but is still in the running. He is also a close political ally of M5S‘s new leader, elected at the Movement’s weekend gathering 20/21 September. This is yet another controversial election.
It is difficult to know where to start in giving a concise explanation of the current state of the three political groupings in Italy.
Paolo Gentiloni’s centre-right PhD (Patriot Democratico) is in government while the party is led by Matteo Renzi, who resigned as Premier following his Dec 2016 referendum defeat. A split produced a small left-leaning party the Mdp (Movimento Democratico e Progressista) which nets an insignificant number of votes, but leaches support from an already weakened Pd. The Mop’s very existence, and its inability to reach consensus on a life-saving coalition with the pod highlight the disarray across the left. This year’s regional elections saw widespread absenteeism, the most extreme example being the traditional left stronghold of Emiglia Romagna where a little over 30% of people voted. There is pressure within the left to re-appraise the policy towards migration. The left are also unable to resolve the issue of the unpopularity of Renzi, who voters widely consider to be dictatorial. The left will stand a chance at the next election only in the, just as likely, circumstance that the other parties fall apart.
Forza Italia’s (Fi) everlasting Silvio Berlusconi and Matteo Salvini of the Lega Nord now Lega Nord di Salvini (LndS), both significant political figures and leaders of centre-right and very right-wing parties, could form a coalition, except that they share a mutual distrust and dislike. La Stampa of 22 September showed a photo of Silvio patting the League’s founder Umberto Bossi on the head, rather like small dog. Bossi has been ordered to pay back funds that he embezzled from the League and is disgraced and yet many northerners like him. Bossi is reported saying that Berlusconi has offered him a place on his candidates list. Provocative stuff.
The LNdS website seen on 22 September started with a strong anti-migrant rant using words which include: “enough…layabout….endless violence”. Berlusconi for Fi, is reported to be analysing the migrant situation and he suggested a UN coordinated Marshall Plan for Africa. His strategy is to use a different approach and he favours attack on the government for a situation that he sees as being “out of control”.
Indeed Italy is struggling to cope with migrants and the political left on the island of Lampedusa (nearest to Libya and often the first landing for migrant boats) has recently been reported using words similar to Salvini’s. Mayor Totò Martello, a Pd member, has said that following “molestation of women and thieving there are enough migrants.” He asked for Lampedusa to be taken off the hot-spot for migration landings. In fact Marco Minniti (Pd) the Interior Minister has spoken loudly about the need for all Mediterranean ports in other countries to share the landings of refugee boats. Clearly the topic is a very live and troubling issue being dealt with by Italy while the EU effectively turns its back.
The side issue being debated, or rather being used as a topic for political point scoring, is that of citizenship. Children born in Italy do not qualify for citizenship if their parents are not themselves citizens. This feeds into the case of the Rimini rapes where two of the accused are minors. More educated opinion in Italy suggests that cases like this are an exception and that children who have attended school alongside native Italian children should be able to apply for citizenship. There has been considerable debate about citizenship eligibility, with the Pd government publishing proposals for revising and widening them. These were withdrawn. Berlusconi later said that any relaxation in rules would encourage people to try to get to Italy.
And what of Beppe Grillo’s M5S? Since the death of the co-founder, Giancarlo Casaleggio the Movement has been partly led by his son Davide, also an IT expert. The intention of continuing to conduct business, including members voting, over the internet has not changed. Davide has worked closely with the highly ambitious Luigi De Maio, also Deputy Leader of the Lower House and significant changes have been made. It is possible that M5S could win the next election. In this circumstance it is ludicrous for big decisions to continue to be made by a group. This had included three parliamentarians, De Maio, Fico and Di Battista. It is said that De Maio had used his networking skills and proximity to Davide Casaleggio to produce a coup within the Movement. There has been a great deal of conflict that resulted in Di Battista and Fico not standing for election. Grillo contradicted his statement of earlier in the year when he said that he would be leader for ever. Suddenly he was saying that he was 70, he would get some shoes without laces and that he would be everyone’s Papa. La Repubblica reported this as a dethroning.
The result was a poll of members resulting in the so-called “coronation” of Di Maio. However, the press were suggesting that his support within the Movement was not assured. Indeed less than a quarter of members had even voted. Di Maio also had his migrant moment. He as disparaging about the rescue boats calling them “taxis across the sea.”
The next few months will be strewn with political splits, alliances and argument. Attitudes and solutions to what is a huge problem: migration and citizenship are likely to be one weapon that will be wielded. Ex-premier and 10th President of the EC, Romano Prodi made a speech in Assisi on 14 September. In essence he criticised the use of issues such as citizenship as political footballs and regretted, as a founder member of the centre-left, the lack of reflection in all political parties. He also referred to the migration issue with a reference to the Pope’s speech saying that “the church always has a principle that no one can ask anyone to carry a heavier cross than they are able to bear”.