There’s Something Rotten in Italy

And it would be churlish, if not outright wrong, to suggest that similar things aren’t happening elsewhere, even in this country. But although fascism is often spoken of in the UK and the US, it is the laws which could underpin such a future regime which are brought up, rather than the reality. In Italy you have the reality being manifested by both the government and its security services, and it isn’t something which Berlusconi, the Northern League or 9/11 are uniquely responsible for.

Take the decision to fingerprint the Roma, an entire ethnic subgroup, on the spurious grounds that there had been a wave of serious crime (there hadn’t) and that they were chiefly responsible for it (they weren’t). The echoes of an identical classification scheme of the Jews by Mussolini haven’t been lost on anyone, nor have the effects. Take this:

Two Roma girls died in the sea under odd circumstances (they couldn’t swim, despite what was no doubt a huge temptation to go in the water, given how hot it was that day). At the very least they were dashed on the rocks and drowned. And when their sisters were taken away by the police to contact their parents, not only were the bodies left there, but the beach goers continued as if nothing had happened. Would you be aghast at the possibility of continuing to sun yourself next to a corpse, or would it depend on whether the child it had just been had irritated you by trying to sell you trinkets earlier on? Would this background matter:

The attitudes of ordinary Italians towards the Roma, never warm, have been chilling for years, aggravated by sensational news coverage of crimes allegedly committed by Gypsies, and a widespread confusion of Roma with ordinary, non-Roma Romanians, who continue to arrive.

Their names were Cristina and Violetta, and they lived in the camp of Secondigliano. The EveryOne human rights group has expressed incredulity that the girls would have chosen to go in the water, when their culture mitigates against such immodesty; the water was also not as rough as reported. They say it would also be unlikely that they would stop begging to just have a lark in the water, particularly as said earlier because they couldn’t swim.

Nick Davies however has a far more terrifying account of Italy’s descent towards fascism, which predates the current hysteria. Here’s a snippit – you have to read this fully to understand the extent of what is happening in the EU right now, under our noses. It surrounds the police behaviour at the 2001 G8 Summit in Genoa, which they have widely been lambasted for already, but without the full story having yet been told:

One of the first to see the riot squad bursting in was Michael Gieser, a 35-year-old Belgian economist, who subsequently described how he had just changed into his pyjamas and was queuing for the bathroom with his toothbrush in his hand when the raid began. He saw the padded jackets, the riot clubs, the helmets and the bandanas concealing the policemen’s faces, changed his mind and ran up the stairs to escape.

Others were slower. They were still in their sleeping bags. A group of 10 Spanish friends in the middle of the hall woke up to find themselves being battered with truncheons. They raised their hands in surrender. More officers piled in to beat their heads, cutting and bruising and breaking limbs, including the arm of a 65-year-old woman. At the side of the room, several young people were sitting at computers, sending emails home. One of them was Melanie Jonasch, a 28-year-old archaeology student from Berlin, who had volunteered to help out in the building and had not even been on a demonstration.

She still cannot remember what happened. But numerous other witnesses have described how officers set upon her, beating her head so hard with their sticks that she rapidly lost consciousness. When she fell to the ground, officers circled her, beating and kicking her limp body, banging her head against a near-by cupboard, leaving her finally in a pool of blood. Katherina Ottoway, who saw this happen, recalled: “She was trembling all over. Her eyes were open but upturned. I thought she was dying, that she could not survive this.

Officers broke down doors to the rooms leading off the corridors. In one, they found Dan McQuillan and Norman Blair, who had flown in from Stansted to show their support for, as McQuillan put it, “a free and equal society with people living in harmony with each other”. The two Englishmen and their friend from New Zealand, Sam Buchanan, had heard the police attack on the ground floor and had tried to hide their bags and themselves under some tables in the corner of the dark room. A dozen officers broke in, caught them in a spotlight and, even as McQuillan stood up with his hands raised saying, “Take it easy, take it easy,” they battered them into submission, inflicting numerous cuts and bruises and breaking McQuillan’s wrist. Norman Blair recalled: “I could feel the venom and hatred from them.

By now, there were police officers on all four floors of the building, kicking and battering. Several victims describe a sort of system to the violence, with each officer beating each person he came across, then moving on to the next victim while his colleague moved up to continue beating the first. It seemed important that everybody must be hurt. Nicola Doherty, 26, a care worker from London, later described how her partner, Richard Moth, lay across her to protect her: “I could just hear blow after blow on his body. The police were also leaning over Rich so they could hit the parts of my body which were exposed.” She tried to cover her head with her arm: they broke her wrist

The signs of something uglier here were apparent first in superficial ways. Some officers had traditional fascist songs as ringtones on their mobile phones and talked enthusiastically about Mussolini and Pinochet. Repeatedly, they ordered prisoners to say “Viva il duce.” Sometimes, they used threats to force them to sing fascist songs: “Un, due, tre. Viva Pinochet!”

The 222 people who were held at Bolzaneto were treated to a regime later described by public prosecutors as torture. On arrival, they were marked with felt-tip crosses on each cheek, and many were forced to walk between two parallel lines of officers who kicked and beat them. Most were herded into large cells, holding up to 30 people. Here, they were forced to stand for long periods, facing the wall with their hands up high and their legs spread. Those who failed to hold the position were shouted at, slapped and beaten. Mohammed Tabach has an artificial leg and, unable to hold the stress position, collapsed and was rewarded with two bursts of pepper spray in his face and, later, a particularly savage beating. Norman Blair later recalled standing like this and a guard asking him “Who is your government?” “The person before me had answered ‘Polizei’, so I said the same. I was afraid of being beaten.

