Roma panhandler. Torino, May 2013.

Refugees welcome, indeed. For those who lament Germany’s sudden about turn in the wake of the Cologne assaults, take a step back. The brief window, during which Germans defined European tolerance, has witnessed a returned to form. Meaning discomfort, ambivalence, if not outright racism.

Don’t blame the Germans. They don’t have a monopoly on racism, and they aren’t the only Europeans who find themselves conflicted about diversity, either.

Italy has an equally spotty record, historically, despite the fact that in northern Europe, like Jews, Italians were not considered white until the second half of the twentieth century, when Germany required southern European labor to help fuel its postwar reconstruction.

Nonetheless, Italians can persecute like the best of them. Unsure of their own whiteness, historically multiethnic, xenophobia remains a persistent problem for the country’s right, unable to rationalize the economic, if not moral worth, of tolerance, towards the waves of African and Arab migrants that have called Italy, for centuries, their home. Not just in Sicily, and the south, but the affluent north too, home to both a resurgent Northern League, as well as moneyed anti-democrats, best exemplified by Silvio Berlusconi.

The following flyer, penned by anti-racist activists, is a testimony to the country’s diversity, in an alarmist voice. Photographed in December 2013, in Turin, it is typical of the word heavy calls to arms frequently found in Italian cities. Despite the move online, for most activist communications, its simple black and white presentation is a nice metaphor for the straightforward ethical problems it brings to light.

Not normally included in discussions of immigration, the lead photograph is of a Roma. Though discussed in the flyer translation below, it is important to note that a significant number of Italian Roma hail from Balkan countries such as Croatia, and Macedonia. Though there are longstanding domestic Roma communities, like their immigrant cousins, they remain regarded equally as outsiders.

December 2013, Turin

From the Turin Pogrom to the Neo-Fascist Florentine Killer

Against All Racism/Fascism

Turin, Vallette quarter: Saturday December 10th just before dinner. For two days, newspapers and the local grapevine had circulated the news that two Roma had raped a 16 year old girl. 500 people, among them leading local politicians, such as the provincial secretary of the Democratic Party, met to “be close to the victim”, but also – this was another of their slogans – “to clean up the Continassa”, a nearby field used by the Roma as a camp.

In the meantime, the girl told the carabinieri that, “I made it all up. It was my first time, my brother showed up, I was ashamed and I made up the story.”

The mob ended their march by burning down the Roma’s camp. No one lives in the camp anymore, some returned in the days that followed to collect what little of their belongings remained. It was a pogrom. What happened on Saturday was the violent spawn of racism, but also of machismo and of false moralities.

Florence: Tuesday December 13th, Gianluca Casseri shoots and kills Modou Samb, 40, and Mor Diop, 54, both of Senegalese origin (he also wounded three others, all Senegalese), who were selling their wares in Piazza Dalmazia to the north of the city.

Gianluca Casseri, who later committed suicide, was a neo-fascist and racist supporter of Casa Pound, an extreme right-wing group, certain supporters of which have already been found guilty of racist and homophobic attacks against migrants, Roma, and anti-racism activists and groups.

The Turin pogrom against the Roma people and the tragedy in Florence are just the tip of an iceberg that has been created by certain laws (the Bossi-Fini law, the (in) security package, certain municipal measures, etc.) that have led to a resurgence that has to be addressed and countered.

These are two incidents, admittedly different, that indicate that racism is still rooted in our society and everyday life. Albeit taking different forms, it is a violent cancer that continues to kill. Therefore, it is important that those who oppose fascism, racism, homophobia, sexism and all forms of discrimination show unity.

We urge people to stand with those who have fallen victim to these terrible crimes. We will stand together as a city!

Saturday, December 17 at 16:30

Piazza Castello – Turin

(Corner of via Garibaldi)

Translated from the Italian by Samuel Morgan. Photographs courtesy of Joel Schalit.