The Italianist

Things That Happen in Italy

Posts Tagged ‘immigration

End of a Love

with 2 comments

More drama on the Italian scene. This time, the drama takes place at an open debate of the PDL, The People’s Freedom, Italy’s ruling coalition led by Berlusconi. For us Italians, so used to kisses, tears, love, hugs, and the various performances of the defenders of “Love that wins over hatred and envy”, today was a bit of a shock.

Here’s what happened. There were these elections in Italy, a couple of weeks ago. Against the odds, and in spite of a quite messy build-up in the final weeks, the Right Wing, Berlusconi-led coalition, brought home a clear success over the not-so-charismatic Left-Wing opposition (see previous post).  The clearest outcome of the elections were that a) few people than ever went to vote and b) more people voted for the Northern League.

The Northern League is one of the most influential parties in Italy, with strong leaders and clear plans about reforming Italy. It is known for its commitment to protecting Italy’s culture and values, and for a perfectly rational attachments to tribal ceremonies like baptizing each other with the water of their sacred river Po. They use to refer to themselves as “colonies of Padania”, and are somewhat wary of big associations, like multi-region nations, not to mention the EU.

It turned out that the Northern League was the real winner of the Regional Elections: Berlusconi got less votes for himself, but could take advantage of the Northern League’s votes, given the latter belongs to the coalition he leads. As some have pointed out, this has had some serious effects on the Government’s next moves.

Enter Gianfranco Fini. This is Fini:

In spite of 16 (!) years of life together, he’s often showed a dissatisfaction with having to deal with Berlusconi. How could it be so? – one may wonder.

This unhappiness has increased after the regional election and the already mentioned Northern success. Fini, who leads the second more important Right-Wing group in the Government coalition, AN (National Alliance), got somewhat tired of the PDL’s supine obedience to the policies the Northern League is now pushing. Again, it is hard to accept this may be possible..

After weeks of mild reciprocal challenges, the two came to a showdown today. Fini got to talk at the PDL convention, and he raised some criticisms directly at Berlusconi. Now, it is important to specify some things:

a) no one criticises Berlusconi

b) even more importantly, no one ever criticises Berlusconi in public

c) no one ever criticises Berlusconi in front of TV cameras

Fini breached these three fundamental principles of Italian democracy, and in fact he has already been labelled a communist (according to the Italian rule that says “against Berlusconi” = against democracy = communist). He went on the stage and raised questions to the PM: mainly, he questioned the direction the PDL is taking. He highlighted contradiction between claiming to intend to defend the authority of the law and enacting some policies. He prided himself for criticising the PM openly in spite of being ridiculed by ‘certain press’ owned by PM’s relatives. He congratulates the PM as the real winner of the regional elections, yet he also asked “to be honest: now that the elections have gone, let’s say clearly that none of us believe there was a plot from the judges to deprive us of the victory, but that we just messed it up ourselves..”.

Too much, even for an ex-fascist. I’m surprised he’s still alive. Berlusconi got on the stage after him, and made it clear to him that if he wanted to make criticisms of the Government’s action, he should abandon his role of President of the Lower House of the Parliament, because he is meant to be super partes. Curiously, Berlusconi never gave similar orders to the President of the Senate, Renato Schifani.

“Our party has been exposed to public humiliation by its own members! Gianfranco, let’s talk to each other clearly! You said you are ashamed of having formed the PDL! This is the truth!!” Then he continued: “You are supposed to be super-partes, you cannot make judgments on the Government action! You cannot make these judgments if you are President of the Lower House.” Fini, from the audience, stood up and, waving his finger at Berlusconi, asked “Or what? Are you going to kick me out?”

The country is under shock. A breach in the PDL seems hard to avoid. Right-wing voters express their rage against Fini, “the traitor”, the mercenary sold to the communists. Left-wing voters struggle to acknowledge sympathy for an ex-fascist who has also shared Berlusconi’s bed for the last 16 years. Berlusconi is surely preparing one of his stylish coupe de theatre. The Northern League, in the meantime, appears unshaken by these issues.


