Matteo Salvini spells danger for Italy’s Roma, reports Bernard Rorke.

Matteo Salvini’s renewed assault on the Roma in Italy, condemned as shameful in the European Parliament by MEP Romeo Franz, has prompted warnings of legal action from the European Roma Rights Centre (ERRC). The Roma rights body urged local prefects to defy the far-right interior minister’s July 16 order to prepare “a report on the presence of Roma, Sinti and Camminanti settlements” in their areas within the next two weeks as a prelude to mass evictions.

In an open letter to 100 of Italy’s local prefects, ERRC President Dorde Jovanovic warned officials that Salvini’s memorandum is illegal and a flagrant violation of human rights, and that “just carrying out orders” is no justification for violating people’s fundamental human rights. The letter states that ERRC will make criminal complaints and support others to bring civil proceedings against officials that carry out Salvini’s order and that “the context of hate speech in which this order has been made will convince any judge that its true purposes are discriminatory.”

German MEP Romeo Franz, who is himself of Romani origin, condemned this latest move to expel Roma on the basis of their ethnicity as racist and a disgrace to European values: “We all know who did such things in the past”, echoing the criticism of Salvini’s domestic opponents who slammed his earlier call for an ethnic census as reminiscent of race-based laws introduced under Italy’s fascist regime.

Salvini’s decision to move ahead with mass camp clearances and round ups of foreign Roma stands as a stark rebuke to the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) which called on Italy to halt mass evictions of Roma on July 4. In response to a complaint lodged by Amnesty International, the Committee urged Italy to take “immediate measures to eliminate the risk of serious and irreparable harm to people who have been evicted.” 

Salvini first declared his intent to carry out an ethnic census in 2018, and hit the headlines with talk of carrying out “a mass cleansing street by street, piazza by piazza, neighbourhood by neighbourhood”. On television, Salvini declared “Irregular foreigners will be deported via agreements with other countries, but Italian Roma unfortunately, we have to keep them at home.” 

Last January, the Strasbourg-based ECSR made clear its concerns about the climate of racism in Italy, “particularly with regard to racist misleading propaganda against Roma and Sinti indirectly allowed or directly emanating from the authorities”. Salvini has openly encouraged a climate of hatred, and without a doubt his “racist misleading propaganda” has emboldened neo-fascists to take direct action against Roma, migrants and other minorities.

The shocking outbreaks of anti-Roma mob violence in April, coordinated by neo-fascist groups CasaPound, Forza Nuova and Frontal Action, were a direct consequence of Salvini’s racist gaslighting. Violent confrontations and threats to rape, burn and murder a group of Roma which included 33 children and 22 women, forced a municipality in a run-down suburb of Roma to scupper plans to place the Roma in a local reception centre, and allowed CasaPound to claim a victory against “ethnic substitution”.

This latest memorandum to effect ethnic cleansing of Roma camps is a calculated snub to international human rights law, runs counter to the Italian constitution, and will further bolster Il Capitano’s standing with his anti-immigrant base.

The continued silence of the European Union in the face of such aggressive racism is ominous. For Salvini spells danger; at the helm of far-right forces across the Union, his disregard for the rule of law, virulent nativism and scapegoating of Roma and other minorities encourages others, and undermines key democratic values the EU professes to champion.