Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Italy's fascist revival

Hak Mao sez:
This CNN report, found via SimplyJews, was bad enough. Two drowned Roma girls are left to lie on a beach near Naples, while sunbathers sit around them, apparently quite unconcerned - sunning themselves or eating their lunch. This report is worse:

Witnesses say they lay on the beach for hours - and so did many of the sunbathers who allegedly watched the drowning and, according to some press accounts, did little but stare and carry on with their Saturday afternoon.

Naples is also where thugs firebombed Roma camps last May in one of a series of racist attacks on Roma and other ethnic minorities in Italy - in the same period in Rome, a mob smashed up shops run by Bangladeshi migrants. According to this report, a survey found that 68% of Italians want Gypsies 'expelled' from Italy, whether or not they are Italian citizens. Expel Italy from the EU and demand all EU funds back.
(Bob sez: Personally, I am so indifferent to the EU that I don't want to endorse the final sentence.)



max said...

How would Italian sunbathers know the ethnic group of two bodies covered up by blankets?

It happens recurrently, somebody dies at the beach, the body remains there covered until the appropriate people come and collect them and meanwhile people just get on with their business around the bodies.
I come from a town that has a 3 mile long beach almost in the centre of town, it's always crowded and every other year this happens, somebody has a heart attack and dies, the body is brought to the shore, covered up and people behave normally all around the body, somebody doesn't even know it's a dead body.
Then the local newspaper runs an outraged article (with morbid photo of the body with its toes sticking out from under the blanket)pointing the finger at the state of society.

It just happen all the time, only that this time as there is a fascist revival in Italy that targets Roma then instead of the local newspapers it's the CNN.

bob said...

I guess I would need to find myself on a beach with a dead Roma before judging this issue! Perhaps this is a bad example of a trend that I think is undeniable: the growth of racism in Italy today.


Hak Mao, in this post at Drink-Soaked Trots
writes "Note to Bob: It’s not a matter of indifference — or not — to the EU, it’s a matter of hitting the Italian state where it causes the most pain and embarrassment."

I agree that the Italian state is deeply corrupt. I agree that there appears to be a growing climate of racism in Italy, which Berlusconi has stoked. I agree that Italy, as part of “old” Europe is let off the hook by the EU for crimes that are condemned by the EU in the “new” Europe.

But I am wary of a politics of kicking them out of the EU, as I am wary of the politics of boycotts and expulsions in general. There seems to be a lot of blue water between Berlusconi’s Italy and, say, Mugabe’s Zimbabwe or al-Bashir’s Sudan. (I mean, surely Olmert’s Israel is more criminal than Berlusconi’s Italy, and I actively campaign against these sorts of punishments being meted out to Israel.)

Although I don’t think the Popinjay campaign against Italy does this explicitly, but there is a danger in making a case for the EXCEPTIONAL racism of one place, when anti-Roma hatred and other forms of racism are endemic in Europe (including here in the UK) and corruption is quite widespread.

I think it is also worth drawing out some of the parallels between what is happening in Berlusconi’s Italy (and Alemanno’s Rome) with what we could expect in Cameron’s Britain (and what we can expect in Boris’ London).


The exceptionalism of Italy that the Hak Mao/General Theory campaign against Italy might be taken to imply is presumably what bothers Max - just as the Israeli exceptionalism I noted in my recent post about Serbia bothered me.

The fact is, anti-Roma racism is alive and well in Britain, and far more vicious examples are alive and kicking in Romania, Slovakia and elsewhere, as and others clearly document.

In Britain, racism against both English Gypsies and Central/Eastern European Roma is one of the driving forces behind the electoral resurgence of Euronationalist forms of fascism (i.e. the BNP), but also the right-wing populist agenda that lurks barely beneath the surface of the Cameron Tories, not least in Boris' heartland, the white flight "donut" around London.

max said...

There is racism in Italy and I'm really sorry about it but this example has got nothing to do with it, this is all about indifference, if somebody drops dead in Oxford Street hundreds of people would just walk by before somebody stops, it's human behaviour that has nothing to do with racism.

Italian racists have attacked Roma camps and Italian members of Government are opportunistic and disgusting racists and facists and they do sympathize with those extremists.
There is also a cultural problem with both nostalgia for the fascist period that's more alive in the center and south and is now allied to the even more racist Lega nord.
That of the rise of Lega Nord is expression of a cultural problem that maybe has always existed in the area that makes reference to Milan. It's a variation of self-righteousness based on hard work and the assumption that souherners are lazy and by extension all aliens are scroungers.

These two groups are kept together by Berlusconi and the root of Italian problems lies in the failure of the Italian left and of the European Union of imposing a law to protect the Italian public from his incredible monopolistic position in information in Italy.