Written by TheItalianist

22/04/2010 at 23:03

A Cap on Multiculturalism

with one comment

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

Dreaming of a White Christmas

with one comment

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

Short! In the Name of Law!

leave a comment »

It’s hard not to talk about the last proposal from the Italian Government to reform the judicial system. The legal apparatus represents the core of the present Government’s concerns. The Italian PM has always made clear that he intends to fight, wholeheartedly, against what he sees as the pathology of our society: namely, the judiciary. One of the main faults of the Italian legal system is that there are too many trials, too much money is spent on them, and most of all, they last for too long. This is a serious problem for Italy. So, here is the solution: make the trial shorter! If the accused is not definitely proven guilty after 6 years, the trial ends (with an acquittal, of course) due to the statute of limitations. A full account of this bill can be found here , here, and here

There are different ways to explain this governmental policy. Some (probably judge-related) people say it is the umpteenth act of a man who seeks to avoid the legal consequences of his illegal conduct. Some offer a medical explanation for this new bill (see this interesting blog.) Rather than going into the details of this new law, I think it is important to focus on the Government’s effort to make the legal system “better”.

Berlusconi, as I said, has been the leader of the crusade to extirpate the cancer of legal justice from Italy. He’s been doing this for 15 years. He’s the William Wallace who screams “Freedom!” against the judge who orders him to confess. We should give him credit for this.  


 I think it is important to offer a brief summary of Silvio’s strenuous effort to reform the legal system. (This is going to be a very short selection.) 

 In 1994, Berlusconi has just won the election. Yet, he already knows who his enemy is. Thus, he decides to take action immediately against the worrying number of arrests in Italy. This happens just after the scandal of Bribesville has just wiped out  the italian political class (so to speak: they all, minus one, came back later). The Minister of Justice (at that time), Alfredo Biondi, then proposes a bill  to avoid pre-trail arrest for some crimes, including corruption. Incidentally, the brother of Berlusconi, Paolo, is under charge for corruption.

In  2001, the second Berlusconi Government prescribes that rogatory letters are not be considered valid evidence at a trial. It is a coincidence that this law makes it harder to investigate some dodgy story about Cesare Previti, the (at the time) lawyer of Berlusconi, who is accused of corrupting some judges in Rome. A few months later, another strategic move to fight the judges’ interference with the life of the good citizens: the depenalization of account business fraud. A side-effect of this bill is that Berlusconi’s  involvement in three trials for account fraud is put on hold. 

Later in 2002, the Cirami bill  allows defendants to ask for the transfer of their trial to a different court, when there is ‘reasonable suspicion’ that the judges are biased. Now, it seems that this bill may be a cause of the extreme lengths of criminal trials in Italy and that, therefore, it goes against Berlusconi’s effort to make the legal system go smoothly. Nevermind. Also, as an effect of the Cirami bill, Berlusconi’s trial for bribing judges in the SME affair move towards a quick conclusion.

In 2004, judges are still threatening Italy’s health, trying to put politicians under charge. Hence, the Schifani bill declares the immunity for the 5 highest figures of the State, and the immediate stop to any legal proceeding they might be involved into. The 5 are: the President of the Republic, the President of the Senate, the President of the Chamber, the Prime Minister, the President of the Constitutional Court. When the bill is proposed, only the Prime Minister has (several) legal trials to deal with. Nonetheless, it is clear that the law is meant to be to the country’s benefit. Unfortunately, the judges manage to prevail again and the bill is rejected for violating the Italian Constitution.  

At this point, the strategy becomes clear: we need shorter trials. Hence, the ex-Cirielli bill is issued, with the aim of halving the status of limitation. Again, as an effect of this law, many of the charges Berlusconi is dealing with are cancelled. Also, Cesare Previti, his ex-lawyer, seems to benefit from the bill, to the point that some ignorant still call it “Save Previti Law“. 

The truce does not last for long. Italy is still ill, the pathology (the judges) is still dragging it towards the abyss. Thus the Government makes a new attempt to cure Italy. This is the famous Alfano bill. This law is very similar to the previous, unconstitutional,  Schifani bill, yet it has a crucial difference: it holds not that the 5, but only the 4 highest figures of the State are beyond the law. (The poor President of the Consitutional Court can, instead, be charged for illegal behaviour. Probaly, Alfano must have thought  “That’s why the previous bill was unconstitutional! Gotcha!”). Like with the Schifani bill, when the Alfano bill is proposed the only ‘figure’ who’s got (lots of) trials to deal with is the Prime Minister. This time too, the blindness of the Consitutional Court rejects the bill as violating the principles of the Italian Constitution.

