Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini was elected a month ago. He was swept into power by the same right-wing, populist wave that has turned the rest of the West inside out, and like many of his political contemporaries, he is now turning inflammatory rhetoric into plans for radical action with his promise to turn “words into action.” Still, even by the standards of the current western political climate, Salvini’s schemes are frighteningly fascist.
The most radical of these plans is his proposed census of the Roma people currently residing in Italy, with the eventual plan of expelling non-Italian Roma from the nation.
European nations have discriminated against the Roma people for centuries. Eighty years ago, Mussolini’s Italy targeted Jewish—and Roma—people. Salvini’s critics claim that things have now come full-circle. “Salvini apparently decided to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the racial laws,” said Chiara Gribaudo. “The way is short from a census to a concentration camp.” (quote courtesy of the Washington Post).
On Monday, Salvini said that “I’ve asked the ministry to prepare a dossier on the Roma question in Italy,” which would involve a census to “see who, how, how many.” His ultimate agenda is far from obscure. “Unfortunately, we will have to keep the Italian Roma because we can’t expel them,” he said later. During his election campaign, Salvini expressed his desire to bulldoze the Roma camps.
Salvini’s comments have received significant pushback. Democratic Party leader Matteo Orfini tweeted: “if we want to carry out the census, I would start with the racists and fascists. To better avoid them.” Even members of Salvini’s own political camp have spoken out. Luigi Di Maio, leader of the Five Star Movement, declared that a Roma registry would be “unconstitutional”, according to the Guardian. Still, Salvini appears to be unphased. He said on Tuesday, “I’m not giving up and I’m pushing ahead! Italians and their safety first.”
Surprisingly, some of the Roma people seem to be extremely receptive to Salvini’s announcement. The Guardian interviewed a Roma man named Stefano, whose family moved to Italy from Bosnia more than fifty years ago. Stefano has nine children, all of whom voted for Salvini. “We heard Salvini’s words and we congratulate him,” said Stefano. “There are so many delinquents within the Roma community – in this camp and across all of Italy.” Stefano and his family live in the Salone camp, 15 km east from Rome’s center. It was one of five camps built by right-wing mayor Gianni Alemanno, who was in office from 2008 to 2013. Alemanno called the camps “villages of solidarity”—a title only fitting if “in squalor” was tacked onto the end. The camp is filled with trash and mud. Rats roam freely. “This camp used to be a lot better now it’s filthy – and there are bad people here. Salvini only wants to bring tranquility to Italy, and I agree with him,” said Stefano. “Salvini said he would clean-up Italy and get rid of the illegals, my siblings and I voted for him,” said one of Stefano’s children. The government has ignored their needs for years, so it’s hardly surprising that some Roma people would be receptive to the words of a politician who promises radical change.
Salvini’s blatant hostility towards the Roma people is disgraceful. But perhaps even more frightening is the implication of his desire to target a group of citizens based on ethnicity alone. This would set a precedent that would threaten the basic underpinnings of democracy. Representative governments operate on some basic semblance of equality—the idea that despite ethnicity, religion, or class, everyone has certain fundamental rights and the power to influence the government that rules over them. Salvini’s pernicious agenda must be firmly countered.
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