Racism in Italy

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Front page of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on 11 November 1938: the fascist regime approved the racial laws, enacting persecution of the Italian Jews. The title reads: The laws for the defense of race approved by the Council of Ministers.

Racism in Italy deals with the relations of Italians and other populations of different nationality in the country's history. Racism, like bigotry, is encountered in most societies, and Italy is no exception.[1] Even though a unified sense of national-corporate identity as found in the classic European nations to the north has been historically fragile,[2] the peoples of Italy have long prided themselves on an absence of racial enmity.[3]

These ideas were first inculcated when Italy began invading and colonizing African countries, though policies regarding miscegenated children (meticci) were confusing.[4] Under Benito Mussolini's fascist state, once the régime consolidated its pact with Nazi Germany, anti-Semitic laws were passed, as were laws prohibiting internal migration under certain circumstances.[5] The post-war mass migration from the south towards the industrialized north engendered a degree of diffidence across the Italian social strata. A wave of immigration by extra-comunitari (non-EU immigrants; the word has strong undertones of rejection)[6] from the late 80s, gave rise to political movements, like the Northern League, once hostile to the so-called terroni (a slur against southern Italians) and clandestini (illegal immigrants) from the areas south of the Mediterranean.

In 2011, a report by Human Rights Watch pointed to growing indications of a rise in xenophobia within the Italian society.[7][8] A 2017 Pew Research Center survey indicated Italy as the most racist country in western Europe.[9]

Middle Ages[edit]

In Medieval Italy, slavery was widespread, but was justified more often on religious rather than racial grounds.[10] Almost all slaves in Genoa belonged to non-European races; the situation was different in Venice and Palermo, where emancipated slaves were considered free citizens in the 13th century.[10]

19th and early 20th centuries[edit]

Lombroso and scientific racism in Italy[edit]

Scientific racism was popularized in Italy by criminologist Cesare Lombroso. Lombroso's theory of atavism compared white civilization and other races with "primitive" or "savage" societies.[11] His theories connecting physiognomy to criminal behavior explicitly blamed higher homicide rates in southern Italy on the influence of African and Asian blood on its population.[10] In 1871 Lombroso published The White Man and the Man of Color, aimed at showing that the white man was superior in every respect to other races.[12] Lombroso explicitly stated his belief in white supremacy: "only we whites have achieved the most perfect symmetry in the forms of the body [...] possess a true musical art [...] have proclaimed the freedom of the slave [...] have procured the liberty of thought".[10] Lombroso equated the criminal tendencies of the white population to residual "blackness".[12][13] The ideas of Lombroso about race would spread around Europe at the end of the 19th century.[13]

Lombroso, who also wrote extensively on the topic of anti-Semitism in Europe and attacked anti-Semitic racial theory, distinguished between European Jews, as generally "Aryan", and traditionalist Jews whose religious practices he excoriated,[14][15][16] and regarded southerners in Italy as "atavistic".[17]

Other scholars of scientific racism[edit]

Other Italian anthropologists and sociologists also explored Lombroso's path of scientific racism. The Sicilian Alfredo Niceforo followed Lombroso's physiognomical approach, but in 1906 published a racial theory where both blond pigmentation of hair and dark skin were considered signs of degeneration, with the Italian race in a positive middle ground.[10] Niceforo held these views as late as 1952, claiming that "Negroid and Mongoloid types were more frequent in the lower classes".[10] In 1907 anthropologist Ridolfo Livi attempted to show that Mongolian facial features correlated with poorer populations. However, he maintained that the superiority of the Italian race was proven by its capability to positively assimilate other ethnic components.[10]

Fascist Italy[edit]

Anti-Semitism before 1938[edit]

