The Italianist

Things That Happen in Italy

Posts Tagged ‘immigrants

Article on the Sidney Morning Herald

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The Italianist has made it into the national press – here’s my article on Berlusconi’s resignation, which appears on today’s SMH.


Written by TheItalianist

16/11/2011 at 02:20

A Cap on Multiculturalism

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Further performances of the Italian Government as regards immigration policy. Today it is about reforming the school system.

The Minister of Education, Mariastella Gelmini, has announced new policies regulating the number of foreigners which will be allowed in each class in primary and secondary italian schools from the next academic year (2010-11).

This is Gelmini:


I have to admit it is the first time I don’t manage to find a picture of a female minister who is not being portrayed naked (see previous posts on this blog).. Anyway, the elegant Mariastella has made public that the Italian Government has planned to introduce a cap on the number of foreign students who will be allowed to attend Italian schools next year: no more than 3 every 10 students, that is, no more than 30% per each italian class. A fuller account of the story can be found here.

Now, I don’t think this is a completely unreasonable thing, or at least I think it is below the average madness of this Government’s proposals. But still, there are lots of things that make little sense to me.

To begin with: Gelmini says that this policy has nothing to do with racism, rather it is a plan to favour multicultural integration. Her reasoning goes as follows:

some people exist in Italy which are not Italian; they don’t speak Italian nor do they know our culture; if we let them free to enrol in school, they will all go together and, therefore, will create fully foreign classes; this will cause “ghettoes”; this will stop an (already flourishing..) process of integration. The 30% cap is accompanied by a requirement that foreign students pass a test of Italian culture, by which they will have to demonstrate a not-clearly specified knowledge of Italian language and culture.

What will they have to do to pass this test, I wonder.. Will they have to sing the national anthem? Will they have to quote the Divine Comedy? Will they have to cook polenta taragna? Perhaps they will have to prove they know how to become a Minister in Italy; how the university system is structured; how to deal with different sexual orientations; how the role of the modern woman impacts on Italian society; or other peculiar elements of the Italian culture.

Gelmini was keen to specify that, where this requirement is fulfilled, schools have the autonomy to accept more than 30%; likewise, if less than 30% shows proper knowledge of Italian culture, that will be as much as it is ‘allowed’ per class.

But why putting a cap? Why not simply saying “those who don’t pass the test, don’t go to our schools!” It is not clear why, even if one qualifies as Italian connoisseur, s/he cannot have access to a class because s/he is out of the 30%. Faced with the idea of a ‘limit’, one can’t help thinking that the message is that “there is a limit to our tolerance! Fine, you three come in, you 7 bugger off… Oh, look, she’s handing me a blank cheque…. You come in too, my little would-be Italian. You 6 go back to your countries and be ashamed.” And why 30%? Why not 50%?

Not that I like the idea of the test either. True, to go to the US or UK as an exchange student, one of the main requirements is to pass the infamous TOEFL test. However, that is higher education, whereas in the case of Italy we are talking of primary and secondary schools.. Mah.

What happens to those who do not fall in that 30%? Mariastella promises that transports will be provided to take those disadvantage kids to a special school everyday, and back home. She does not mention where the money to afford these expenses will arrive from. Nor is it clear what these schools will look like. Like ghettos, maybe?.. Given the level of openmindedness of the average Northern League voter, it is not hard to imagine what will happen to the 70% of foreign kids.

The main problem with this Government’s approach is that it is dramatically one-way: it is the Italians who are taking the foreigners on, and the latter ones are simply a burden. Once again, the idea of a “cap” seems to convey exactly this message: integration is still equated with grudging acceptance. No one mentions that a foreign student is also a resource, not just someone to whom we have to teach how to be a good Italian. It is undoubtedly true that multiculturalism faces (especially) Western countries with new demands: however, this process also has its rewards. How enriched would “our” kids be by sharing their desk at school with someone from a completely different background culture (and viceversa)?

But then, maybe, the Northern League would risk losing part of its supporters in the future. That might be one real cost of multicultural integration: would they be willing to pay it?

I wonder what their leader would reply..


Written by TheItalianist

10/01/2010 at 12:39

Too Much Tolerance?

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The New Year starts for The Italianist in the same way in which 2009 ended, that is, with issues of colour. Today’s news report violent clashes in southern Italy among immigrant workers and the local population, in Rosarno, an anonymous village in Calabria with a population of about 15,000. It is interesting to see the way in which the italian media are covering the story, showing black men throwing stones at police, people screaming, white people saying ‘look what the Africans are doing to our town’, a white woman having a miscarriage because of the violence, and the usual articulated comments by italian politicians.