Those Italians that at last elections voted for the majority alliance are a mixed of true racists, people that is in love with Berlusconi, people that thinks that the left is unable to run Italy and believe that Berlusconi will keep racists tendencies under control and a number of other reasons that were given to them by an incredibly biased media. The political discourse is dominated by Berlusconi, has been so for many years and he has negotiated the support from the traditional right by allowing a place among the mainstream press to racist and fascist commentators.

The content of the press is not expression of the public opinion, it's the other way round, the press runs the show, it tells the public what is mainstream thinking and Silvio Berlusconi decides that.

That's what's wrong with Italy and it would be just right for the European Union to start thinking about it, for the sake of Italy and because it can happen elsewhere.

But it would be wrong to think that Italians are as racists of those extremists that carried attacks and as the members of its Government.

First about half of Italians voted the other way round and of those that voted for this Government many did so because they have been scientifically misled by that incredible media structure that's been set up to present a political discourse that is just theatre.

The poll findings that 68% of Italians think that Roma should all be expelled shows that in the heat of a media campaign orchestrated by the racist right using Berlusconi's monopolistic editorial might Italians think what the media tells them.

This tells you what is the problem, it's the media and I would welcome the European Union forcing Berlusconi to sell his asset to produce a normal situation in Italy or else, including expulsion for the EU.

The Italian government has the same legitimacy of that of Pinochet, it's coup, only that it used the media instead of the army and it rolled over a number o years.

What I do find disturbing is this extreme simplification with accusation of blanket racism for Italians as if that was their intrinsic nature and the only solution was that of breaking all ties with those bastards.

It's ignorant and paradoxically it stands on trash journalism that is one of the root problems. To add paradox to the paradox it looks remarkably racist.

The Contentious Centrist said...

I predict growing intolerance to the gypsy minorities in Europe and I link the trend directly to the presence of intolerant Muslim minorities in Europe, who have 1.5 billion Muslims behind them. It is an inutitive thing about the way Europeans behave. They would lash out against a weak minority as a reaction to fears aroused by some other perceivd threat, so overwhelming that they don't know what to do about it. The gypsies are very much like the the Jews in pre-Holocaust Europe. They are a lonely, orphaned, unwanted, minority in the most frightening sense of the word. And worse, they seem to have no political leadership to represent them. They are really twisting the wind.

What is happening is simply unbelievable. Who is going to speak for them?

With any decent UN this problem would be discussed as belonging to all. But we have a corrupt UN which couldn't care less.


ModernityBlog said...

Flesh is grass is good on this topic.

bob said...

I can only agree with Max's analysis and Modernity's recommendation of FiG
. New links to follow!

CC's points are extremely interesting. They raise - as does FiG's post
- the issue of comparing the Gypsy situation to the Jewish situation, which CT warned against in this comment thread.

Yes, this is Europe's problem, not Italy's. In fact, yes, it is the world's problem.

The Contentious Centrist said...

"..the issue of comparing the Gypsy situation to the Jewish situation, which CT warned against"

I compared the current gypsy situation tio pre-Holocaust Jews' situation. In terms of their isolation, the general ill-will against them, the helplessness to really move governments to help them out.

TNC said...

Max writes:

“The content of the press is not expression of the public opinion, it's the other way round, the press runs the show, it tells the public what is mainstream thinking and Silvio Berlusconi decides that.”

“…they have been scientifically misled by that incredible media structure that's been set up to present a political discourse that is just theatre.”

Surely Italians are more savvy than that?

People on the left make similar claims about the mainstream media (MSM) in the United States i.e. it is run by corporations, dissenting perspectives are marginalized, etc. These people argue the MSM provides the perspective of political and corporate elites and anyone who deviates from this perspective is out of the mainstream. Essentially, these folks are arguing that the MSM tells “the masses” what to think.

When I ask them, “well, why doesn’t the MSM have the same impact on you?” they usually respond “because I can think critically” or something similar. This leads to a very elitist perspective which is rife on the radical left in the U.S. They (radical left) are “critical thinkers” and if you disagree with them you must be brainwashed by government and corporate elites and the MSM.

CC, excellent points, especially the habit of lashing out against a weak minority as a reaction to fears aroused by some other perceived threat. But is this unique to Europeans?

max said...

TNC there's a fundamental difference between American mainstream media and Italian media, in Italy most private television channels and newspapers are really owned by Berlusconi that is also at the centre of politics and on top of that he has an enormous influence on the State television.

TNC said...

I'm certainly no expert but Italy has a lot of political parties compared to the U.S. Do parties on the left publish their own newspapers/magazines, etc.? If so, what is the readership of these left publications?