Italian Jews had one of the highest rates of integration in mixed marriages in the diaspora.[citation needed] Jews fervently supported the Risorgimento, identified as Italian nationalists, proved valiant as soldiers in WW1, and, in terms of their relatively small numerical presence within the population generally, formed a disproportionate part of the Fascist party from its beginnings down to 1938.[18][19] It is still debated whether Italian Fascism was originally anti-Semitic. Mussolini originally distinguished his position from Hitler's fanatical racism while affirming he himself was a Zionist.[citation needed] More broadly, he even proposed building a mosque in Rome as a sign that Italy was the Protector of Islam, a move blocked by a horrified Pope.[citation needed] German propagandists often derided what they called Italy's "Kosher Fascism".[20] There were however some Fascists, Roberto Farinacci and Giovanni Preziosi being prime examples, who held fringe extremist racist views before the alliance with Nazi Germany.[21][22] Preziosi was the first to publish an Italian edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in 1921, which was published almost simultaneously with a version issued by Umberto Benigni in supplements to Fede e Ragione..[23][24][25] The book however had little impact until the mid-1930s.[25]

It has also been indicated Benito Mussolini had his own, if somewhat different from Nazi, brand of racist views.[26][27] Mussolini was quoted as saying: "the white man has to subdue the black, brown and yellow races."[28][page needed]

Mussolini had held the view that a small contingent of Italian Jews had lived in Italy "since the days of the Kings of Rome" (a reference to the Bené Roma) and should "remain undisturbed".[29] One of Mussolini's mistresses, Margherita Sarfatti, was Jewish. There were even some Jews in the National Fascist Party, such as Ettore Ovazza who founded the Jewish Fascist paper La Nostra Bandiera in 1935.[30] Mussolini once declared "Anti-Semitism does not exist in Italy... Italians of Jewish birth have shown themselves good citizens and they fought bravely in [World War I]."[31]

Despite the presence of a Fascist regime, Italy in the first half of the 1930s was seen as a safe haven by some Jewish refugees. The country hosting up to 11,000 persecuted Jews, including 2,806 of German descent.[32] However, as early as 1934 there had been removals of Jewish personnel from institutions and state organizations.[32] 1934 also saw press campaigns against anti-fascist Jews, equating them with Zionists.[33] Between 1936 and 1938, Fascist regime-endorsed anti-Semitic propaganda was mounting in the press and even in graffiti. Equally, scholars of eugenetics, statistics, anthropology and demographics began to outline racist theories.[32]

Racial laws[edit]

In 1937, the Second Italo-Ethiopian War led to the first Fascist Laws promoting explicit racial discrimination. These were the laws against madamato – that is, the concubinage between Italians and African women in occupied territories.[25][34] The penalty for madamato was from one to five years of prison.[34] Remarkably, one of the justifications of the laws was that such relationships were abusive towards the women. In the occupied Eritrea women in fact took marriage by the traditional custom of dämòz, which was not legally recognized by the Italian state, thus relieving the husband from any legal obligation toward the woman.[35] However, at the same time, a campaign against the putative dangers of miscegenation started in Italy.[25] The Church endorsed the laws which stated the "hybrid unions" had to be forbidden because of "the wise, hygienic and socially moral reasons intended by the State": the "inconvenience of a marriage between a White and a Negro", plus the "increasing moral deficiencies in the character of the children".[34]

In the late 1930s Benito Mussolini became a major ally of Nazi Germany, culminating in the Pact of Steel. The influence of Nazi ideology on Italian Fascism appeared in a 16 February 1938 press release by Mussolini in which some restrictions on Jewish people were suggested.[32] An anti-Semitic press campaign intensified, with Jews blamed for high food prices and unemployment.[33] The Fascist regime assumed an overt racist position with the Manifesto of Race, originally published as Il fascismo e i problemi della razza ("Fascism and the problems of race"), on 14 July 1938 in Il Giornale d'Italia. The Manifesto was then reprinted in August in the first issue of the scientific racist magazine La Difesa della Razza ("The Defense of Race"), endorsed by Mussolini and at the direction of Telesio Interlandi.[36] On 5 August 1938 Mussolini issued another press release, this time acknowledging that restrictions on Jews were going to be enacted. The release noted that "segregating does not mean persecuting", but persecution had in fact begun.[32]

