Italy’s “Emergenza Razzismo” Continues

Lorenzo Renzi, Professor of Romance Philology at the University of Padua, has written an interesting piece on the Rom/Romanian/gypsy question and the Italian government’s plan to expel “undesirables.” You can read it in Italian or in my quick (meaning reasonably accurate but not necessarily elegant) translation: “If This Is A Rom.”

Renzi’s headline, by the way, recalls the title of a poem by Italian Holocaust writer, Primo Levi, which Levi also used for one of his best known books. You can read the poem, in English translation, here. In Italian (“Se questo è un uomo”), it’s widely available on the internet; just search for the title.

In the meantime, Piero Ostellino, a long-time political correspondent for the Corriere della Sera, published an article in the issue of Saturday, May 24th, entitled “What Really Motivates Italy’s Accusers.”

The title probably makes the tone of his screed clear, but what’s interesting is that it comes from someone who professes not to be “di centrodestra” (that is, not from the center-right) and who, thus, supposedly carries more authority because he’s not some dittohead racist like those others. (Okay, so he’s a Libertarian racist.)

Just to be clear what Ostellino is talking about: the “accusers” in his headline are Spain, and what “really motivates them” is the fear that, if Italy expels the gypsies/the Rom, they’ll just come knocking on other countries’ doors.

No one does benaltrismo like an Italian does benaltrismo.

For the record, I have no doubt that Spain and other European countries are reluctant to deal with any more of the unassimilated and perhaps unassimilable gypsies than they already do, but other than playing a high-stakes game of “I Know You Are, But What Am I?”, what’s the point here?

In any case, Ostellino wants you to know that Italians aren’t racist, and neither are the new laws. And that’s because, he writes:

Not all Rom are rapists and murderers of women, thieves, and drug pushers; not all Rom train their children to rob people on the street. But many rapists and murders, thieves, drug pushers, and light-fingered children are Rom…. It would be absurd for a nation to attribute responsibility for crime to an entire ethnicity, practicing a form of generalized repression; but it remains a fact that the Rom are an ethnicity that stands out historically for a collective propensity toward criminal behavior, even if their crimes are frequently minor.

Talk about giving with one hand and taking away with another….

Ostellino doesn’t want to contribute to “generalized repression,” but generalized racial or ethnic stereotypes—and the use of those stereptypes to justify racial laws—is OK by him. And, even allowing that the Rom are “born criminals,” Ostellino admits their crimes are “frequently minor.” But that doesn’t mean Italy shouldn’t throw them out. With non-racists like Ostellino, who needs the Lega Nord?

Meanwhile, we’re still waiting for the statistics that demonstrate a higher “criminal propensity” among the Rom or any other ethnic and/or immigrant group in Italy—statistics that cannot exist precisely because no one could possibly define either the group that’s being accused (as Renzi underlines, the categories have been hopelessly confused) or what “crime” means. (Are we talking purse-snatching or murder, petty theft or kidnapping?)

People like Ostellino, of course, aren’t waiting. Things like facts only get in the way of a good pogrom.


Posted on 25 May 2008, in Italy, Italian, Italians (in that order) and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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