Italian fashion brands called upon to tackle racism

Of note given history of racist incidents:

Black fashion designers in Italy have called upon Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana to commit to eradicating racism in the country’s fashion industry, accusing brands of prioritising performative gestures of support for the Black Lives Matter movement in the US at the expense of tackling discrimination closer to home.

A letter written by designers Stella Jean and Edward Buchanan, entitled “Do #BLM in Italian fashion?” asks Italian fashion industry leaders to enact a plan of investment, education and monitoring, instead of a tokenistic approach which earlier this month resulted in no black-owned fashion brand showing at Milan fashion week.

“Let’s change (from) roundtables on diversity and workshops on the theories of multiculturalism … into true work, true collaboration” the letter reads. “Only this will ensure that all of our constant sources of passive inspiration are transformed into valid and active agents of real change.”

Source: Italian fashion brands called upon to tackle racism

‘We Saw There Is Disparity.’ Italian Fashion World Adopts Diversity Agenda

Better late than never:

The Italian National Fashion Chamber is promoting a diversity agenda among Milan’s major fashion houses, a year after several top Italian brands faced criticism for designs and remarks seen as culturally and racially insensitive.

Its manifesto backed by major Italian fashion brands aims to increase racial and gender diversity in key roles in Milan’s fashion houses, which fashion chamber president Carlo Capasa acknowledged was lagging in a recent interview with The Associated Press ahead of Milan Fashion Week.

‘’We have been speaking for many years against discrimination based on gender, religion, skin color and physical ability. But we must acknowledge that this has not been truly implemented,’’ Capasa said. ‘’We looked at our industry and we saw there is disparity. We saw that a disparity of gender persists, that there are conditions not favorable to women in the workplace and in some cases there is discrimination.’’

While Capasa resisted framing the manifesto as a direct reaction to the scandals involving blackface designs by Gucci and Prada, and a Chinese backlash that forced fashion house Dolce&Gabbana to cancel a major Shanghai show, the incidents show the cultural blind spots that can arise when a fashion house is too homogeneous.

Capasa said the Milan fashion world must work harder to attract people of color. “If global companies want to represent the world they are targeting, they must welcome diversity and look beyond their own borders,’’ he said, citing the relative homogeneity of Italian society.

Milan has lagged the other main fashion cities of Paris, New York and London in racial diversity on the runway, according to season diversity reporting by the Fashion Spot. Capasa said the stories that fashion houses want to tell are often linked to their Italian roots, and that runway choices are linked to model agencies’ offerings since not all models come to Milan.

While many Milan fashion houses take their creative direction from women — including Miuccia Prada, Donatella Versace, Silvia Venturini Fendi and Angela Missoni — and more women than men work in the fashion industry, Capasa said efforts are needed to get more women into decision-making roles.

‘’If we look at the boards, at the CEOs, at other key roles, there might be an advantage for men,’’ Capasa said. ‘’But we don’t want to introduce quotas obligating companies to promote women. We want to create the conditions so that women can have the same chances.’’

The chamber’s manifesto does not include hard commitments. Instead, it presents concepts that ‘’will serve as a model for a radical reform in terms of diversity and inclusion.’’

They were adopted by the chamber’s more than 100 members, which include most major Milan fashion houses with the notable exception of Dolce&Gabbana, and will be monitored every year for progress.

They call for changing representations of the standards of beauty on runways and in magazine campaigns, acknowledging that ‘’canons of physical beauty and harmful psychological models have spread throughout the industry.’’ They also present inclusion as a business opportunity that can boost financial results while improving trust with clients.

Gucci and Prada have independently made efforts to address the scandals. Gucci’s efforts include launching a scholarship program to reach students who have been underrepresented in the fashion industry, while Prada announced a diversity council headed by two Americans, artist Theaster Gates and film director Ava DuVernay.

Capasa put the fashion chamber’s initiatives in the context of an ever more globalized industry where 2.5 billion people follow the fashion world on social media accounts and can, with a single post, shift a fashion company’s fortunes.

Meanwhile the center of fashion’s commercial gravity has shifted to Asia, with Chinese consumers accounting for 90% of luxury sales growth last year, according to a study by the consultancy Bain & Co.

“The push to speak about diversity of inclusion comes directly from the fact that globalization made us understand that you cannot speak in the same way that you spoke before,” Capasa said. “The audience has become much bigger.’’

Source: ‘We Saw There Is Disparity.’ Italian Fashion World Adopts Diversity Agenda

The Chinese Roots of Italy’s Far-Right Rage

Good long read and analysis of populism and the far right. Always better to have some fears for the future than not:

Like everyone in her family and most of the people in the factories where she labored in this town nurtured by the textile trade, Roberta Travaglini counted herself an unwavering supporter of the political left.