The anti-Semitic metamorphosis of Fascism culminated in the racial laws of 18 September 1938. Although they did not directly threaten Jewish lives, the laws excluded Jews from public education, the military and government, and made it practically impossible for them to pursue most economic activities. Jews could not hire non-Jews. The marriage of Jews to non-Jews were also prohibited.[33]

Fascist racism also impacted French, German, and Slavic minorities, most notably in the attempts to fully Italianize the Balkans' territories that were annexed after World War I.[37]

Julius Evola[edit]

Julius Evola was an intellectual of war and post-war period. It is believed that Evola was the main Italian theoretician of racism during the 20th century.[38] Evola published two systematic works on racism, including The Blood Myth (1937) and Synthesis of the Doctrine of Race (1941). Furthermore, Evola discussed the subject in a substantial number of articles in several Italian journals and magazines.[39] Evola also introduced the 1937 edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published by Giovanni Preziosi. Evola wrote:

While The Blood Myth aimed at being an impartial review of the history and latest developments of racism theories in Europe, Synthesis of the Doctrine of the Race introduced the concept of spiritual racism.[39] This concept met with the approval of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini was looking for a theoretical justification of racism different from that of biological racism, which was mainstream in Nazi Germany.[39] Evola's brought together several underlying themes of her thought. Among those themes were anti-Darwinism, anti-materialism and anti-reductionism. Anti-Darwinism is the concept of history as regressive, positioning the apex of civilization at the beginning of history.[39] For Evola, race existed on three levels: body race, soul race and spiritual race. The concept was pinned to a transcendent foundation. Evola wrote: "[r]ace and caste exist in the spirit before manifesting themselves in the earthly existence. The difference comes from the top, what refers to it on earth is only a reflection, a symbol."[39] Evola explicitly criticized the Nazi racist view, deeming them "trivial darwinism" or "divinified biologism".[41] For Evola, the Jewish race was not meant to be discriminated for mere biological reasons. In fact, Jewishness was essentially instead a "race of the soul, an unmistakable and hereditary style of action and attitude to life."[39] Evola's spiritual racism was more powerful than biological racism, because it also recognized Jewishness as a spiritual and cultural component which tainted what Evola recognized as the Aryan race.[39] Despite this peculiar theoretical elaboration, Evola's overall description of Jewishness was not particularly different from the common racist stereotypes of this period.[39]

Second World War[edit]

During the Second World War, Italians engaged in ethnic cleansing. In the summer and autumn of 1942, as many as 65,000 Italian soldiers destroyed several areas of occupied Slovenia. Many areas were left almost depopulated after the killing and arrest of the residents. Between 1941 and the Grand Council's deposing of Benito Mussolini on 25 July 1943, 25,000 Slovenians (roughly 8% of the population in the Ljubljana area) were put in Italian detention camps.[37]

In order to close Italian borders to all refugees and to expel illegal Jewish immigrants, Italian authorities complied with German requests to deport Jews in the occupied Balkans and French territories.[37]

A pivotal event of the Jewish persecution in Italy during the war was the so-called razzia, or roundup of October 1943, in Rome. On the morning of 16 October 1943, German troops arrested as many as 1259 Jews for deportation to Nazi concentration camps.[42] The Vatican, convents, monasteries and other Catholic homes and institutions had taken pre-emptive actions days prior to hide Jews, resulting in over four thousand escaping deportation.[42][43]

Mussolini also played upon long-standing racist attitudes against Sicilians, enacting a number of laws and measures directed at anyone born in Sicily/of Sicilian descent.[44] Regarding the treatment of Sicilians under Mussolini's regime, Count Ciano, Mussolini's son-in-law, wrote in his diaries on 4 October 1941: "The internal situation - coming apart in various places - is becoming grave in Sicily...So, then is it worse to be Sicilian than to be Jewish?"[45]

21st century[edit]

Anti-Roma racism[edit]

Anti-Roma sentiment exists in Italy, and takes the form of hostility, prejudice, discrimination or racism directed at the Roma people (Gypsies or "Zingari"). There's no reliable data for the total number of Roma people living in Italy, but estimates put it between 140,000 and 170,000.

