I am not a nationalist, and I do not believe that the individual is nothing without the group. I have often been accused of hypocrisy, but the truth is that I honestly believe in individualism. To me, individualism has nothing to do with selfishness. It simply means respecting the individual in itself, not judging a person only as a member of a community, but as an individual. I also believe that there cannot be real democracy without individualism.
Many people in Europe have a different opinion. Everyone has, of course, the right to have his own views and express them freely. However, defaming or insulting other people because of who they are or because of the alleged characteristics of the group to which they supposedly belong, is not acceptable. This destroys society from the inside and creates a climate of hatred, fertile ground for demagogues.
One of the things that troubles me most about Italy (and about Europe) is the resilience of racism and the growing desire of sections of society to express and be proud of a racist or xenophobic ideology. Today, an episode that happened in Italy angered me so much that I want to write about it.
Today (14/1/2014) Massimo Bitonci, an Italian MP of the righ-wing party Lega Nord, vehemently criticised the Congolese-born Italian Minister for Integration Cecile Kyenge. Ms Kyenge is the first black cabinet member in the history of the Italian Republic, and she is an advocate of stronger rights for migrants and their children. From the moment she took up her post, she became the target of fierce attacks by members of the Lega Nord.
Mrs Kyenge does not know what immigration means, she knows nothing at all, she wants to promote negritude (“negritudine”) like in France, but we have no need for that.
This is only the last of many tirades of Lega Nord members against the Minister, who was born in Congo and came to Italy in 1983. In the past, Roberto Calderoli – who is also the vice-president of the Italian Senate – said that Ms Kyenge reminded him of an orangutan. Another Lega Nord politician, Dolores Valando, commented on an article about an Italian woman who had been raped by an immigrant with the question “Isn’t there anyone willing to rape Mrs Kyenge?”
The Lega Nord (literally, “Northern League”) was formed in 1991 in the industrial and wealthy North as a separatist movement that spread stereotypes against Southern Italians and the central government in Rome, and which advocated the foundation of an independent state. Over the years, the Lega Nord’s interest shifted from anti-Southern to anti-immigrant sentiments (Bullaro 2010, p. 113; see also Lombardi-Diop / Romeo 2012).
The most worrying thing is that racism or xenophobia are often tolerated in mainstream discourse, or even denied (Lomdardi-Dip / Romeo 2012, p. 90). I remember one episode that shows this very clearly.
I went with a friend of mine – a Chinese who grew up in Italy but doesn’t have the Italian citizenship – to a cafe’ in Rome. There we bumped into a friend of hers, a man who, as I later discovered, was the honorary president of Associna, an association of the Chinese community in Italy. He was talking with a woman.
At first, we thought they were friends and we joined them. But then, we realised that the woman was a journalist and that she was interviewing him. The journalist kept asking him questions such as “Why do you feel Chinese although you were born in Italy?” or “Don’t you think it’s unfair that the Chinese come to Italy but pay no taxes?”.
|An electoral poster of the Lega Nord.
It says, “They suffered immigration.
Now they live in reservations.
Think about it.“
Of course, such questions are legitimate, but I thought that the important issue of xenophobia was totally missing from her interview, so I intervened, saying that there is also a long tradition of xenophobia in Italy and Europe, and that integration is a process that involves both the natives and the migrants. I compared anti-Chinese or anti-Romanian sentiment in Italy with the bad image of people of Turkish descent in Germany. At that moment, the journalist angrily cut in on me and said in a loud voice:
“I can’t stand this polemic any more!”
She denied the very existence of xenophobia, or of a tradition of xenophobia in Europe, and she went on praising herself as a tolerant woman who likes the Chinese, und who has her son study Mandarin, etc. It seemed to me that by denying that some Italians have prejudices regarding migrants, she implied that if Italians are unhappy about immigration it is because migrants behave badly. This is an attempt to rationalise and justify stereotypes and nationalistic sentiments.
It seems to me that democracy in Europe is more fragile than many people think or are willing to acknowledge. As long as we judge people according to abstract collective stereotypes, and not on the basis of individuality, the very foundations of rule of law will not be strong enough to withstand a major crisis.