During her childhood, her father brought her to boisterous Communist Party rallies full of music, dancing and fiery speeches championing workers. When she turned 18, she took a job at a textile mill and voted for the party herself.

But that was before everything changed — before China emerged as a textile powerhouse, undercutting local businesses; before she and her co-workers lost their jobs; before she found herself, a mother of two grown boys, living off her retired parents; before Chinese immigrants arrived in Prato, leasing shuttered textile mills and stitching up clothing during all hours of the night.

Italy Has an Intolerance Problem. Does It Still Have a Moderate Right?

Good if disturbing analysis:
When Liliana Segre, the face of Italy’s historical memory of the Holocaust, was named a senator for life last year, it was something of an honorary title for the 89-year-old grandmother. Segre, who was deported to Auschwitz at 13, No. 75191 tattooed on her arm, has spent her life speaking about her experience. She could easily have remained a figurehead in her new role. Instead, she has used her platform to speak up about minority rights in Italy in the face of rising right-wing populism. In the process, she has become a moral authority and a woman in a position of prominence, in a country that often lacks both.

Today Segre finds herself in the middle of one of the most intense national debates about anti-Semitism and intolerance in Italy in decades, at a time when the country’s right-wing League party has dominated the political conversation with an “immigrants out” rhetoric. Segre has been the direct target of thousands of anti-Semitic messages online, a center that monitors anti-Semitism in Italy said last week. On Thursday, she was assigned a police escort because of threats against her, and after neo-fascists unfurled a banner that read antifa acts, the people submit near an event where she had been scheduled to speak. Two Carabinieri must now accompany her every move.

That anti-Semitism is alive and well in Europe, both online and in real life, and that Jewish sites and community leaders require police protection are, alas, nothing new. But the notion that an octogenarian Holocaust survivor is under threat and is now required to have a police escort stirred strong feelings in Italy and led the front pages of the country’s leading dailies on Friday. A headline on Wired summed up the response: “What Kind of Country Is This Where a Death Camp Survivor Needs a Police Escort?”What’s at stake here is whether Italy, one of the pillars of the European Union, is capable of having a moderate political right, or whether the far right, with its “us versus them” attitude toward ethnic and religious minorities, has definitively absorbed the center.

Britain’s Labour Party has been convulsed by debates about anti-Semitism. In France, Islamist terrorists have singled out and killed Jews. In Germany, a leader in the Alternative for Germany partyasserted that the Holocaust was a “speck of bird poop” in the country’s long history. Italy stands out in this landscape because the most vocal and agenda-setting politician in the country, the League’s leader, Matteo Salvini, has been extremely ambiguous about his party’s stance on Italy’s fascist past. Salvini, who was the interior minister until August and who now leads the opposition, often cites Mussolini, has delivered a speech from a balcony where the fascist leader once spoke, and has held rallies in front of other fascist-era monuments. At a League rally in September, supporters shouted “Get out of here, Jew” to Gad Lerner, a prominent Italian journalist, and Salvini never addressed the issue.

That same ambiguity was on full display last week, when the League and the entire right-wing opposition abstained from a Senate vote on a committee that Segre had proposed to investigate hate speech, racism, and incitement to violence on ethnic and religious grounds. The vote passed and the committee itself is somewhat symbolic, but the abstentions were significant. Not only did the League abstain, but the once philo-Semitic center-right Forza Italia party, led by former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, also abstained, as did the far-right Brothers of Italy party. Salvini said it was because he worried that the committee would restrict free speech, such as the League’s slogan of “Italians first.” After Segre was given a police escort, Salvini said he had one too—suggesting that this was no big deal for public figures—then later amended his comments to say anti-Semitism should be condemned.

Giorgia Meloni, the leader of Brothers of Italy, said she didn’t think the committee would adequately address intolerance and anti-Semitism on the part of Muslims. She said that Salvini had denounced anti-Semitism, and that suggesting her party indulged in nostalgia for fascism was ridiculous. But she has also posed in front of a fascist-era monument, to endorse a descendant of Mussolini.

This goes beyond political posturing. The fact is, Italy’s right-wing parties draw support, both moral and electoral, from far-right elements. CasaPound, a far-right group that organizes the demolition of Roma encampments, has supported the League. Salvini hasn’t endorsed its support, but he hasn’t disavowed it either. Abstaining from voting for the committee fits in this pattern. “When you propose a parliamentary committee to investigate language which is useful for the League, it’s impossible for the League to vote for it,” says Gadi Luzzatto Voghera, the director of Milan’s Center of Contemporary Jewish Documents, which conducted the study into anti-Semitism that found Segre was a target.