All the media seem quite keen to show what’s happening, but not so much to explain why it’s happening. Unsurprisingly, what we are offered is the government’s umpteenth lecture about the evils of immigration: we’ve let them in, they  don’t want to work and only bring problems. Let’s focus on colours: white is good, black is bad. And now, some hot girls dancing in a bikini. (This has been a brief tour into the mind of the average italian tv news director).

It doesn’t take a big effort, though, to understand a bit more about what the events in Calabria reveals. Yet, often even a small effort seems too big, and it’s easier to go back to the “white=good, black=bad, we’re white, we’re good, they’re black, they’re bad”.

It wouldn’t take much to find out that these black workers work 12 hours a day picking up oranges in the field, and are paid 20 euros per day. It wouldn’t take much to discover that they live in conditions which would be unbearable to anyone. This is how they sleep, where they wash, where they live sharing tiny barracks among 10-15 people:

It wouldn’t take too much to realise that these black workers live in conditions of slavery. Their bosses keep from their wages the costs of transport of goods, of the (scarce) food they offer, of accessing fresh drinkable water (see here, in italian). These immigrants receive no support for learning italian language, which leaves them unable to integrate with the local communities. Nonetheless, it is impressive to see that many of them are able to articulate their thoughts in a better italian than the locals.. The business they work for is run by local criminal organisations, which in Calabria is the ‘Ndrangheta, whose pockets get the profits of this enormous exploitation. The ‘Ndrangheta enjoys this overly cheap working force, keeping them in the dark, unregulated, with no hope for future integration, and with the constant threat of being sent back home, of losing even this miserable wage. Or simply being killed.

It wouldn’t even take a great effort to see that the riots in Rosarno did not start out of the blue: the night before, two immigrants had been knee-capped by some people from a car; other two had been hit with bars and are now in hospital in serious conditions. No one knows who did this, but rumours have it that  the good whites, not the bad blacks, did it. During the riots, an immigrant has been run over (not by accident) by a car guided by a local. The locals can be rightly upset by havin their town, windows, cars smashed by this angry mob. But who is to be blamed for all this violence?

It wouldn’t take a big effort to realise that what’s happening in Calabria is the result of a more complicated reality than the simple “black=bad” equation. Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, the Italian Government does not help making things clearer. Roberto Maroni, the Minister of Home Affairs, has ben prompt to condemn the violence taking place in Rosarno. Let’s remember his face, and his wonderful red glasses:

For Maroni, the problem is clear: we have shown too much tolerance towards the immigrants. Weve been overly generous in accepting these people, and now it’s time for a clampdown (again?) against illegal immigration. I wonder whether Maroni eats oranges, and asks himself where they come from. I wonder if his brain is crowded with images of arian people picking up oranges behind the corner of his house in Northern Italy, waving the italian flag.

But I have to admit that it takes some courage to say Italy has been too tolerant towards immigrants. See this.

Similar comments about the riots in Rosarno have been made by the famous Italian diplomats, the Minister of Defence, Ignazio La Russa (who looks quite happy with the clampdown)

and Maurizio Gasparri (who yet remains focused on thinking about women’s tits)

Once again, according to the italian media it turns out that the blacks are to be blamed. There’s no Ndrangheta, in Italy; there’s no slavery; there’s no racism. Last week, the Inter FC striker Mario Balotelli, who apart from being a great scorer, also happens to be black, expressed publicly his disgust for being constantly targeted by racist insults from the public when playing in Verona. The next day, the major of Verona (a member of the Northern League) hit back at Balotelli, labeling him “immature”.

Don’t abuse their tolerance, Mario.

Written by TheItalianist

09/01/2010 at 05:09

Dreaming of a White Christmas

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A small town  in Northern Italy, Coccaglio, has been working towards realising a so-called “White Christmas Plan“. The plan does not rely on singing Xmas songs under the snow, but on sending police door-to-door to look for illegal immigrants. The operation is due to end on 25th December, hence the ‘Christmas’ bit of the plan’s name.

The plan is part of a ‘security’ program enforced by Roberto Maroni, the Italian  Home Minister famous for his red glasses and his sympathy for ‘civic police’. Coccaglio’s councillor for safety, Claudio Abiendi, explains how “Christmas is not a celebration of hospitality, but of Christian tradition, of our identity”. Hence, the ‘White’ bit of the plan’s name.