The Italian Government must, at this point, realize that the only effective way to fight the judges is to go back to the attempt to shorten the trials as much as possible. A strategy that seems to have been more successful than trying to establish immunity. Notice that the principle behind the latter idea was “we’ll charge them later”. Now, the policy seems to shift to “we charge them now, briefly and that’s it”. With some provisos, of course.

In fact, the new statutes of limitations would apply only if one has a clean record. Does it mean that those who have not been condemned in the past because of statute of limitations are covered by the law? Yes, it means that. Does it also mean that, if (for example) I’ve been previously found guilty of immigration, the new bill will not apply to me and I will have to go to the whole length? Yes, in the name of law.

But what if I have corrupted judges, yet have not been condemned because of the statutes of limitations? Then I’ll be covered by the bill. Which means: if someone wants to put me under trial now, they’d better be quick. Very quick.

Written by TheItalianist

15/11/2009 at 18:04

Immigrants, not Criminals

with 2 comments

The recent years in Italy have witnessed a stark increase in immigration. A first massive wave took place in the 90s, when 350000 Albanians attempted to get into Italy after the collapse of communist regimes in Eastern europe. The dramatic stories of those people have been described in Italian director Gianni Amelio’s award-winning movie Lamerica. Since then, Italy has become a main gate for immigrants from Africa and Saudi Arabia, and the rate of immigration has kept apace for almost two decades. The tiny island of Lampedusa, which receives an average of 15,000 would-be immigrants per year, has become the stage for a persistent humanitarian emergency

As a result of this flow of immigrants, Italy’s face has changed over the last 10 years. The social  fabric is becoming increasingly multicultural, and people of different races and religions are led to closer interactions. Needless to say, multicultural integration is not a painless process, as it has met the resistance of a vocal part of the Italian citizenry.  Extreme Right-Wing factions have exploited the immigration debate to reemerge on the political scene. Their helpful contributions to the debate include Northern League’s proposals to ban the burqa, close mosques, introduce racial segregation on buses, and a series of action-guiding posters that keep popping up on the walls of italian cities.





“Illegal Immigrants: torture them!” It is Legitimate Defence”. Vote for Northern League.









“They have Suffered Immigration: Now They Live in a Reserve. Think About It.”






It is not surprising that some Italians lack a certain degree of sensitivity in the face of what is not white-catholic-straight. The Italian Prime Minister last year offered a glorious example of this tendency when he commented on the first black President of the US (actually, he gave another one recently).  The immigrant is often seen as a threat, a disease that is spreading around the ‘civilised world’ of which Italy seems therefore to be part. “It’s the immigrants!” – Italians frequently say when someone gets killed/raped/attacked. “But I am an immigrant too! I don’t kill/rape/attack people” – I point out to my co-nationals, when I highlight the fact that I live abroad. “Yes, but you are different! – it’s the reply.

Thus, the report issued yesterday by Caritas Migrantes seems to be a very welcome sign against the (sadly) popular equation “immigrant=criminal” (an english version of the report can be found here). It shows how, even in a year of economic recession and political hostility against immigration, the number of foreigners who have moved to Italy has constantly increased. It analyses the reality of  immigration in Italy compared to other countries, and what impact immigrants have on Italy’s productivity and, most of all, level of crime. A few points in the report strike me as quite interesting.

The number of Italy’s immigrants exceeds 4.5 m: very close to Spain (over 5m) and not too far from Germany (about 7m).  2008 has been the first year in which Italy’s  percentage of foreigners in the total population (7.2%), ranked above the European average and, although still far from Germany and Spain (respectively 8,2% and 11,7%), has surpassed UK (6,3%).

In 2008, 36.951 people have landed on italian coasts, 17.880 have been repatriated, 10.539 have gone through centers of identification, and 6.358 have been blocked at the frontier. The Report highlights that this is not even 1/50 of the overall presence of legal immigrants in Italy: however, this has monopolised the attention of public opinion and political decision-making. Thirty-four immigrants are rejected for every 100 who are retained (the lowest rate since 2004).