“The direct and continuous attacks on Liliana Segre, in my view, is not haphazard anti-Semitism,” he told me. They are aimed at Segre “because she has started to do politics. And she’s doing it in a very weighty and direct and intelligent way.”

Segre proposed the Senate committee to monitor hate speech afterspeaking out this month about how she sometimes receives hundreds of anti-Semitic messages a day. (According to the study, the slurs include: “professional Jew”; “jerk”; “senile old lady”; “senator with no merits who profits off the Holocaust.”)

In a recent interview, Segre said that she thought her online attackers were troubled people who needed treatment. “They’re serial haters who need to hate someone,” she said. “Wasting time writing to wish death on a 90-year-old, anyway nature will soon take care of that.” “I don’t forgive,” she added about her experience at the hands of the Nazis. “I don’t forgive and I don’t forget, but I don’t hate.”

The populist right today in Italy and elsewhere derives much of its power from anger and hate, especially toward immigrants. The attacks on Segre are part of a broader wave of intolerance here. Last weekend, fans shouted racist slurs and made monkey noises at Mario Balotelli, a soccer player for Brescia and a star of Italy’s national team. Balotelli, who was born in Italy to Ghanaian parents and raised by Italian foster parents, has emerged as a critic of Salvini, and has spoken out against the racism he has faced.

Late Friday, Italian media reported that Salvini met with Segre that afternoon at her home in Milan. What words the two exchanged aren’t yet known. Salvini didn’t post anything about the meeting on his active Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram accounts. Last weekend, Segre told Corriere della Sera that “if he comes, I’ll offer him tea, cookies, a coffee, but certainly not a mojito”—a reference to Salvini’s appearance last summer shirtless at a beach club, drinking his cocktail of choice. How Salvini and his allies respond to Segre publicly will determine what kind of country Italy wants to be: one that reckons with its fascist past, or one that celebrates it or banalizes it for political gain.

Source: Italy Has an Intolerance Problem. Does It Still Have a Moderate Right?

Vatican, Jews criticise Italy’s right for snubbing anti-Semitism committee

Of note:

The Roman Catholic Church and Rome’s Jewish community expressed dismay on Thursday after rightist parties refused to back the creation of a parliamentary commission to investigate hate, racism and anti-Semitism.

The idea of the committee was put forward by Holocaust survivor and life senator Liliana Segre in response to a regular stream of abuse hurled her way on social media.

The ruling 5-Star Movement and center-left Democratic Party (PD) backed the motion, but the far-right League and its allies, the Brothers of Italy and former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, all abstained.

“The abstention of some parties is a bit dismaying. It’s a decision that we consider wrong and dangerous,” said the president of Rome’s Jewish community, Ruth Dureghello.

The Vatican’s powerful number two, Cardinal Pietro Parolin, also weighed in.

“I am worried, in the sense that on some things like fundamental values we should all be united,” he told reporters. “There is a danger that all this gets politicized. We need to break clear of this,” he said.

Segre was deported from Italy to Auschwitz in 1944 when she was 13 – one of some 776 Italian children under the age of 14 who were sent to the Nazi concentration camp. Only 35 survived.

She said this month that social media haters posted an average 200 messages a day against her. “They should be pitied or treated,” she said this week.

The League and its allies said they abstained in Wednesday’s vote because Segre’s motion was ambiguous, in citing, for example, nationalism and ethnocentricity as possible driving forces behind racial hatred.

“By doing that you are outlawing Brothers of Italy,” said one of the party’s senators, Giovanbattista Fazzolari. “This is not a commission on anti-Semitism, as they want you believe, but rather a commission aimed at political censorship.”

While Brothers of Italy and the League, led by Matteo Salvini, have both positioned themselves on the far-right of the political spectrum, Forza Italia sees itself as center-right and some of its leaders were dismayed by the decision to abstain.

“We are betraying our values and changing our skin,” said lawmaker Mara Carfagna, who is widely seen as a possible party leader when Berlusconi finally steps away from the helm.

She has voiced alarm at Berlusconi’s recent efforts to patch up differences with the League and hand effective control of the rightist bloc to Salvini. “We are being dragged along without defending our identity,” Carfagna wrote on Twitter.

The rightist bloc triumphed in a local election in Umbria on Sunday, beating a candidate put forward by the PD and 5-Star by 20 percentage points and ousting the center-left from power in the central Italian region for the first time in 50 years.

The Senate committee will be set up despite the abstention from the rightist bloc, but the 5-Star and PD both denounced their stance.

“This abstention seems to legitimize a culture of hatred that is reflected in society. It is a shameful page in our political life,” said 5-Star lawmaker Elisa Tripodi.

