Wednesday, April 1, 2009


Freedom Socialist • Vol. 30, No. 2 • April-May 2009

Assaults on Romani escalate in Italy
Government uses racist propaganda, fascist laws, and vigilante violence

by Monica Hill

Italian police patrol a Romani camp in June 2008 before driving residents from their homes.
Credit: AFP/Getty

Italian police, soldiers, and organized goons have torched and destroyed three-fourths of the country's Romani ("Gypsy") camps in just six months. Many of the Romani have died, and thousands have been forcibly deported or have fled the country. Those remaining are homeless and are tormented by state terror measures and ultra-right vigilantes.

Appalling assaults on Romani and other immigrants are sweeping Europe. The attacks are heightened by recession. The economic meltdown is worse in Italy, the poorest West European country, and has dealt its harshest blows on the Romani, Italy's poorest people. Their plight is an urgent alert to all of Europe and working people worldwide to educate and organize against a chilling revival of fascism in the 21st century.

A history of persecution. Thought to have originally migrated from Northern India, the Romani people, Europe's largest national minority, have been reviled and rejected for centuries. Perhaps because of their strong sense of national identity, darker skin, independent customs, unique language, and nomadic way of life, they have been considered "asocial, criminal and culturally inferior."

European states did everything they could to get rid of the Romani, from vicious repression, serfdom, slavery, and forced assimilation to deportation and extermination. Many were sent to the various empires' colonies for cheap labor: England transported Romani to Barbados, Australia and North America, France to Louisiana, Portugal to Brazil, and Spain to South America.

In the mid-20th century, the Nazis deemed Romani, like Jews, "subhuman." By the end of World War II, roughly 1.5 million Romani had been murdered in concentration camps alongside Jews, gays, and other victims of fascism.

With the breakup of workers states and the reconstruction of capitalism in Eastern Europe during the late 1980s and early '90s, the Romani came once again to be seen as "outsiders" who threaten scarce jobs and social services. Frightened Eastern and Central European workers whose own economic security was disappearing helped make life miserable for the Romani. And once again, they were driven out or fled — this time to Western Europe.

Under siege in Italy. With the global economy now in crisis, capitalist governments are predictably raining blame and abuse on the most vulnerable and guiltless in society. Immigrant workers are the favored scapegoats in most places. In Italy, most immigrants are impoverished refugees fleeing civil and ethnic warfare, largely from Africa and Eastern Europe, especially Romania. Many of the refugees from Eastern Europe are of Romani ancestry.

Silvio Berlusconi's rightwing government has passed repressive laws and spread lies blaming immigrants (particularly Romani) for Italy's woes. Every murder, rape, kidnapping, or theft, the xenophobic media has screeched, was the work of "Gypsies" or "Romanians." The level of anti-Romani sentiment has risen sharply because of the survival fears of many workers and jobless people and the government's blatant nationalist, anti-foreigner campaign.

Thugs, often organized by local mafia organizations, firebomb Romani caravans and drive families from their squatter camps and police-patrolled ghettoes. Cops whip Romani men off to jail, leaving women and children to be raped and brutalized by vigilantes who then raze their camps.

For "census purposes," the state, shamefully aided by the Red Cross, began in July 2008 to fingerprint the entire Romani population, adults and children. This greatly facilitated abrupt deportation, imprisonment, police abuse, and discrimination. Half of the Romani have lived in Italy for generations and are citizens! Now, many are simply gone.

Thousands of soldiers have been unleashed in cities to combat the "evil army," as Rome's mayor calls them, of "Gypsies," immigrants, and homeless. Lawmakers have passed laws that exempt the four highest political offices in the country from prosecution of any kind, past, present, or future. And the fascist movement is recruiting in the meetings of poverty-ridden neighborhoods and on Internet sites like Facebook.

The Berlusconi government's genuinely fascist character is no secret. When Gianni Alemanno, former youth leader of the Italian fascist movement, was elected mayor of Rome, his supporters gave the fascist salute and chanted "Duce," Mussolini's title. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Berlusconi enthused, "We are the new Falange" (the fascist party of General Franco).

Needed: left leadership. Italy once had the largest and longest-lived left movement since World War II. But it was severely repressed during the late 1970s and has remained fragmented since then. Many leftists also became disillusioned by Euro-communist alliances with capitalist parties, such as the disgraced and ousted government of Prime Minister Prodi. Berlusconi and other rightwingers now fill a vacuum of leadership on the Left.

Romani have been bravely defending themselves by demonstrating in the streets and mounting defense guards in their camps and ghettoes to drive back the attackers. But they need help. The European Union and United Nations have offered little but useless resolutions and expressions of concern.

What the Romani need right now are united anti-fascists — workers, leftists, feminists, immigrants, queers, students, community activists, Christians, Muslims, and atheists — at their side, physically defending them from armed goons, cops, and soldiers. And what Italy needs is left parties who will work together and are not afraid to protect their class.

It's urgent that these parties defend the Romani, all immigrants, and homeless people — and form a united front with angry workers and youth to confront the common source of misery, capitalism.

By combining with others who are also vulnerable, workers whose economic security is threatened can offer an organized resistance that will stop fascist bullies in their tracks and make revolution possible.

For more information, Google "Roma Virtual Network" and visit

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