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White Christmas In Italy

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January 18, 2010 Cultural Musings, Culture & People No Comments

International commentators observe that Italy is experiencing a rise of xenophobia. Martin Kettle of The Guardian even goes as far as to say: “My love affair with Italy is over. The romance is dead. Now I see the country for what it is: rightwing, racist and corrupt.” (I’ve changed my mind about Italy – The Guardian)

The incident suddenly catapulting Italy’s stand on racism into international media was the implementation of “Operation White Christmas” in a small town in northern Italy, Coccaglio. In Martin Kettle’s words:

Christmas in Coccaglio … is being marked by a house-to-house search for illegal (ie black) immigrants. The search, which is sponsored by the local Northern League-controlled council, has officially been dubbed Operation White Christmas and finishes, ho ho ho, on 25 December. One Coccaglio councillor has said Christmas is a feast of Christian identity, not a celebration of hospitality. The whole crackdown has been complimented and backed by Silvio Berlusconi‘s government. (I’ve changed my mind about Italy – The Guardian)

This sounds very politically incorrect, a little bit like one of the Prime Ministers’ jokes. However, Berlusconi’s interior minister, Roberto Maroni, assures us that this is not unusual: “Operation White Christmas has been carried out in other towns with other names and without arousing the same kind of clamour,” he said. “These are initiatives that serve to check and combat the phenomenon of illegal immigrants. So there is no ‘story’ and no racism.” (Italian town where a White Christmas is a police matter – The Guardian).

While it is plausible that “Operation White Christmas” is quite a usual occurence, the claim that there is “no racism” fails to ring true: “The migrant population has soared in Italy’s industrial heartland, making it fertile territory for the League, with its xenophobic rhetoric. A League poster at the last general election showed three white sheep kicking out a black one.” (The rise of Italian racism – The Guardian).

What is going on in Italy? Do romantic perceptions of the country stand in blatant contrast with reality? Martin Kettle has harsh words for Italy and its citizens, asking:

How could they elect someone like Berlusconi, and then do it again, and then do it a third time? They do so, I suspect, for much the same psephological reasons as Americans chose someone like Bush. Look back over 150 years of Italian history and you have long periods of rightwing rule, each followed by a short period of catastrophe and then by a reassertion of the right. Italy has never been the liberal Eden that progressive Europeans sometimes delude themselves into imagining it to be. It is actually a majority rightwing country. It is a much more corrupt, smut-driven, racist and lawless country than the middle-class tourists, armed with their EM Forster fantasies and seeing only what they want to see, imagine. Coccaglio is not merely a corrective to this. It is the way Italy is. Forget the Italy of Dante. Forget the Italy of Verdi. Forget the Italy of your fantasies. Welcome to the Italy that calls a raid on migrants Operation White Christmas, to the Italy that says the American president has a good sun tan – and to the Italy that then sniggers about it. (I’ve changed my mind about Italy – The Guardian)

As painful as it is, I tend to agree with Martin Kettle. Italy has been subject to many romantic fantasies that may not hold true today. Instead, it is struggling to face one of its most important issues, the integration of immigrants:

Italy, along with Spain, has one of Europe’s fastest-growing immigrant populations. Non-Italians contribute a good 5% to the country’s GDP. But it doesn’t look as though the country’s politicians, or indeed the national media, are concerned about the need to ease the national psyche into the new realities of the 21st century. With some exceptions. As if in response to Coccaglio’s rather sinister “White Christmas”, the town of Sassari in Sardinia has announced its own “black and white Christmas”, a festival of European and African religious music. (The rise of Italian racism – The Guardian)

How are you experiencing racism in Italy? Talk to us in the comments.


The Guardian:
Italian town where a White Christmas is a police matter

I’ve changed my mind about Italy
The rise of Italian racism

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