Anti-immigrant violence sets stage for Italian election

Wanton acts of violence against immigrants are still rare in Italy, but the latest attack has shocked the country. That said, resentment about immigration is starting to kick in, and it may well be exploited at the forthcoming elections

Luca Traini
Tim Hedges
On 6 February 2018 11:18

On 2nd February the media were full of the bizarre American ritual of Groundhog Day, where a rodent is dragged from hibernation to squint at the cameras while a group of old men compose a piece of doggerel about what the weather is going to be like.

There was, as far as I could tell, no mention of the Christian festival behind all this, which is known as Candlemas (Candelora in Italian) commemorating when Jesus was presented at the temple, forty days after his birth; it is also the purification of the Virgin Mary, an ancient ritual forty days after the birth of a child.

It has connections with the weather, too. Candlemas is thought to be the day when bears and wolves emerge from the winter, and in Italy it is believed to be the last very cold day of the year (I wish).

Anyway it was at Candlemas that Luca Traini chose to make his pointless violent protest. From his car in his home town of Macerata he shot at immigrants in the street, injuring six of them, and also fired a burst at the headquarters of the Democratic Party.

When it was over, he got out at the war memorial, draped himself in the Italian flag and, making a fascist salute shouted Viva l’Italia! He did not resist arrest.

Traini is thought to have told police that his actions were in protest at the murder of Pamela Mastropietro, an attractive eighteen year old Roman. She was killed, it is said, by a Nigerian immigrant drug pusher whose temporary residence had expired; her body chopped up and hidden in two suitcases.

Most non-Italian media said Traini was firing at black people. This is of course true: Italy’s immigration problem is not from Switzerland and Sweden, it is from Donald Trump’s ‘s***hole countries’. It is misleading because the reason Traini was firing at them was not that they were black but that they were immigrants.

Firing also at the PD offices is no coincidence; this is political. Traini had been a candidate for the anti-immigrant La Lega (formerly the Northern League) in local elections. La Lega’s head, Matteo Salvini, had already denounced Pamela’s murder as a crime of the state. Now, whilst condemning Traini’s deeds, he has tried to explain them by saying it is the fault of the previous government for letting so many people in.

Whether or not it is wise to try to explain obviously violent acts, it is a sign of how immigration has seasoned the politics of the forthcoming election.

In truth, there is an undercurrent of unease in the country about the immigration problem. In fact, by proportion of population, Germany, France and Britain have fifty percent more immigrants than Italy. But whilst France and Britain have had steady long term migration from ex-colonies, and Germany has had its Gastarbeiter, for Italy this is something new.

Italians until very recently viewed migration as emigration. Foreigners living in Italy were few and largely people such as myself who came for the culture, the food, the weather, and willingly mixed in. These immigrants are different; from all parts of Africa, needy, unable to adapt and often with a different moral framework.

Some will see a degree of hypocrisy in the newspapers always mentioning the criminal activities of many of those who haven’t fitted in. Italy quietly tolerates a huge amount of domestic organised crime and should not be too precious about foreign criminals. Perhaps there is a feeling that at least the Mafia and the ‘Ndrangheta are Italians.

The problem is that the country simply was not prepared for this. Many believed that the European Union would make the problem go away. Italian pro-European parliamentarians, the vast majority, still make weepy, post war era speeches about European unity, European peace, everyone acting together.

The people, in the meantime, have noticed that the French have closed the border at Menton, that the Austrians have called out the army to the Brenner pass. They hear that several countries in this peace-loving, sharing brotherhood have refused to take any immigrants at all.

There is disappointment and the beginnings of resentment. This is not the first and will not be the last act of wanton violence against immigrants, although the Italians are kindly folk and they will be few. But they want solutions and they know they can let off steam at the ballot box.

If he doesn’t make a fool of himself seeming to support violence Mr. Salvini may do well.

Tim Hedges, The Commentator's Italy Correspondent, had a career in corporate finance before moving to Rome where he works as a freelancewriter, novelist, and farmer. You can read more of his articles about Italy here


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