Sep 15, 2022 - World

Italian politician's threat highlights dangers Europe's Roma face

Roma protest in Rome, Italy
Roma and Sinti protesters in Rome, Italy in July 2021. Photo: Stefano Montesi - Corbis/Corbis via Getty Images

A far-right Italian politician's recent social media stunt highlights the continued discrimination and threats Roma people face in Italy and across Europe.

Driving the news: Alessio Di Giulio, a politician in Italy’s far-right League party, posted a video last week with a Roma woman on the streets of Florence, telling voters that if they cast their ballots for the party in elections later this month they’ll “never see her again.”

  • The Union of Romani communities in Italy (UCRI) held an event on Monday in Florence where leaders called for Di Giulio's resignation from his post as a local district councillor in Florence and announced a lawsuit against him, Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported.
  • The League, led by former interior minister and deputy prime minister Matteo Salvini, is part of a right-wing coalition with the Brothers of Italy and former Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s Forza Italia. The coalition is expected to win a clear majority in both houses of parliament in the general elections on Sept. 25.

Why it matters: Roma, Europe’s largest ethnic minority, have long been on the receiving end of discriminatory policies and rhetoric in mainstream Italian politics and Europe more broadly.

  • "Throughout much of Europe the scapegoating of Roma during the run-up to elections is common practice, and translates to easy votes at the ballot box for unscrupulous politicians," Jonathan Lee, a spokesperson for the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC), told Axios.
  • "Over the past 10 years this has become more widespread, and more acceptable for politicians not only from the far right, but also the center and left," Lee added.

The big picture: In 2008, then-Prime Minister Berlusconi declared a “nomad emergency” that facilitated forced evictions of Roma.

  • In 2018, then-interior minister Salvini called for the creation of a registry of all Roma and the expulsion of those without citizenship.
  • In 2019, a 300-person mob hurled threats, set fire to dumpsters and destroyed food rations to oppose the settlement of 70 Roma in a local reception center in Rome's Torre Maura suburb.

The ERRC's annual report released in June examined law enforcement treatment of Roma in six EU countries — Bulgaria, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Slovakia and Romania — and found a culture of “institutional discrimination” and police brutality.

  • Roma refugees from Ukraine arriving in neighboring countries this summer, including Moldova and the Czech Republic, have faced unequal and discriminatory treatment.

What they're saying: "Public officials and candidates for political office have a particular responsibility to speak out against racism and hatred, and not to fuel it," the OSCE's Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights tweeted last week condemning Di Giulio's video.

  • Salvini spoke out against the comments, saying Di Giulio "made a mistake. He made a fool of himself," adding that, "you don't solve the problem of Roma camps with a video and picking on a person."
  • Di Giulio defended himself, saying he merely wanted to highlight the problem of begging, which he falsely claimed was illegal.

The bottom line: "The increase in racist political rhetoric towards Roma has become a mainstay of electoral politics in Italy. Anti-Roma hate speech leads to anti-Roma hate crimes," Lee told Axios.

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