Written by TheItalianist

21/12/2009 at 09:08

The Virtuous Rulers

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Some Italian politicians are quite outspoken. In spite of a common opinion that wants them rather submitted to the main power, they can prove that, when they need to speak up for their ideals, they do not hesitate.

The last 24 hours have offered two displays of the virtue of political praxis. Both regard issues already appeared on this blog, namely the European Court of Human Rights ruling for the removal of crucifixes from Italy’s public schools, and the mysterious death of Stefano Cucchi in prison.

Yesterday, during the TV program “Domenica 5”, the discussion focused on the issue of crucifixes. Among the main participants, the president of the Islamic Centre of Milan, Ali Abu Schwaima, and the leader of the Right Wing Party “The Right”,  Daniela Santanchè. When confronted on the crucial issue of multiculturalism, she eventually decided to speak up, and display her political virtue:

“Enough with talking about equality and respect! – she bursts- Should we not admit that Mohammad was polygamous , since he had 9 wifes, and was a pedophile,  for one of them was 9 year-old? The ECHR should rather be concerned that in Saudi Arabia young girls are given to sheiks! Mohammad was, for our culture, a pe-do-phi-le!!” She looks around, to convey the message clearly to the audience, as she utters these words. “We are not interested in listening to those who worship a pe-do-phi-le!”

Moments of confusions follow. The Muslims who are in the room get quite angry. An old lady shows her support for Santanchè by shaking her head constantly for 12 minutes while the Muslims try to speak. People clap hands to praise Santanchè’s courage to speak up. When the order is partly reestablished, the anchor lady, Barbara D’Urso, says time’s off, sorry Abu Schwaima we need to stop before you can reply. However, there is time for her to attack the ECHR’s decision, and to say proudly: “From this TV studio, from my dressing room, no one is going to remove the crucifix!”. More details of this confrontation can be found here, and a video of it is here.

This is Daniela Santanchè:


She is famous for her campaign to liberate women. Her programme comprises the defeat of two main symbols of women slavery:

a) Prostitution. In order to emancipate women from the slavery of selling their body in the streets, Santanchè says we need to start legal brothels.  In them, women will (presumably) rather make love, and also have some freshly made tea or coffee. To those who point out that this is not much of a liberation from being used as a commodity, and that Santanchè seems concerned simply with ‘cleaning the streets’, she (virtuously) replies with no hesitation:


The second branch of the project for women’s liberation from slavery is to abolish the burqa. The latter, for Santanchè, is a symbol of oppression imposed by men. She refers to article 152 of the Penal Code, from 1975, which forbids “taking part in public events, in a place open to the public, wearing helmets, or with part or all the face covered in any way that can make it difficult to identify the person.” 

On this second part of the project, things got a bit rough for her on last 20th September.  Santanchè organised a protest in Milan in coincidence with Muslim celebration for the end of Ramadan. She claims to have been physically attacked by Muslims, apparently enraged by her attempt to take off the burqa from a woman taking part in the celebration. This caused outrage throughout Italy, to what was seen as the proof of Muslims’ unwillingness to integrate in Italy. (The meaning of “integration” being, as it normally happens in cases like these,  “abandonment of one’s own culture”.)

Some say that the aggression never took place and that, in fact, Santanchè made the story up, for propagandistic reasons. Those who hold this view must surely be polygamous and pedophile. Readers can test whether they are polygamous and/or pedophile too, by looking at the video-footage of “the aggression” and judge if Santanchè did make it up or not.

So much for the lady. A brief note about men.

Carlo Giovanardi is the Deputy Minister from PDL, the Right-Wing Party actually ruling Italy. By looking at his website, I discover that, with reference to the issue of the crucifixes, he deems the ECHR’s ruling “worth a laugh”. In fact, “in all public offices there is a picture of the President of the Italian Republic”, and no one sees in that a violation of any right.

To be honest, I think I would have felt violated if, when I was at school, I had had to look at this picture everyday:


Oh, and by the way, this is Giovanardi:


His picture would have probably done even more damage.

Anyway, this is not the point. This morning Giovanardi was on Radio 24. He too felt he had to show his political virtue and make his view clear to the public. Hence, he gave his verdict about the story of Stefano Cucchi, who died after being arrested, while still in police custody, a few weeks ago. Giovanardi pointed out that Cucchi died because of anorexia. He (Cucchi) was a drug dealer, and a drug addict: also, he weighed only 47 kg. That’s why he died.

One thing should be said, following from Giovanardi’s comment. If you have any friend with anorexia, please don’t abandon them. Otherwise, they might end up like Stefano, killed by anorexia.

