Facts and chronology
On the nights of November 10 and 11 a group of Italian residents attacked a centre for political asylum seekers in Tor Sapienza, a suburban neighbourhood in Rome. The attackers, about 100 on both nights, some of them masked, attacked the building with stones, bars, firecrackers and bangers. The attackers set garbage bins on fire to create barricades and clashed with the police who, on the first night, arrived after the attack had already started. Different media reported that the attackers were shouting “Burn them all!”, “Fucking niggers!” and “Go back to your country to rape women!” Some witnesses said that they were also saying “Viva il duce!” (“Long live the Duce”, referring to Mussolini.)
The centre hosts about 70 Nigerian refugees, half of whom are minors (children under 18). Tor Sapienza residents, as the media reported, claim that the refugees are responsible for crimes committed in the area, especially thefts, aggression and a supposed attempted rape. But no crimes have been reported to the police. People who were present on the nights of the attacks told journalists that they’ve “had enough, between gypsies on one side and niggers on the other”, and that they want all of them to go away. Even though some of the people who took to the streets said that it was a spontaneous protest of residents and that they are not racist nor extremist, the way the attack was launched suggests rather good preparation.
Over the past few weeks tension started to rise in Tor Sapienza and residents were demanding security and the expulsion of all migrants living in the centre. The area’s problems are mostly due to the lack of political and social intervention in recent years: unemployment, poverty and criminality (drug dealing) are part of everyday life.
Following the attacks, the municipality of Rome decided to transfer all the refugees to a centre in another neighbourhood, to “guarantee their safety”, as a spokesperson said. This decision could set a precedent, prompting others to use violence to force migrants and refugees out of different parts of the city.
“Rome is split in two,” says Christian Raimo, a writer born in the suburbs of Rome. This view of the Italian capital is borne out only too clearly by the statistics: 4.6% of Italy’s population live in Rome, as do 49% of the country’s millionaires. As comparison, about 8% of the UK’s population live in London and 42% of the country’s millionaires. The presence of so much wealth is accompanied by remarkable data on poverty: 30,000 children live in Italy’s capital city in conditions of absolute poverty. And what’s more, the cost of living is extremely high. Rents are the highest in Italy (an average of €1,276 a month). The average wage in Italy is only a little more than this and the consequence is housing disaster: 7,800 people received eviction notices in 2013 alone, 80% of which concerned non-payment of rent for simple lack of money.
The centre of Rome is reserved for tourists and the leadership of the political, economic and clerical classes (as portrayed in Sorrentino’s recent film La grande bellezza – The Great Beauty) whilst poverty and contradictions are shuffled off to the outer suburbs in “an absurd psycho-social experiment”, as Daniele Vicari described it in Il Manifesto. Areas of cheap mass housing were built here, with few or no services and almost forgotten by the municipal authority, and here poor people are crowded together. These areas are growing in size out of all proportion as the cost of housing in the centre booms. There are 26,000 people living in Tor Sapienza and about 48,000 people in Torpignattara, another mass housing estate in Rome. And it’s always in these poor suburbs, with huge problems such as drugs, criminal activity and high school drop-out rates, that travellers’ camps, reception centres for refugees and facilities for migrants are situated.
There have been many frightening cases in the news: in Torpignattara, in September, a young Pakistani man was kicked and punched to death by a boy of 17, incited by his father, just because he was singing. This incident was unusual in reaching the national news, unlike cases of violence committed by foreigners which are reported regularly. The political and media pressure on migrants is very strong, and this helps to make them an easy target for the anger of those living in poverty.
In September 2014, in the suburb of Corcolle a migrant “hunt” was carried out by hundreds of people. The “hunters” claimed that migrants were responsible for episodes of violence in the area but, in fact, the only incident was a couple of broken bus windows when migrants complained that drivers never stopped if only they were waiting at the bus stop. During the “hunt” on September 21, migrants and refugees were attacked with stones, bars and bottles.
