The blight of right wing nationalism is hard to escape at the best of times in Italy, a country which despite taking great pride in its historic democratic traditions has never really faced up to the legacy of its twentieth century crimes. In recent weeks, in a climate of growing xenophobia across Europe, and with the added trigger of hotly contested elections that as elsewhere have been dominated by the ascendency of the far-right, the nation’s most reactionary energies have been boiling over, with eugenics-inspired policy proposals, explicitly fascist policy proposals and, now, bloodshed.
On Saturday, the 28-year-old Luca Traini, an ex-Lega Nord [centre right] candidate with links to far-right organizations Forza Nuova and CasaPound, took to the streets, or more precisely the roads, of the provincial town of Macerata in the sleepy Le Marche region. With one hand on the steering wheel of his Alfa 147, the other clasped around a small Glock handgun, he cruised along a ring road at the town’s perimeter in search of targets, “Nigerians”. His initial plan had been to seek out and murder a local druglord, Innocent Oseghale, who is on trial for having allegedly killed and dismembered a local girl Pamela Mastropietro last month. At the last minute, in his own words, he claims to have “changed his mind” in favour of collective, racial, vengeance.
Six people of various African origins – Ghanaian and Malian in addition to Nigerian – were wounded in total, along with a further five probable victims who, for their own reasons, decided not to seek medical assistance. The individuals seem to have been selected at random, picked out by Traini only due to the colour of their skin and then shot from long-range in a series of drive-by attacks. By the time the police mobilized, the driver had arrived at a fascist era war memorial where he was reportedly found with an Italian flag draped over his shoulder, performing a Roman salute. As he stepped into the police vehicle he is reported to have shouted “Viva l’Italia.”
This was not just the act of a madman – though Traini can certainly be labeled so – but a terrorist incident, just as serious as any of the ISIS affiliated strikes in major capitals. In pan-European terms it is the latest in a series of such actions, a kind of culture of hate and frustration that fuelled the Finsbury park mosque attack in Britain by Darren Osborne, the ongoing street battles in Cottbus in Germany and many others. That this is political in its nature is confirmed not only by the fear it has understandably generated among all of Italy’s non-white population, but in the responses of some of the country’s most high-profile officials.
Immediately following the attack, for example, Matteo Salvini of the Lega Nord announced that while violence is “never” a solution the event was, in a seeming contradiction, “the fault” of the government’s apparently liberal immigration policy, which made “social conflict inevitable.” There was no effort to sugarcoat, it was, quite simply, bluntly and crudely, a wink to his far right base, an old fashioned attempt to capitalize on the attacks. Meanwhile Silvio Berlusconi, who until now has been presenting himself with a feigned liberalism, appears to have converted, for now at least, into a full-blown authoritarian. If the right wins on 4 March, or so the story goes, his Forza Italia will demand the deportation of 600,000 people. “Immigration in Italy” he continued in a deliberately inflammatory choice of words, “is a social bomb!”
Neither of these at best irresponsible remarks have a place in a democratic society. And while causality in these so-called ‘lone wolf’ cases is usually complex, these men’s failure to unambiguously condemn these acts, from their positions of influence, intrinsically furthers the racist logic at the core of Traini’s crime. Almost as troubling, though, has been the apparent impotence of Italy’s self-defined progressives. Yes, there has been outrage and condemnation from activists, NGO’s and some politicians, but surely, under the circumstances, this is a bare minimum. Even with an election to fight, there has been almost no evidence of a strategy from the centre-left government (PD), or those further to the left, to offer a coherent programme to limit far right mobilizations, criminalize racism and, most importantly, and not only because of cases like this, translate humanistic values into a progressive policy on refugee accommodation.
With only a few weeks to go until the vote it is unclear whether Traini’s actions will unlock a new wave of grassroots support for Italy’s far right, or, we might hope, halt the progress of groups like the Lega Nord and Fratelli d’Italia among swing voters and so-called moderates. Yet even if the latter proves true, a last minute ‘u-turn’ will nonetheless represent a grim indictment of Italy’s civil society. Because whatever happens next there is no excuse for the lack of solidarity, and unchallenged racism, that has been revealed so nakedly in the aftermath of these politically motivated shootings.