We should look at these as two examples of cases in which politicians do indeed stand up and make their voice heard. Enough with saying that there is no real freedom of speech in Italy. Both Santanche’ and Giovanardi’s cases show that, when the stakes are high, no italian politician will accept to shut up.

Crucifixes and crucifictions

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Both national and international news are reporting a decision of the European Court of Human Rights  against crucifixes in public schools in Italy. The ruling has caused an immediate outcry of anger and disdain towards what, for many, is a threat to Italy’s cultural foundations. TheECHR specifies that the presence of the crucifix, “which is impossible not to notice in classroom,could be easily interpreted by students of any age as a religious symbol”; and this would make them feel they are being educated in an environment carrying the mark of a specific religion. This, in turn, would violate “the right of the parents to educate children as to their own wishes”, and also the liberty of religions of pupils. More details of this story can be found here, here and here.

Italian politicians have joined their voices in joining the Vatican’s voice in condemning the ECHR’s decision. The Vatican has commented that the ruling is “myopic and misled”. A full version (in italian) can be found on the CEI website. Politicians have followed suit.

Here’s a brief selection of these comments. While reading them, keep in mind Italy is ruled by Berlusconi. The italian magazine Oggi published last year some pictures of the italian PM discussing catholic values with the young generations, warning them of the risk of losing our cultural foundations.






Yes, that’s him.








Gabriella Carlucci, from PDL, the right-wing coalition, underlines that “the crucifix is a symbol of Italy’s history and culture, hence of our country’s identity, and it constitutes the symbol of principles of equality, tolerance, and our State’s secularism”. Someone might spot a contradiction in the appeal to secularism to defend the crucifix. But she has made her point. For those of you who don’t know her, here’s a picture of Carlucci:



















Alessandra Mussolini, the granddaughter of the more popular Benito (the one on the left in this picture), has commented that the ECHR’s decision tends to “cancel our Christian roots,  and to block a process of real integration. We are creating an identity-less Europe. Therefore, it is now urgent to insert the principles of Christianity in our Constitution”. One might point out that if those principles are not in the Constitution, there must be a reason. But she has made her point too. Here’s a picture of a younger Alessandra campaigning for European identity:














Next comes Mara Carfagna, Italy’s charming Minister for Equal Opportunities: “The crucifix is not only a religious symbol, but it’s also a testimony of a thousand-year tradition, of values shared but the entire Italian population.” She then adds: ” Others, and surely not the presence of a crucifix in classrooms, are the real limitations to individual liberty. I am thinking of the burqa and the niqab.” Well said, Minister of Equal Opportunities. It’s hard to find a picture that gives the right credit to the values we all share, and that she embodies. I try this one anyway:















Davide Boni, from the Northern League, warns that ” people who cancel their own history are doomed to lose themselves, selling themselves to cultures which are stranger to them. [These cultures] share nothing with those who took part in building and raising not only our own country but Europe itself. But now, that very Europe expects to wipe the slate clean.”

Boni has always been committed to the idea of preserving the values of our people: he is the mind behind the Northern Leagues’ proposal to ban kebab and foreign food from italian cities. This is Davide, the polenta supporter:






As his t-shirt points out, “Women from the Northern League are the best”.






Faced with the ECHR’s ruling, Maurizio Gasparri wonders: “What kind of Europe is this? Surely it is not by denying the identity or history of an entire people that minorities’ rights are guaranteed . We are faced with a lay drift that has nothing to do with religious freedom. Italy is a country that bases, and recognizes, itself in the values of Christianity. The crucifix is a symbol of all that. We reclaim its presence in the schools as in all the institutional places.” He concludes, “We will consider the issue of whether to maintain those institutions [the European Union?] that cost us so much.” This is Gasparri:








Ups, I got confused, sorry. I mean, this is Gasparri:









When Italy declared illegal immigration to be a crime, Gasparri said he was proud of that decision. However, the Vatican criticised the Government’s decision as being against the values of Christianity. To make things even, Gasparri probably suggested that every boat shipping immigrants to Italy should have its crucifix. (He didn’t, actually.)

Hard times, then, for our traditions. A Facebook group was born immediately after the ECHR’s decision became public. The group’s name is  “You take the crucifix off the wall? I’ll cut your hands off!”. (“Tu stacchi il crocifisso dal muro? E io ti stacco le mani!”). An updated version of the Christian value, in which we all recognise ourselves, “if a man slaps your cheek, offer him the other cheek to slap”.