Source: Vatican, Jews criticise Italy’s right for snubbing anti-Semitism committee

Italy changes course on immigration with new minister Luciana Lamorgese

Notable shift:

This weekend, while idling in the Mediterranean Sea between Malta and Italy, the bright red and white Ocean Viking humanitarian ship suddenly set off in a strong, clear course toward the southern-most Italian island of Lampedusa.

The ship had just received permission from Italy to sail to Lampedusa, setting off a wave of relief for the 82 rescued people onboard. It also marked the first tangible evidence of a sweeping change in course to Italy’s — and possibly Europe’s — approach to the controversial issue of immigration.

Italy’s newly formed ruling coalition of the populist Five Star movement and left-leaning Democratic Party has decided to once again allow humanitarian rescue ships to dock here after more than a year of blocking ships under Matteo Salvini, the former minister of the interior. And it has made a swift deal with several EU countries to share the migrants aboard the Ocean Viking.

“Basically Italy is saying to Europe, we’re breaking with the past policy,” says Annalisa Camilli, immigration expert and author of La Legge del Mare – The Law of The Sea. “It’s a big message that Italy has chosen to come back in line with Germany, France and Spain instead of aligning with [anti-migrant] countries such as Hungary and Poland under the former far-right interior minister Matteo Salvini.”

The change comes with the government’s replacement of Salvini with the southern Italian lawyer Luciana Lamorgese. She’s the first woman to hold the job and, says Camilli, could not be more different in style and substance than Salvini.

Lamorgese has a deep and nuanced understanding of immigration policy with more 30 years experience in the Interior Ministry that deals with immigration. She’s the only so-called ‘technocrat’ in the cabinet, with no political allegiances. And she has worked mostly under the radar.

Not on Twitter or Facebook

“Lamorgese has no social profile. She’s not on Twitter or Facebook,” says Emiliana De Blasio, a political expert with Rome’s Luiss University. “She’s super partes and has worked with both rightist and leftist governments. She’s an institutional woman, not a politician, and because of that, Salvini has never attacked her and will find it more difficult to now.”

Until earlier this month when, in a political miscalculation, Salvini ousted himself from government, the far-right leader dominated the discourse on migration in Italy. In his near daily rants posted on social media, he amplified unproven conspiracy theories that humanitarian rescuers colluded with human traffickers; cultivated fears of a migrant invasion even as arrivals dropped by 80 per cent due to EU deals with African countries to try to stop migrants from entering Libya; and lashed out against the EU, while shutting down dialogue with its neighbours.

His refusal to allow migrant rescue ships to dock triggered some two dozen standoffs between Italy and rescuers — NGO, commercial and even Italy’s own naval ships — forcing migrant-crammed vessels to remain stranded at sea for up to three weeks. He also passed two so-called security decrees that cancelled special humanitarian assistance for asylum seekers and criminalized the NGO rescuers.

But if the choice of Lamorgese to replace Salvini signals a radical departure, the move is more political jujitsu than a counterstrike.

“They have seen that politicizing migration has divided the society, and basically they want to overcome this polarized vision of reality by defusing it,” Camilli said.

Lamorgese will do that by quietly getting to work, she added.

Talking with Europe about refugees

Already negotiations with Europe to share migrants and financially penalize countries that don’t are underway, as well as discussions about relaunching an EU naval patrol in the Mediterranean.

Members of the Democratic Party are pushing for Italy to reprise a lead role in setting up  a German- and France-backed EU investment scheme in African countries to stem the flow of migrants and forging bilateral accords with those same countries to take back people who don’t qualify as refugees.

And here in Italy, reforming the country’s antiquated 16-year-old law on immigration is a top priority.

“I think we’re going to be hearing less about the invasion of migrants from the sea and more about how to grant long-term legal status to the 600,000 immigrants who have been living and working as agricultural workers and caregivers in Italy for years,” said Camilli.

Still, the issue of migrant flows across the Mediterranean from Africa is hardly going away. Even with the number of arrivals to Italy under 6,000 so far this year, more than 50,000 migrants crossed to Spain and Greece.

And how European countries deal with the sea crossings will remain contentious and of urgent concern to human rights observers.

NGOs watching how she handles human rights

In Italy, migrant rescue NGOs will be watching closely to see how Lamorgese deals with protecting the human rights of migrants in Libya where they are held captive in overcrowded barracks, tortured and extorted.

Under the previous Democratic Party interior minister Marco Minniti, Lamorgese worked to back a plan that funded the Libyan militias who ran their coast guard to intercept migrant-crammed dinghies and send the people back to captivity. Experts say the move merely fuelled human trafficking. Many migrants whose dinghies later made it past the Libyan patrols reported being trapped in a vicious cycle: Having to pay traffickers to board the rubber boats, being caught by the Libyan coast guard and brought back to the traffickers, only to have to pay them again for another attempt to escape.