The role of far-right movements
The links between the far-right and organised crime, particularly in Rome, have deep historical roots and are well known. The most famous case is probably that of the Banda della Magliana, and although things are done in a less bloodthirsty way today, nonetheless, every now and then the report of a violent incident sheds light on these links. For instance, the murder of Silvio Fanella, himself connected to organised crime and the far-right, by an ex-member of CasaPound seems to have followed a failed robbery. Or the enquiry that saw two directors of CasaPound (including Andrea Antonini, vice-president of Casa Pound and advisor to Berlusconi’s PdL in a Rome council) investigated for having helped a boss of the Camorra escape from the police. In the 1970s this member of the Neapolitan mafia was close to the right-wing terrorist group Nar.
In many cases, very strong connections are emerging between Rome’s criminal far-right and the “institutional” right of the former mayor, Gianni Alemanno. So many neo-fascists were given jobs in the public sector during his term of office – notably in the public transport organisation Atac – that the scandal was called “Fascistopoli”. What’s more, Gianni Alemanno began his political career in the Fronte della gioventù, youth organisation of the Movimento sociale italiano and cradle of many founders of terrorist groups, such as Ordine nuovo, Terza posizione and the Nar. Alemanno’s wife, Isabella Rauti, is the daughter of Pino Rauti, a MSI deputy, founder of Ordine nuovo and involved in various forms of subversion and far-right terrorism. The couple’s son, Manfredi, is a CasaPound activist.
When the Tor Sapienza revolt against refugees exploded, then, in a way which seemed organised and extremely violent, and immediately afterwards Gianni Alemanno and the leader of CasaPound, Simone di Stefano, tried to ride the wave of popular anger, many people felt suspicious.
The suspicion became even stronger on 15 November, the day of the Marcia delle periferie sul Campidoglio, (march of the suburbs to the Campidoglio, location of the town hall). The march was intended to take the outrage of the suburbs into the city centre. Only around a thousand people took part in the demonstration, most of whom came from the far-right: from Forza Italia to the neo-fascist movements, via (obviously) former mayor Gianni Alemanno. It is doubtful that a popular movement is developing in Tor Sapienza and in other Roman suburbs; it seems much more likely that protests are being orchestrated by the right.
It’s no surprise that far-right parties and movements are trying to infiltrate and manipulate people’s discontent. As the Contropiano website says, in the last few weeks some of Rome’s well known far-right faces have been seen in the neighbourhood, talking to residents. More far-right parties and people took part in the 15 November march than inhabitants of the suburbs did: again, not a spontaneous reaction but a well organized, far right attempt to control people’s discontent.
An Italian Front National?
At the national level, there is increasing closeness emerging between Lega Nord and neo-fascist groups such as CasaPound and Forza Nuova. Lega, a party founded to defend the interests of northern Italy (or rather, in theory, to organise its secession) and then hit by scandals involving its past leadership, is now changing tack with its new leader Matteo Salvini. It puts itself forward now not only as a party of the north but as a party on the national stage which struggles against immigration in the name of all Italians. And far-right groups are a ticket which allows Lega to travel much further south than it had done up until now, and to find sympathy in Rome especially.
For example, on 28 October, Northern League MEP Mario Borghezio (already convicted for racist and violent acts) and CasaPound members burst into a public building in the Casalbertone neighbourhood where migrants and refugees were attending Italian classes, and prevented them from continuing the lesson. They shouted aggressively and insulted the students, referring to them as “big niggers” and “things”.
Borghezio has always been on the front line regarding Lega’s ‘flirtation’ with the far-right. An example is his participation in a neofascist convention in Rome in June 2013. The MEP told listeners that their role was to organize initiatives to defend Rome and its beauty from “those who’ve filled it with immigrants and garbage.” “If you do something like this,” he added, “I’ll be with you and I want to be on the first patrol.”
The ‘institutional’ right – such as Forza Italia and Fratelli d’Italia – also seem to align themselves with this ‘Front’ project, dedicated to the theme of immigration. Matteo Salvini is building up national credibility that could possibly, some day, make him the number one candidate for the post-Berlusconi right. At the moment, there doesn’t seem to be any rival on the horizon.
[en] [Translation] After the Lampedusa refugee tragedy, exactly how ‘civilised’ was the Italian welcome?