June 17, 2008
BAN THE BEGGARS
In our western societies where the rich are becoming richer because they will not even share the crumbs from
their wealth no one should be surprised that the town of Assisi, home of St Francis, the saint of the poor, has
banned all beggars from its churches and streets.
The custodian of the basilica, Father Vincenzo Coli, justified the decision saying even the 13th century saint
would find it difficult today to separate the truly poor from professional beggars. So it was best to ban them all in
Assisi, the town once symbolic with Christian charity.
The ban on beggars fits perfectly into the repressive policies of Italyâ€™s new government, a
coalition of neo-fascists and xenophobic separatists who have targeted gypsies, asylum seekers, boat
people, unemployed foreigners and those aliens who have no visible means of support for detention,
expulsion or even jail sentences.
The ban also epitomized the growing social intolerance not only in Italy but in Europe of asylum seekers
and African and East European immigrants. This week the European parliament voted to expel an
estimated three million illegal immigrants, mainly from poverty-stricken African countries and imprison
visa over-stayers for up to 18 months, keeping them in special detention camps and banning them from
re-entering Europe for five years.
The European parliament ignored complaints from the United Nations, the European Human Rights commissioner
and Amnesty International these new punitive measures against aliens were a violation for human rights and
Prospects are just as dim for those who do not want to beg but work.
Venice has just banned all its African street vendors who usually display their ware on the pavement and specialize
in duplicated high quality designer bags which sell at a fourth of the price in the shops and are denounced as fakes
though they often are not.
Most of these street vendors have work permits and have plied their trade for years. Their problem is not their visas
or permits but the fact the booming retail industry of Venice, a city which resembles a mega-museum with shopping
malls, has viewed the Africans as â€˜unfairâ€™ competition that cuts into profits from their highly overpriced shop-
Admittedly Italy has a disproportionate invasion of Balkan and African citizen in search of a livelihood.
Nearly all the Africans are escaping from starving nations. And admittedly some of their activities, like
prostitution and drug trafficking, reflect badly on them unless we remember they are recruited for those
activities by Italians who mastermind and operate these â€˜industriesâ€™. The clients too are Italians.
In reality no Italian city or small business could survive today without their underpaid and often seasonal â€˜blackâ
€™ labor, the street cleaners, the garbage collectors, the domestic maids to take care of the aged and the foreign
hands at assembly lines. The â€˜systemâ€™ wants to keep them while they are useful and kick them out once their
work permit has terminated or their job has become redundant. Fear of being expelled makes these immigrants
more servile, cheaper and more prone to abuse.
Since the election of the rightwing government two months ago Italyâ€™s interior minister, a member of the
xenophobic Northern League, and its defense minister, a member of the neo-fascist party in which he once played a
prominent role as a street thug, have pushed anti-alien legislation.
Ironically leftists in the European Union have vilified these measures for months only to find out this week their own
parliament has adopted the Italian methods (which need to be ratified yet by each country).
The laws â€œ allâ€™ Italianaâ€� have classified visa over-stayers as criminals, demonizes gypsies, Rumanians
and Albanians as career criminals and intend to impose three times more severe jail sentences on non-Italian
robbers and thieves then on Italians.
Hypocrisy is ubiquitous: While new legislation cracks down on immigrants Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, a multi-
billionaire, has passed a law that grants him and anyone else in federal and local government immunity against
prosecution while they are functionaries. Italian magistrates estimate this means about 100,000 court cases will have
to be suspended or shelved, an indication for those not yet aware just how crooked Italian officialdom is.
Berlusconi faces a number of trials for his nebulous business deals. But he has also refused recently to accept
judges who have been investigating his alleged illegal dealings. He claims all of these allegations are â€˜politically
In the meantime his three TV channels leave no news hour without reference to murder and mayhem with the
suspects almost always non-Italians. A terrified public, taking its queue from these reports, sees in every black man
or gypsy a mugger, a murderer or at least a rapist.
Since most of these â€˜guest-workersâ€™ have tiny accommodations or sleep in shifts to save money, they
frequent public parks and public squares in the evening which prompts the outraged cry of citizen: â€œYou canâ
€™t go out at night because they are everywhere.â€�
No surprise therefore gangs of neo-fascists, stimulated by the tone of the government crack-down an
illegal aliens, have torched gypsy camps, kindling a helter-skelter exodus of Rom gypsies some of whom
had been living in Italy for generations. Groups of rightwing thugs have beaten up and even killed non-
The change in attitudes has been radical: The mayor of Venice had obtained the approval of local residents to build
a village for gypsies in nearby Mestre, gypsies who had lived in Italy for generations. But the same local residents,
frightened by the news and spurred on by the xenophobic Northern League, have now staged a permanent protest
on the building site clamoring they will not be neighbors to these dangerous Rom.
To further stoke the fear of the alien scourge the defense minister, who has publicly admitted he admires Mussolini,
has ordered 3,000 troops out on night patrol in major Italian cities, allegedly to support the police, but in reality
empowered to act on their own.
For weeks the Interior Minister used the case of a gypsy woman allegedly caught while attempting to â€˜stealâ€™ a
small Italian child as an excuse on television to promote his anti-alien legislation â€“ until one day someone found
out the mother of the child was a fraud. The kidnap attempt never happened.
Ironically while the new government fueled the crime phobia and fingered â€˜the othersâ€™ as the
villains official Italian statistics showed the crime rate has been declining long before the current
government took over in April.
But crime sells in Prime Minister Berlusconiâ€™s newspapers and on his TV channels. And it makes the frightened
electorate more pliable and more likely to vote for his rightwing coalition whose election campaign had promised an
electorate it had intimidated with drummed-up xenophobia:
â€œWe will protect you.â€�
That recipe worked so well even Berlusconi was amazed by his landslide election victory and the complete rout of
the communists who, until a few years ago, had a third of the Italian voters on their side. This time the communist
party did not have a single candidate elected to parliament.