“Italian ports will be open to humanitarian rescue ships, but at the same time they’ll fund extra-European countries such as Turkey, Libya, Tunisia and Sudan to block the immigration flows before they reach EU borders,” said Camilli.

Remaining as low-profile as she has been throughout her career, Lamorgese has not made any public statements about her new role as interior minister or given interviews about her plans.

But Democratic Party members of Italy’s new coalition government insist that the country is on a new course.

“Our approach is completely different from Salvini. We’re not trying to stop immigration, but manage it,” says Democratic head Senator Andrea Marcucci. “We must care about human beings and human rights. We must also see the Mediterranean as our future and as a place that provides opportunities and not only a terrible place that links us to Africa over immigration.”

It’s a promise that’s been made by previous governments, Marcucci admits.

But, say observers, if this new government lasts, Lamorgese has as good a chance as any at making inroads.

Source: Italy changes course on immigration with new minister Luciana Lamorgese

The resurgence of Oriana Fallaci’s anti-Islam message in Italy

Not too surprising:

At his political rally in Milan in March, Italy’s far-right Minister of Interior and Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini mentioned two women: the Virgin Mary, who, he said “will lead us to victory”, and Oriana Fallaci, whom he described as “the founding mother of this Europe”.

One of Italy’s most famous journalists, Fallaci, who died in her late seventies in 2006, covered the Vietnam War and interviewed the likes of Henry Kissinger, Indira Gandhi and Ruhollah Khomeini. 

After September 11, she adopted an anti-Islam stance and today her legacy is enjoying a moment of renewed popularity.

In 2019 Italy, Fallaci’s unapologetic Islamophobia is alarmingly mainstream. The new ruling class is rediscovering Fallaci as a prescient thinker.

Streets or squares have been renamed after her in Pisa and Arezzo, in central Italy, and Genoa, further north.

public garden was also dedicated to her in Sesto San Giovanni, an industrial town close to Milan, where the mayor also blocked the construction of a mosque and recently mentioned Fallaci in his inauguration speech: “Her exhortations to the West to wake up still resonate today.”

In July, the lower chamber of Parliament approved the creation of low-denomination treasury bills that could also be used as a de-facto parallel currency to the euro. According to the plan’s main proponent, the League’s MP Claudio Borghi, the 20 euro bill should bear a picture of Fallaci.

For what would have been her 90th birthday, state-owned television channel RAI 2 aired a celebratory documentary about her.

And Salvini has trumpeted his newly approved security bill as inspired by Fallaci.

At home, her ideas were not perceived as radical – her anti-Islam manifesto was first published in the country’s most prestigious newspaper. 

But with rising anti-immigrant sentiment and with the far-right League party receiving almost 40 percent in the most recent elections, her message resonates with the current climate.

On September 28, 2001, a week after the September 11 attacks, Corriere della Sera, the Milan-based newspaper, published a five-page article titled La Rabbia e l’Orgoglio, or Rage and Pride, in which Fallaci accused the West of being too soft on Islam and Muslim immigrants. 

In Italy, she argued, “there is no place for muezzins, minarets, fake teetotalers, their f****** middle ages, and their f****** chadors.”

From then on until her death, Fallaci stirred anti-Muslim sentiment.

[Fallaci has become] a darling of the right precisely because she was a public figure previously associated with the left.


After the article in 2001, she wrote three books – The Rage and the Pride, The Force of Reason, and Oriana Fallaci Interviews Herself – in which she described the Muslim world as an “enemy we treat as a friend” and warned Europe about what she believed to be the danger of becoming “Eurabia”. 

She borrowed the term from a conspiracy theory popularised by the Egyptian-born British writer Bat Ye’or (a pseudonym for Gisele Littman) about an alleged plan to “Islamise” Europe through mass immigration. 

A few months before her death, Fallaci famously said she was ready to blow up the minaret of a mosque in Chianti because she did not want to “see a 24-metre minaret in the landscape of Giotto when I can’t even wear a cross … in their country!”.

More than a decade later, her influence on Italian public life has strengthened.

“The fact that Oriana Fallaci took such decisive positions after 9/11 transformed her into a figure of reference for the right,” said Francesco Borgonovo, deputy director of the conservative newspaper La Verita. 

He claimed that Fallaci was often criticised for warning Western governments against immigration from Muslim-majority countries, but she understood that “in the face of a certain Islam, it is dangerous to say hurray to multiculturalism.”

Before being revered by the Italian right, Fallaci was a respected war reporter, essayist and political interviewer. 

“She was the most famous Italian journalist in the world,” said Ugo Tramballi, war correspondent and columnist for the newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore. 