In Italy, many national and local political leaders engaged in rhetoric during 2007 and 2008 that maintained that the extraordinary rise in crime at the time was mainly a result of uncontrolled immigration of people of Roma origin from recent European Union member state Romania.[46] National and local leaders declared their plans to expel Roma from settlements in and around major cities and to deport illegal immigrants. The mayors of Rome and Milan signed "Security Pacts" in May 2007 that "envisaged the forced eviction of up to 10,000 Romani people."[47]

In October 2007, extraordinary anti-immigrant sentiment exploded into violence toward Romanian immigrants and Roma in general. The violence was triggered by the murder of 47-year-old Giovanna Reggiani, a naval captain’s wife, which was attributed to a Romanian immigrant of Roma origin. Reggiani was raped, beaten, left in a ditch, and died the following week. The Italian government responded with roundups of Romanian immigrants and summary expulsions of some two hundred, mostly Roma, disregarding E.U. immigration rules.[48] According to Rome's then Mayor Walter Veltroni Romanians made up 75 percent of those who raped, stole and killed in the first seven months of the year.[48]

In May 2008, an unnamed 16-year-old Roma Romanian girl from a different part of town was arrested for trying to snatch an unattended six-month-old baby.[49] After that mobs in several areas around Naples attacked Roma communities, setting homes alight, and forcing hundreds of Roma to flee.[50] The camp in Ponticelli was set on fire each month between May and July 2008.[51]

According to a May 2008 poll 68% of Italians, wanted to see all of the country's approximately 150,000 Gypsies, many of them Italian citizens, expelled.[52] The survey, published as mobs in Naples burned down Gypsy camps that month, revealed that the majority also wanted all Gypsy camps in Italy to be demolished.[52]

Racism in politics and sports[edit]

An Italian bus with advertising by the president of A.C. Monza football team, Anthony Armstrong Emery, against racism in football (2013).

Actions by the Lega Nord have been criticized as xenophobic or racist by several sources.[53][54][55][56][57] Italians protested the murder of Burkina Faso native, Abdul Salam Guibre, along with racism in Italy on 20 September 2008.[58] L'Osservatore Romano, the semi-official newspaper for the Holy See, indicated that racism played an important role in the riot in Rosarno.[59] According to a Eurobarometer study, Italians had the third lowest level of "comfort with person of Gypsy origin as neighbour", after Austrians and Czechs.[60][61]

Contemporary Italian football fans, of lower-league and top-flight teams, have been noted by foreign media for racist behaviour.[62]

Following the 2013 nomination of Cécile Kyenge, a Congolese-born Italian immigrant, as Minister of Integration in the government of Enrico Letta, she became subject to several racial slurs by local and national politicians.[63][64] One of these slurs was made by Roberto Calderoli, a prominent figure of the anti-immigration and populist party Lega Nord. Calderoli claimed that whenever he saw Minister Kyenge, an orangutan came to his mind.[65] During a speech by Kyenge at a meeting of the Democratic Party a few days after Calderoli's slur, some members of the far-right and neo-fascist New Force threw a clump of bananas at the minister.[66][67]

Another example is the packages containing a pig's head that were sent to Rome's Synagogue, the Israeli embassy and a museum showing an exhibition on the Holocaust in January 2014.[68][69]

Racist attacks, shootings and murders in 2018[edit]