In addition to this, it emerges that  “there is no crime emergency in Italy due to foreign immigrants”,  since crime rates are not different from those of other countries in Europe. Nationwide, the number of crimes reported have actually decreased for the last few years. The real rate of reported crimes (slightly more than 2.5m) equals that of the early 90s, that is, when mass immigration was just starting. we should not draw the conclusion “more immigrants=more crimes”. In fact, it emerges that in the period 2001-2005, the increase of the immigrant population (101%) did not parallel the rate of reports of crimes by legal immigrants (41%).

Surely, immigrants, like Italians, can commit crimes and do lots of nasty things. However, one may hope that this Report will help us reflect on the prejudice lingering behind the idea that an immigrant is, as such, a criminal.

Written by TheItalianist

29/10/2009 at 18:47

Permanent Position

leave a comment »

A couple of days ago, the Italian Minister of the Economy, Giulio Tremonti,  publicly defended the ‘posto fisso’, i.e. the permanent employment,  as being the ‘basis of social stability’. Interestingly, I have discovered that ‘posto fisso’ does not have a clear translation in english, where in italian it is a word that we learn since we are children.

Permament position is the closer translation, although my personal translator, who’s setting next to me now, points out that “permanent position does not entail that you don’t change your job ever again”. In Italy, however, we conceive of posto fisso as a little island, more or less pleasant, where we long to get, eventually, never to leave it again. We use to refer to it with words such as ‘utopia’, ‘dream’, ‘mirage’, etc.

But that is another story. What’s interesting is that Tremonti’s statement is somewhat surprising, since it comes from a Minister belonging to a right-wing government, whose leader has always waved the glorious ideals of anti-communism, economic liberalism and social conservatism. After many noticed this apparent contradiction, the Minister felt compelled to give further explanation of the meaning of his statement. Tremonti was surprised by the way his words had been received by the media.

I often talk to people abroad who praise the virtue of mobility, in terms of the possibility it offers to develop one’s own skills and range of experiences. This makes sense in an Anglo-Saxon world, where mobility is probably linked to a somewhat proper wage. In Italy, unfortunately, il posto fisso is a dream exactly because the government interprets mobility in a slightly exploitative way: i.e. they intend mobility as offering workers a series of short-term contracts, where employees are usually paid half the normal wage. The dichotomy “permanent/temporary position” in Italy becomes “posto fisso/precariato“. Precariato (as in ” being precarious”) is another word that, in Italy, we use to learn from childhood. The alternative to a permanent position is generally a sort of undignified limbo, where the worker is in a state of ‘financial stand-by’ (wages don’t tend to exceed 1000Euros, about£900, per month), though s/he is still expected to work very hard, so to build a career. It is not unusual to see people in their 40s who are still precari. Why did Tremonti suddenly react to a situation which, by the way, was mainly caused by his coalition?

Some bad guys say this is a mere propaganda move: as in, “of course we are not going to do anything, but we know you like it when we say nice things. Now go back to your work”. The Italian Government is not performing very well, and some bits of the electorate are even starting to doubt Berlusconi’s capacity to save the World. The PM himself has been quick in backing Tremonti’s plea for defending il posto fisso: “I am with Tremonti”, he claimed yesterday.

Others may consider the fact that Tremonti is a kid of the Northern League, the lovely party who acquired popularity in the early 90s with its campaign to split Italy into North and South, and which hasn’t changed much since then. The Northern League has an outstanding list of politicians who put a great effort to realise the Party’s ideals. Their leader is the charismatic Umberto Bossi, who heroically came back to fight for (northern) freedom after a stroke a few years ago. He’s supported by experienced statesmen such as Calderoli e Borghezio, all dressed in green to express their concern with environmental problems. These guys are all very worried by the loss of italian jobs (this sounds a bit like Gordon Brown, I know..) due to immigrants being allowed to work in Italy. That’s why immigrants should not be allowed, they say. So, perhaps another explanation for this surprising statement might be that Tremonti was trying to reassure his people about the Government’s intention to give each italian his/her own little island, where no one else is allowed to be.

Another possible explanation for Tremonti’s statement might be that the Government is turning left, and is starting to consider the individual worker as, in fact, an individual, with rights to a decent life. Could this be the beginning of a new Italian Miracle? (Unfortunately, only italian speakers will fully appreciate this piece of history).

I would be inclined for the first answer. But I would welcome comments on this.

Written by TheItalianist

21/10/2009 at 13:16