Italian Government Lurches to the Right

Gianni Alemanno

The election this spring of a former neofascist youth leader to Rome's top government post heightened concerns about the vilification of immigrants and other minorities in a country that's experiencing a surge of xenophobia.

Gianni Alemanno cruised to victory in the late April mayoral race, capping a dramatic shift rightward in Italy that had greatly accelerated just two weeks earlier with the general election.

Supporters heralded Alemanno's win with fascist straight-arm salutes and enthusiastic calls of "Duce! Duce!" —the title that fascist dictator Benito Mussolini bestowed on himself. The new mayor has vowed to destroy all illegal Romani (gypsy) camps and to work toward the eradication of legal ones. He also promised to expel immediately all immigrants who have broken the law. Alemanno rode a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment fueled by the murder last year of a Roman housewife. A Romanian gypsy was arrested.

Alemanno's success closely followed Silvio Berlusconi's election as prime minister. The wealthy media mogul had previously led Italy but lost a re-election bid in 2006.

Berlusconi has filled his cabinet with ministers from the Northern League, a fierce opponent of immigration, and the National Alliance, which is descended from the Fascist Party. Among those named to his cabinet is Mara Carfagna, a runner-up in the 1997 Miss Italy beauty contest. The former topless model has made it clear she's no friend to gays and lesbians, whom she's called "constitutionally sterile." She will occupy the post of equal opportunity minister.

"It's a very conservative cabinet, which certainly has its thuggish elements," James Walston, a lecturer on Italian politics at the American University in Rome, told The Scotsman. "What it shows is how the Right is beginning a return across Europe."

Responding to fears about rising crime, Italy's new government is cracking down on immigration — a move that especially affects the country's thousands of Roma. A July 2008 report from a coalition of human rights organizations cited instances of state-sponsored discrimination against the Roma, including police abuse and fingerprinting for monitoring purposes. The report also asserted that racist attacks on the Roma had "reached new and astounding proportions in recent months." In May, for instance, Roma in a camp outside Naples fled after a 60-person mob pelted their homes with Molotov cocktails.

Meanwhile, Italian Roberto Fiore has won a seat in the European Parliament, which represents all citizens living in the European Union. Fiore is "absolutely the most extreme person who has ever served in the European Parliament," Glyn Ford, a fellow Parliament member, told the Telegraph of London. In the ultimate irony, Fiore is a member of the European Parliament's Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs, which is charged with ensuring "citizens rights, human rights and fundamental rights, including the protection of minorities."