by Roberto Malini
Racist movements have always used strong symbolic images in their propaganda to stress the so-called superiority of a race over that of a persecuted race. A few months ago I took to a meeting in Rome, an advertising poster from 1930 that depicted a young black shoeshine boy busy polishing the boots of a white man. It is a paradigm well-known in neo-fascist and intolerant circles.
According to witnesses, in Monza there is a police officer who goes around forcing young Roma boys to polish his boots, in sign of submission. Then he humiliates them with a tip. Therefore the suggestion by Carlo Mosca, the Prefect of Rome, to use young teenagers from the Roma ethnic group as shoeshine boys comes as no surprise. He suggests employing the “sciuscià”, as he called them, in front of supermarkets, the symbol of Italian wealth and purchasing power. With this I am not saying that Prefect Mosca’s proposal was openly racist, even if it would mean humiliating the Roma boys in front of the Italians, placing them on their knees before them like little “slaves”, but I believe Mosca’s idea (the natural result of a prevailing attitude, marked by racial hatred) would represent the fulfilment of a programme aimed at morally destroying the new generation of Roma that has been underway for some time in our country. Picture the dark-skinned Roma teenager, badly-dressed, gaunt and melancholy kneeling in front of his Italian peer, white-skinned and fed on a diet of hamburgers, chips and Coca-Cola. The Roma boy is carefully polishing the boy’s shoes, his face close to the synthetic leather of his Nike trainers. When faced with criticism (to be honest rather lukewarm criticism towards intolerance that would have been unthinkable five years ago, on a par with the fingerprinting of “gypsy” children) the prefect replied: “I won’t take back what I said. What matters is we guarantee a right to work and create a new sense of responsibility, and this idea must be shared by the Roma community. My proposal obviously foresees an observance of the Italian labour laws, it is a suggestion directed at young people over 14”.
Unbelievably, some political figures, even those of the “left” (in brackets seeing the “left” appears to have completely disappeared), have defended Mosca’s suggestion. The Shadow Defence Minister Roberta Pinotti (Pd) comments that she believes Mosca’s idea expresses “the common sense of someone who is familiar with the Roma people’s situation”. But then she has second thoughts and states that “maybe Mosca used a folkloristic image to underline a need that I myself share: to make the most of the skills of these boys who have always been very good at manual labour”. An absurd claim, because Roma children have the same potential as anyone else in both manual jobs and intellectual work, and it would be better to allow them to undertake studies in any field rather than let them become the Italians’ “little slaves”. But in this Italy, which has lost the slightest respect for human rights, even the president of the Red Cross, Massimo Barra, describes the idea of reducing the proud Roma boys to the rank of shoeshine boys as “a positive thing - apart from the terminology, the idea for a “special commissioner for the Roma” is to be appreciated, seeing that the inactivity these young people live in is the father of vice, and anything that helps to prevent it is always a positive thing. Offering them work, even if we are talking about outmoded and forgotten professions, means taking a step in the right direction”. What would the prefect, the president of the Red Cross and the “shadow minister” think if someone were to put their children on their knees and force them to do the most humblest of jobs, the work of a slave?
The Prefect Carlo Mosca often manifests an intention to distance himself from the perverted logic of the persecutory policies being carried out in nearly every part of Italy. He wants to maintain his position of power, but does not wish to go down in history as a racist. That is why he does not shirk criticism or refuse to talk to representatives of the Roma settlements or civil society. “His” Rome, however, has carried out all kinds of repressive measures against the Roma people: from camp clearances (without the offer of alternative arrangements) to the ruthless repression of small squatter settlements, the restriction of human rights, and the lack of any form of humanitarian support and integration policies. The city of Rome is responsible for many humanitarian crimes.
The unjust practice of taking Roma children from their natural parents is particularly repugnant. It tears apart families already hit by discrimination and poverty. The authorities justify their actions on the families’ “inability to support their children” or their alleged immorality (as though begging - including that of minors - was a choice, and not the last resort of a people crushed by racism). Rome keeps the Roma population of the capital in conditions of extreme poverty, squalor and unprecedented marginalization - so much so that the Euro MP Viktoria Mohacsi, and the European delegation that visited the settlements in the capital said the conditions the Roma are forced to live in are intolerable.
If the prefect really does wish to take another road, he must stop the persecutory campaign underway and call on the institutions to initiate urgent support programmes for the Roma people (with the substantial funds set aside by the European Union) by ensuring – in the first stage – the suspension of all camp clearances and the provision of immediate health and welfare assistance.
This should be followed by the gradual access to decent living quarters, schooling and employment. At the same time there is an urgent need to create anti-racist and educational programmes promoting Roma history and culture. These programmes would be directed at the citizens of Rome whose opinions and sentiments have been clouded by the long and intense disinformation campaign and xenophobic propaganda which has left them intolerant and racist.
The Roma people live in Rome like the Jews and the “gypsies” lived in the territories of the Third Reich during the years of the racial laws. However inconvenient, the truth must be the starting-point for tackling the “Rom emergency”. The enemy (and Prefect Mosca must get this into his head if he wants to be different from everyone else) is the brutal racism the Roma are subjected to. The only valid initiatives in this difficult situation are serious integration and anti-racist programmes, with substantial investments, official apologies for the crimes perpetrated against innocent people and a change in attitude – without further discrimination – of Roman and Italian society, with more solidarity and respect for a people and culture. If the prefect were to follow up on intentions expressed on several occasions and commit himself to this path (the only “non racist” solution) then maybe posterity will be less harsh when judging the city where today a minority lives with no rights, and where someone has suggested getting proud Roma teenagers on their knees before those who discriminate against them.
piazza Olivieri 10
61100 Pesaro (PU)
via Baccio da Montelupo 145
50142 Firenze - Italy
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