An Italian friend recently used a scene he had witnessed in a crowded piazza in the San Lorenzo neighborhood of Rome to explain the current political leadership of Italy. According to my friend, his usual Saturday night consumption of beer in said piazza had been interrupted when a Moroccan began breaking bottles and threatening bystanders with the jagged edges before eventually being toppled by other Moroccans.
What was most disturbing about the scene in my friend’s view was that the Moroccan had not been toppled by Italians, who had failed to react. When I asked my friend why the man’s nationality was central to the event, he protested that the real issue was why the Italian nation was senza palle—“without balls”—a deficiency that enabled fascist politicians to install themselves in power. My suggestion that perceptions of national weakness were also conducive to fascist takeovers was met with the response that brief ethnic takeovers of Roman piazzas were merely indicative of a larger pattern of territorial conquest, something Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi had confirmed with the following quote in a June 2009 article in Corriere della Sera: “Some people want a multicolored and multiethnic society. We do not share this opinion.”
The “we” in question in this case are Berlusconi’s companions at the campaign finale for Guido Podestà, Popolo della Libertà (PDL) candidate for president of the province of Milan. As for the “some people,” Corriere implies that one of these is fellow PDL figure and President of the Chamber of Deputies Gianfranco Fini, who had previously asserted that it was Italy’s duty to verify whether there were asylum-seekers among would-be immigrants forcibly turned back from Italian shores.
The Prime Minister had insisted that there was “practically no one” qualifying for asylum in such cases, and is quoted in the June article as stating:
It is unacceptable that sometimes in certain parts of Milan there is such a presence of non-Italians that instead of thinking you are in an Italian or European city you think you are in an African city.”
Not considered unacceptable, of course, were repeated references to Barack Obama as “suntanned”; as for other non-Italians posing less of a territorial threat than boat-bound Africans, Berlusconi revealed to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier this year that “I have a dream,” which turned out not to be that all men are created equal but that Israel will one day be part of the European Union.