How about the Internet? What percentage of Italians have internet access?

How about cable television?

The reason I ask these questions is I realize Berlusconi owns a lot of the private media in Italy but aren't there alternatives?

max said...

Surely there are alternatives to the media owned by Berlusconi but the bulk of the offer comes from his group that has ramifications in all aspects of the media and outside the media in constructions, financial services, you name it.

In relation to your original question it seems to me that the way his media empire works for his political success is that it keep hold of a critical mass of supporters, it doesn't need to convince everyone. In fact Italy is quite split down the middle. and frankly the left blew it by producing a spectacular cock up with the waste management in Naples just before last elections. That convinced many that the left was unable to provide basic government and with very worrying economic times ahead that moved a substantial amount of votes towards the right.

Consider that Berlusconi had a number of trials for a variety of crimes, he mostly managed to get out of troubles by clinging to legal technicalities to produce delays to the judicial process until the legal times for those trials expired. He has the means to do it. In the meantime his televisions and newspapers have produced a constant deafening campaign of attack against the judges accusing them of being politically motivated "communists"! They have dragged the political discourse to such a low that many people is indeed confused. Repeat a lie for long enough... Italians are quite addicted to television in general and that's where he really dominates.
On the accuse of false accounting he changed the law and made it legal (yes, it's not a criminal offence in Italy anymore) just before the trial.

In what country would have a politician with that record survived? Only one that has a strong anomaly. You would think that in his coalition there would be an alternative to him to replace him because to implicated with scandals? Well there isn't because his allies cannot bring in anywhere near as many votes without him. It's impossible to portray them convincingly as centrists and this would probably mean a substantial victory for the left.

Belusconi was already prime minister that his party still needed to have a congress, his ascent to political power was a completely mediatic operation conducted with scientific method by the best minds in branding and advertising in Italy.

max said...

You should take a look at one of Berlusconi's main tv channels, Rete4, which amazingly occupies illegal frequencies.
It broadcasts mostly soaps and lonely hearts type programs mixed with a constant dripping of news bulletins, half of the times updates on Berlusconi. The anchorman is Emilio Fede, an old fascist completely in love with Berlusconi that spends his life making a fool of himself ranting about communist judges plotting to put Berlusconi in jail for ideological reasons. That channel is pure trash, the man is nationally ridiculed, and yet it brings in valuable votes, I imagine they're kind of bored housewives.

bob said...

Two different, very weighty issues here.


I totally support making comparisons and contrasts between different racisms – across time, across places, across ethnicities – and drawing the parallels, and crucially, drawing out the learning from these. In that spirit, I completely approve of Noga’s comparison between Jews in the 1930s and Gypsies today, and Flesh is Grass’s comparison between Jew-haters today and Gypsy-haters today.

However, we live in a world dominated by litigious, competitive forms of identity politics, with “ethnic” leaders inciting us into forms of groupthink that see oppression in quantitative, zero-sum terms, so talking up one group’s “oppression” is automatically understood as subtracting from another group’s. Contested Terrain’s warning about one piece of racism-comparison was that it could play into this, and I think we need to be mindful of that caution – without allowing that to hinder the difficult work of understanding involved in comparison.


I take something of an intermediate position between TNC and Max on this. The Berlusconi phenomenon is quite different from the “mainstream media” in any other democracy; he has a far greater monopoly, across media platforms, than any American or British media mogul. He also much actively compromises the idea of media impartiality than most British or American media outlets – Kelvin McKenzie’s Sun or Fox News are the only real comparisons. Berlusconi's media power is probably better compared to authoritarian states like Venezuela or Saudi Arabia. In this sense, Italy IS exceptional in Europe.

But, equally, I agree with TNC that an analysis that gives too much power to the media, and not enough emphasis on the critical judgement of the consumers of even the most reactionary of media, runs the danger of elitism.

And, of course, as Max says, there is still a functioning left, with its own struggling media outlets, and in this sense the drift towards fascism cannot be attached to all Italians.


Oh, and Paulie’s comment at the Hak Mao post at DSTP4W (click the "hyperopia" link below and scroll down to the second comment) totally convinces me I was wrong to be dismissive of imposing EU sanctions of some kind.

claude said...

The current backlash against immigrants in Italy is reaching alarming levels.

Read this article about the worrying combination of apathy, populism, anti-immigrant hysteria and authoritarianism that is sweeping Italy.

claude said...

of course there are media alternatives. But arguing the toss over the amount of left-wing blogs (which surely do exist in numbers) when the Prime Minister owns half the country seems, with respect, a bit futile.