  • Macerata shooting, Marche: On 3 February 2018, a 28-year-old Italian, Luca Traini, performed a terror attack by severely injuring six migrants from Sub-Saharan Africa in a drive-by shooting incident that was described as an act of revenge motivated by the Murder of Pamela Mastropietro. The suspect was later arrested while wearing the Flag of Italy draped over his shoulders near a WW2 memorial in Macerata.[70][71] Traini was described as a far-right political sympathizer[72] who ran for the League and was reported to be supposedly acquainted with Mastropietro.[73]
  • S.Calogero, Calabria. On 2 June - The evening of Saturday, June 2 - in San Calogero, in the province of Vibo Valentia - a 29-year-old trade unionist from Mali, Soumayla Sacko, died of a shot in the temple. The attack may have been actually ordered by the local mafia on the ground of the man's political activism.
  • Caserta, Campania, 11 June 2018. Two Malian men were attacked by a few people with air guns from a car and got shot. According to the victims, the aggressors were heard singing in praise the Interior minister Matteo Salvini.[74]
  • Naples, Campania, 20 June 2018. Konate, a young Malian immigrant, was injured by a few people shooting him in the belly with a pellet gun while returning home after his work at a restaurant.[75]
  • Forlì, Emilia-Romagna, 5 July 2018. An Ivorian man was injured by air gun shots from a running car.[76]
  • Latina, Lazio, 11 July 2018. Two African migrants got shot at a bus stop, again from a running car.[77]
  • Rome, Lazio, 17 July 2018. A Roma child was wounded after being shot with an air gun. Some days later, the shooter was found and justified himself on the score of “doing some training with the new gun, without intention of shooting anyone”.[78]
  • Vicenza, Veneto, 26 July 2018. An Italian man shot a builder from Capo Verde who was working across the street. He justified himself stating that he was “just taking aim at a pigeon”.[79]
  • Partinico Sicily. A migrant from Senegal got beaten up by some Italian men that were yelling “Go back to your country, dirty nigger”.[80]
  • Roseto, Abruzzo, 30 July 2018. An Italian-Senegalese man tried to renew his health card at a local hospital. An employee refused to offer him service and told him: “This is not a veterinary office”.[81]
  • Pistoia, Tuscany, 2 August 2018. An immigrant of unknown nationality was assaulted by two men that were shouting racist comments against him. [82]
  • Falerna, Calabria, 14 August 2018. A Dominican citizen was assaulted and injured by a group of assailants that shouted racist comments against him. His Italian mother-in-law was also beaten.[83]
  • Partinico, Sicily, 14 August 2018. Four Gambians and an Ivorian citizen were beaten and assaulted by several attackers for racist motives.[83]

Environmental racism[edit]


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  74. ^ Repubblica
  75. ^ Sparano allo chef immigrato a Napoli: "Ridevano, credevo di morire” Corso Umberto, ferito all’addome con fucile a pallini: “È razzismo, Salvini fermi la sua propaganda”. Unhcr: "Irresponsabile, Repubblica
  76. ^ Forlì, tiro all'africano con pallini ad aria compressa. Due episodi in una settimana, caccia ai responsabili Repubblica
  77. ^ Latina, spari ad aria compressa contro i migranti che aspettano l'arrivo del bus: due feriti. Tre persone a bordo di un'auto hanno preso di mira un gruppo di sette-otto nigeriani stava aspettando il pullman a Latina Scalo, per tornare nella vicina, Repubblica
  78. ^ Giallo a Roma, bimba rom di un anno ferita da un piombino: è grave. I familiari hanno raccontato si essersi accorti che la bambina perdeva sangue dalla schiena mentre era in braccio alla madre che camminava lungo via Palmiro, Repubblica
  79. ^ Vicenza, spara dal terrazzo e ferisce immigrato: denunciato. Colpito un operaio di origine capoverdiana che lavorava su un ponteggio. Lo sparatore ai carabinieri: "Volevo prendere un piccione". La dinamica, Repubblica
  80. ^ Partinico, identificato uno degli aggressori del giovane senegalese
  81. ^ Abruzzo, italo-senegalese respinto alla Asl: "Vai via, questo non è l'ufficio del veterinario", Repubblica
  82. ^ Spari contro migranti, nuovo episodio a Pistoia
  83. ^ a b «Vai via, sporco negro»: domenicano aggredito in Calabria

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