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Italians First, Migrants Second?

The Dangers Of 'US Versus Them' Rhetoric In Italy

Since the commencement of the 5 Stars Movement-Northern League coalition government following the Italian general election on the 4th April 2018, Italy has witnessed an alarming increase in physical and verbal attacks against migrants, Italian black citizens, and shelters and individuals offering support to refugees. To simply play the ¨ignorance card” in response to these clearly racially motivated acts is unacceptable. The root causes of these actions need to be examined. We can consider just why it is so important to take a stand against such behaviour and attitudes which are becoming increasingly commonplace, before we see ourselves and our society retreating back to the era of Mussolini’s reign.

This article starts its analysis from a specific moment on October 20th 2018, at the Female World Volleyball Cup, Yokohama, Japan. In an unexpected twist, Italy defeated China in the semifinals, to secure a spot in the final against Serbia. The “Terrible Girls”, as named by sport journalists and coach Davide Mazzanti, set high hopes for an entire nation, with the dream of a repeat victory from 2002. Despite Serbia’s eventual victory, Italy remained proud and loyal. Thousands of social media posts flooded in, largely in celebration of the team’s effort and achievement. However, several posts stood out, for less positive reasons. They regarded two players in particular: Paola Egonu and Miriam Sylla.

Comments regarding their inability to represent  the “Italian race” and statements considering them unworthy of their spot on the team were based on the girls’ ethnicity. Egonu’s parents migrated from Nigeria and Sylla’s, the Ivory coast decades ago. Worse still, these white-supremacist comments seemed to be championed by numerous others, supporting the idea that “Italians have and always will have white roots” rather than challenging the blatant racism. There are chilling similarities to October 16th 1943, when Mussolini ordered the deportation of Jews from Rome to the infamous Nazis lagers. Only six people survived.

This is one  example of how the “us against the other” politics is back on the rise, despite the fact that we keep reminding ourselves that lessons have been learned. However, in the last months we have been experiencing a return to hostility and attacks against migrants and ethnic minorities, especially since the new formation of a new government.

Luigi Di Maio (leader of the Fiver Star Movement) is following the political map drawn out by the current Minister of Interior Affairs, Matteo Salvini. Salvini has responsibility over the migration system, which is controversial considering his attitude towards migration. He sees migration as an ‘invasion’ from Africa and Middle East. He has also made promises to Italians to “give back” what has been taken by migrants and by the European Union. Salvini regards the EU as responsible for deliberately ‘plotting’ the migrant crisis to isolate Italy.

Many feel that the rhetoric of Matteo Salvini, Minister of the Interior, has emboldened far right organisations and anti-migrant politicians. Photo: Wikimeida Commons.

In response he promised to, and is, prohibiting NGO boats from harbouring, has refused shelter to rescued migrants, and has ordered the closure of of shelters. The replacement resettlement centres host a larger quantity of migrants but do not offer the same rehabilitation opportunities.

Finally, the arrest of the Riace mayor- Domenico “Mimmo” Lucano”- who strongly advocates the integration of refugees (for alleged unpaid garbage tax and and illegal immigration traffic) spurs further far-right thinking.

Many Italians are taking a stand against anti-immigrant behaviour and rhetoric. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

The actions of Matteo Salvini seem to have authorised far-right organizations and anti-migrant politicians to freely act on a social media: from rape threats of pro-migrant activists, to threats to destroy shelters. This extends into public space: denying the bus seat to someone because of their skin colour or excluding migrant children from the school canteen whose parents could not produce complete migration certification. As these events become more frequent, people become desensitised to the situation, forgetting that their relatives may well have faced similar circumstances once upon a time.

The root causes can be traced to small, yet powerful causes. What are Mussolini sympathisers likely to say about our government denying access migrants and refugees? Who will they blame for the present situation? The often uttered words: “I am not racist, but…” generally are conditioned by racist and politicised statements. Is the UNHCR’s statement that Salvini’s claims around the ‘migrant invasion’ are fake not enough? In the first five months of 2018 Italy welcomed just 13,000 migrants, a small number compared with countries like Greece, Germany, and Sweden. Considering all these factors, we should be able to see through the racist attacks.

But I am not, together with many Italians, accepting of such views. The deportations and the “Italian First” mentality will not be in my name. We are not staying silent. We are going to fight in the name of an anti-racist and anti-fascist Italy.

Giulia Masciavè

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