He said that while Italy had other prominent journalists, “none of them was known outside Italy and has had bylines on great American magazines as did Fallaci.”

Her interrogative interview style, in which she was vocal about her own opinions, contributed to her popularity. 

“When Oriana Fallaci was going to follow the news, she became the news,” said Tramballi.

The daughter of an anti-fascist partisan, Fallaci wrote about the moon landing, interviewed Robert Kennedy and was injured during the repression of student movements in Mexico in 1968.

Some view Fallaci’s early career, sometimes aligned with liberal causes, as distinct from her later days as an anti-Islam polemicist.

But Borgonovo, the conservative commentator, said they are two sides of the same coin: “The reasons behind her attacks against a certain kind of Islam were the same than those behind her previous battles. She was a feminist, a woman of the left and a libertarian.”

Leonardo Bianchi, news editor of Vice Italy, who wrote a book about Italian populism, sees it differently.

According to him, after September 11, Fallaci became “a darling of the right precisely because she was a public figure previously associated with the left”.

She exemplified that “even ideologically unwholesome people understand that the threat [of Islam] is serious and something needs to be done.”

After the Charlie Hebdo attack in Paris, Fallaci’s work resurfaced on social media platforms, with some arguing she was right to bemoan Islam after all.

Recently, social media savvy Salvini was photographed while reading one of her books on holiday. 

And Facebook is now full of fans groups with names such as Oriana Fallaci, the power of truth and Aphorisms by Oriana Fallaci. 

Fallaci is no longer a simple journalist but has become, said Bianchi, “a prophetess of misfortune who warned us that Islam wanted to attack us.”

Source: The resurgence of Oriana Fallaci’s anti-Islam message in Italy

Salvini shifts Italy’s security focus from mafia to immigration

The cost of diverting police and related resources:

Organised crime increasingly being forgotten in favour of anti-migrant efforts, say observers

In recent decades, the ruthless Casalesi clan of the Camorra mafia has earned billions of euros by burying more than 150,000 cubic metres of toxic waste in the countryside north of Naples.

So last Thursday night, when 90 carabinieri paramilitary police officers surrounded several apartment buildings in Caserta, the provincial capital, many residents thought an anti-mafia blitz was under way. The targets were in fact immigrants, under scrutiny for sanitary inspections of their homes.

It is part of a trend since Matteo Salvini of the far-right League became interior minister in June 2018. Senator Pietro Grasso, a member of the national anti-mafia commission and former prosecutor responsible for the 2006 arrest of the Sicilian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, said: “Unfortunately, the Italian government […] is prioritising immigration, making people believe it is an emergency, rather than fighting the real problems, such as the mafia. Meanwhile, the bosses are getting richer and richer.”

On Sunday, Salvini announced the interior ministry would review spending on police protection for men and women under threat from the mafia, declaring “some people have been under police escort for too long”.

In Catania, the eastern Sicilian stronghold of the powerful Santapaola clan, prosecutors are investigating NGO rescue boats, one of which was ordered to be seized in November after fears that discarded clothes worn by people arriving from Libya could have been contaminated with HIV.

In Riace, part of Reggio Calabria, from where the feared ‘Ndrangheta is thought to control much of Europe’s cocaine trade, Mimmo Lucano, an anti-mafia mayor who revitalised his community by welcoming asylum seekers, has been under investigation since October on suspicion of aiding illegal immigration. Lucano has had repeated death threats from mafiosi, who also poisoned two of his dogs.

In the past eight months, nearly 250 of Salvini’s tweets have addressed immigration, compared with 60 about organised crime.

Nicola Gratteri, one of Italy’s most respected anti-mafia prosecutors, said: “I’ve heard him [Salvini] talking about immigration a lot. Haven’t heard him talking about the mafia yet.” When Salvini has tweeted about organised crime, for example the arrests in December of 90 people in Europe and South America accused of links to the ‘Ndrangheta, it has often concerned investigations that began before his tenure.

Arrivals to Italy have decreased by more than 80% since their peak. Thousands of police officers have conducted searches and inspections, and hundreds of people have been forcibly removed from welcome centres. Many of them are now homeless.

The evictions followed the approval of the “Salvini decree”, which removed humanitarian protections for those not eligible for refugee status and suspended the asylum application process for individuals considered “socially dangerous”.

Claudio Fava, the head of Sicily’s anti-mafia commission, whose father was murdered by the mafia in 1984, said: “The new security decree is a mirror of Salvini’s propaganda.

“The law addresses almost exclusively immigration, but a security decree should also be concerned with the mafia, which is clearly not a priority for Salvini. The only element in the decree that mentions the mafia regards the seizure of property.”

