Monday, January 18, 2010

Rosarno: ognuno ha il suo Sud

(The upstanding citizens of Rosarno protest about immigration)

This picture beautifully illustrates the depressing paradox of the widely reported incidents in Rosarno. If we placed this picture below a headline 'Immigration in Italy', it would be easy to  assume that the crowd behind a barrier of Carabinieri were Romanian or Albanian immigrants. In fact, they are italianissimi inhabitants of Rosarno, a mafia-ridden city in Calabria, one of Italy's poorest regions. Until very recently, Rosarno exported humanity, sending migrants to Northern Italy or overseas. Now local people are not prepared to pick fruit as cheaply as Africans will, so Rosarno has become an importer of labour. It will be interesting to see who does the harvesting this year.

Politically these events mark the culmination of the extraordinary journey of the Northern League, which has unapologetically taken sides with the Rosarno locals. Once a movement representing prosperous Northern Italians' frustration at having to subsidize poor and mafia-infested regions such as Calabria, the League now directs its fire at non-Italians. Why? Two simple reasons. One, because Northern Italy now imports labour from Eastern Europe and Africa, rather than Southern Italy, and the presence of outsiders has unsettled many Italians. Two, because the League has allied with Berlusconi's Pdl, which gets a healthy chunk of its votes from Southern regions like Sicily and Calabria, and it would be rude to point out that the North subsidizes the South just as much as it did before. I think this is what Schattschneider called the 'mobilization of bias'.

The level of racism permeating public discourse in Italy is reaching critical levels. Yet Italy has no alternative but to accept and integrate immigrants, as an aging society with one of the lowest birth rates in the world and a disfunctional labour market and welfare state. The anti-immigrant rhetoric of the Italian right - and mainstream opinion on the ground - suggests a society in denial. If it carries on this way Rosarno will start to look like a walk in the park.