Men and women with dreadlocks had their hair roughly cut off to the scalp. Marco Bistacchia was taken to an office, stripped naked, made to get down on all fours and told to bark like a dog and to shout “Viva la polizia Italiana!” He was sobbing too much to obey. An unnamed officer told the Italian newspaper La Repubblica that he had seen brother officers urinating on prisoners and beating them for refusing to sing Faccetta Nera, a Mussolini-era fascist song.

Ester Percivati, a young Turkish woman, recalled guards calling her a whore as she was marched to the toilet, where a woman officer forced her head down into the bowl and a male jeered “Nice arse! Would you like a truncheon up it?” Several women reported threats of rape, anal and vaginal.

The next day, senior officers held a press conference at which they announced that everybody in the building would be charged with aggressive resistance to arrest and conspiracy to cause destruction. In the event, the Italian courts dismissed every single attempted charge against every single person. That included Covell. Police attempts to charge him with a string of very serious offences were described by the public prosecutor, Enrico Zucca, as “grotesque”

This public dishonesty was part of a wider effort to cover up what had happened. On the night of the raid, a force of 59 police entered the building opposite the Diaz Pertini, where Covell and others had been running their Indymedia centre and where, crucially, a group of lawyers had been based, gathering evidence about police attacks on the earlier demonstrations. Officers went into the lawyers’ room, threatened the occupants, smashed their computers and seized hard drives. They also removed anything containing photographs or video tape.

With the courts refusing to charge the detainees, the police secured an order to deport all of them from the country, banning them from returning for five years. Thus, the witnesses were removed from the scene. Like the attempted charges, all the deportation orders were subsequently dismissed as illegal by the courts.

Zucca then fought his way through years of denial and obfuscation. In his formal report, he recorded that all the senior officers involved were denying playing any part: “Not a single official has confessed to holding a substantial command role in any aspects of the operation.” One senior officer who was videoed at the scene explained that he was off duty and had just turned up to make sure his men were not being injured. Police statements were themselves changeable and contradictory, and were overwhelmingly contradicted by the evidence of victims and numerous videos: “Not a single one of the 150 officers reportedly present has provided precise information regarding an individual episode.

No Italian politician has been brought to book, in spite of the strong suggestion that the police acted as though somebody had promised them impunity. One minister visited Bolzaneto while the detainees were being mistreated and apparently saw nothing or, at least, saw nothing he thought he should stop. Another, Gianfranco Fini, former national secretary of the neo-fascist MSI party and the then deputy prime minister, was – according to media reports at the time – in police headquarters. He has never been required to explain what orders he gave.

Most of the several hundred law officers involved in Diaz and Bolzaneto have escaped without any discipline or criminal charge. None has been suspended; some have been promoted. None of the officers who were tried over Bolzaneto has been charged with torture – Italian law does not recognise the offence. Some senior officers who were originally going to be charged over the Diaz raid escaped trial because Zucca was simply unable to prove that a chain of command existed. Even now, the trial of the 28 officers who have been charged is in jeopardy because the prime minister, Silvio Berlusconi, is pushing through legislation to delay all trials dealing with events that occurred before June 2002. Nobody has been charged with the violence inflicted on Covell. And as one of the victims’ lawyers, Massimo Pastore, put it: “Nobody wants to listen to what this story has to say.”

That is about fascism. There are plenty of rumours that the police and carabinieri and prison staff belonged to fascist groups, but no evidence to support that. Pastore argues that that misses the bigger point: “It is not just a matter of a few drunken fascists. This is mass behaviour by the police. No one said ‘No.’ This is a culture of fascism.” At its heart, this involved what Zucca described in his report as “a situation in which every rule of law appears to have been suspended.”

This was the EU in 2001, it is the EU in 2008.

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4 responses to “There’s Something Rotten in Italy

  1. Yes, as an italian runaway I can tell you that Italy is definitely embracing fascist attitudes once again. And the smell of this rotten Italy is spreading around. I wish that at some point Europe would step in and kick Italy out of the community but ofr now it’s just a dream.
    By the way, I read you are a sociologist and photographer, wow, can I ask you where do you live? I live in London and Iwould like to shoot a movie here, made out of interviews with people in the streets with “non standard” questions (ever heard of Pasolini?) and other philosophical/sociological thoughts represented with everyday scenes. Unfortunately I’ve tried but it’s hard to do it alone, people take you for a lunatic. So I’m looking for some friends to try again….

  2. Well there is a reason our grandparents told us they left Europe. What’s odd is how little these things have changed over the past few decades, though in Italy’s defense the courts did seem to think the police over stepped their bounds and canceled the charges. Still no cops were charged.

  3. I moved to Italy from the UK 3 years ago, and it terrifies me what’s happening over here. I am mixed ethnicity, and the undercurrent of racism that exists here is something I haven’t encountered since my childhood in the seventies. The G8 story made me cry by the way!

    Even my partner, who is a dyed-in-the-wool leftie seems to have no sympathy for the Roma and even reared up on me the other day when I criticised the rhetoric of Maroni. I just don’t get the Italian psyche at all. I was robbed by a Rom in Slovakia a few years ago, and I was so, so furious and upset, and he seems to think that this event should mean I’d be happy to have them persecuted within Italy. I tell you, what’s happening to them, with this fingerprinting has left me far more furious and upset than being a victim of petty-theft!

    I fear for my own future here, because personally I think once the Italian government realises that the Rom are not a credible scapegoat, they’ll turn on other ethnic groups. When they see me, they don’t think, “Ah, there goes an English woman with a legitimate right to be here”. No, they see the colour and think, “Ah, brown-skinned person, must be an ‘extra-communitaria’. I’ll bet she’s an illegal.” As it is, the general public already think this. Imagine what it’ll be like if the police act on this prejudice?

  4. Pingback: Why Attack the Calais Refugees? | Cosmodaddy

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