The Salvini decree established that villas confiscated from mafiosi would be auctioned off publicly after a certain time. Experts have questioned this, citing the likelihood that properties could be purchased by citizens acting as stand-ins for mafia bosses.

It feels as though the Italian mafias no longer make headlines, but others do. The interior ministry has carried out a ferocious campaign against what Salvini has described as a worse menace – the mysterious Nigerian mafia. In recent months, magistrates have arrested numerous individuals within the Nigerian community on suspicion of belonging to mafia clans.

Many investigators point out the Nigerian clans are subordinate to the Italian mafias, but Salvini and his supporters have been swift in justifying anti-immigration policies in the face of what they describe as an “invasion” of alleged African mafia bosses, which has risked aggravating racial prejudice.

The linking of migrant communities and organised crime has echoes of the past in Italy. Between 1880 and 1915, 4 million Italians reached the US, a small minority of whom were tied to the mafia, the largest criminal organisation in the world.

Mario Del Pero, a professor of international history at Sciences Po, said: “The anti-Italian prejudice, or rather ‘Italophobia’, was very strong in the United States. Its origins ranged from widespread hostility against the Catholic church to labelling Italians as criminals. Restrictive laws passed in 1921 and 1924 were written precisely to keep Italians out.”

In Caserta, the parallels are not lost. Moses, 34, who is from Nigeria and had his home searched by police, said: “[It is] the same sort of prejudice that migrants are facing in Italy more than 100 years later. History repeats itself, in this country more than anywhere else.”

In recent decades, the ruthless Casalesi clan of the Camorra mafia has earned billions of euros by burying more than 150,000 cubic metres of toxic waste in the countryside north of Naples.

So last Thursday night, when 90 carabinieri paramilitary police officers surrounded several apartment buildings in Caserta, the provincial capital, many residents thought an anti-mafia blitz was under way. The targets were in fact immigrants, under scrutiny for sanitary inspections of their homes.

It is part of a trend since Matteo Salvini of the far-right League became interior minister in June 2018. Senator Pietro Grasso, a member of the national anti-mafia commission and former prosecutor responsible for the 2006 arrest of the Sicilian mafia boss Bernardo Provenzano, said: “Unfortunately, the Italian government […] is prioritising immigration, making people believe it is an emergency, rather than fighting the real problems, such as the mafia. Meanwhile, the bosses are getting richer and richer.”

Source: Salvini shifts Italy’s security focus from mafia to immigration

Italian town saved by refugees fights government anti-immigration policy

Contrast between the local integration approach of a small Italian town in southern Italy and the “separation” approach of the current Italian government:

The alleyways of the Italian town of Riace are adorned with dozens of murals that show its long-standing relationship with migration.

But the country’s new populist government is threatening a project locals say successfully integrated hundreds of refugees and migrants into the town of just over 2,000 people.

Mayor Domenico Lucano, the project’s figurehead, was placed under house arrest earlier this month on charges of involvement in organising “marriages of convenience” for asylum seekers.

On Saturday Italy’s interior minister, Matteo Salvini, ordered all migrants in Riace be transferred to refugee centres next week.

Mr Salvini hailed the arrest as proof that the country’s new government was serious about ending the “immigration business”.

“What will all the do-gooders who want to fill Italy with immigrants say now?” Mr Salvini wrote on Twitter.

Mr Lucano, who was also accused of skipping a tender process in order to award a waste-management contract to cooperatives with ties to migrants, spearheaded Citta Futura – Future City – in 1999.

For almost two decades the project welcomed migrants to the sparsely populated Calabrian town in a bid to boost jobs and development. Known as the Riace model, the programme led to abandoned houses being restored and craft workshops being reopened, providing work for locals and foreigners alike.

The project was lauded by many as a model of integration.

But Riace’s efforts risk being dismantled by Mr Salvini as it runs out of money due to the interior ministry’s block on funds.

As a result, Riace’s local government accumulated a debt of €2 million (Dh8.49mn).

Before his arrest, Mr Lucano – known as Mimmo – could be found on the steps of the Donna Rosa restaurant in the town’s central square.

“They are destroying the area. We risk everything being closed down, even the kindergarten,” he said. “We might have continued even without European funds as an independent self-sustaining project, but two years has been too long and we have accumulated too many debts.”

On Saturday protesters gathered outside Mr Lucano’s window to demand the release of their mayor, chanting “keep strong, continue fighting”. The mayor could be seen raising a fist in support.

The political differences between Mr Salvini’s anti-immigration, hard-right Lega Nord and left-leaning Mr Lucano has compounded the widening rift.

Riace’s residents claim Mr Salvini is purposefully sabotaging the project. In response they gathered in a collective hunger strike since July and shut down all of the workshops tasked with creating embroidery items, ceramics, kites and glass crafts. The sign “I, too, support Riace” can be seen hanging in many shop windows.

“The funding blockage is like having suffered a bereavement,” said grocery shop owner Mimma. “The migrants have taught us to live. When new ones arrive they feel immediately at home, and it is as if they have always lived here with us.”

Because of its location Italy is a gateway into northern Europe – but the country’s weak economy and inadequate help from the European Union has aided Mr Salvini’s propaganda about a so-called “invasion” of the country.

Although current and past governments increased their popularity by tapping into a widespread fear of foreigners, Riace often put itself forward to host new arrivals, especially those most in need.

Mohammed is a 64-year-old Iraqi of Palestinian origin. He fled Iraq after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003 and today has both a home and a monthly stipend of €260.

This may end if Mr Salvini succeeds in relocating Riace’s guests to a camp.

Bayram, a 65-year-old Kurd, arrived in 1998 from Turkey. He helped reconstruct hillside terracing and is currently working as a carpenter and driver.

“Whoever is blocking this model should see how Riace was twenty years ago,” says 29-year-old Antonio, who works as an assistant in Bayram’s carpentry shop.

“There was absolutely nothing and the only event was the annual patron saint festival. Young people were forced to emigrate, which I will probably have to do next year,” he says, sitting nervously amid other protesters.

Next year Mr Lucano’s second and last term will end. Meanwhile Mr Salvini is rallying to win local elections in the country’s south, despite his northern secessionist movement’s hostility towards them.

“In the past we were the ones who left for the cities in the north of Italy or for Australia, but now there are new people coming here, the new migrants,” says Raffaele, a local farmer who sells home-grown fruit.

Far from Italy’s growing isolationism, residents of Riace hope they can overturn Mr Salvini’s decision to relocate their guests. But the future remains unclear.

And as the children of immigrants chase each other on Riace’s football pitch, shouting at each other in the Calabrian dialect, they are oblivious to the fact they could soon lose everything their parents risked their lives for – and so are their Italian peers who, amid the south’s interminable afternoons, have, at last, found someone to play football with.

Source: Italian town saved by refugees fights government anti-immigration policy

France tells Italy to stop ‘posturing’ on immigration and find a solution

All governments posture to a certain extent. The question lies more how they posture and for what purpose and in this case, the French critique is correct:
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe urged far-right Italian leader Matteo Salvini on Monday to drop his “posturing” on immigration and help find a European response to the issue.

Salvini, Italy’s powerful interior minister and deputy premier, has singled out French President Emmanuel Macron for criticism in recent weeks, as well as other EU leaders he considers too soft on immigration.

Philippe promised to be “direct” in his conversation with the 45-year-old Italian, head of the far-right League party, over dinner on Monday night in the French city of Lyon where the two men, along with ministers from Britain, Germany, Spain, Poland and Morocco, met for talks on immigration.

“I rarely use the same words or the same vocabulary (as Salvini) but that doesn’t stop me being direct as well. I hope we’ll have a frank and direct exchange,” Philippe said.

“Beyond the posturing, the issue of immigration cannot be solved with a national response. It requires coordination. It’s a complex issue of common interest.

“I think you have to tackle it with conviction, with respect for national interests, but also with the desire to build a common position that is the only way to find a solution.”

Philippe’s statement came amid open conflict between the new populist Italian government, led by Salvini and the head of the Five Star movement, Luigi Di Maio, and Macron’s centrist administration in Paris.

Last week, an aide to the French president accused Salvini of “living off the migrant crisis” and blocking attempts to forge a common EU migration policy.

Leaving the dinner, Salvini made no attempt to disguise his differences with the Paris government — just hours after meeting French far-right leader Marine Le Pen in Rome, whom Macron defeated in last year’s presidential election.

“I had the pleasure of seeing Marine Le Pen this morning and talking with her about Europe, the future of young people, trade and work,” he said.

“I need to work with everyone, but I feel closer to the views of Marine Le Pen,” he said.

The talks in Lyon were an attempt to bridge differences between hardline anti-immigration EU member states such as Poland and Italy and others like France and Germany that are in favour of accepting refugees.

The gathering, which continues for a second day on Tuesday focused on efforts to combat terrorism, precedes a larger meeting of European interior ministers in Luxembourg on Friday.

Morocco’s interior minister, Abdelouafi Laftit, was also invited to the talks amid rising concern in Europe about the increasing number of migrants heading to Spanish territory via Morocco.

Spain has become the biggest port of entry for illegal migration into Europe.

The issue of returning Moroccan migrants to their home country, particularly thousands of unaccompanied minors in Spain and France, was discussed on Monday night.

“It’s in the process of being resolved,” Laftit told reporters.