Socialist Worker

Attacks on Roma echo a warning from history

John Sinha reports from Rome in the aftermath of a wave of attacks on Roma Gypsy people across Italy

Issue No. 2116

» Jess Hurd's photographs

The image of a Roma Gypsy camp being burnt to the ground by a mob in Naples, Italy, in May shocked the world. It was just one incident in a rising tide of anti-immigrant and anti-Roma racism that has swept Italy following the re-election of Silvio Berlusconi's right wing government.

The new government has launched an offensive against the Roma and other immigrants. It aims to make all Roma inhabitants – citizens and non-citizens, adults and children – to submit to fingerprinting for a racial database.

Some 900 soldiers have been mobilised against immigrants in Rome, Italy's capital city. Gianni Alemanno, the mayor of Rome, said the number of Roma camps would be reduced in the capital, with the people living there moved into 'solidarity villages'.

The right wing Northern League, which is part of Berlusconi's government, has organised campaigns against Roma camps, sparking vicious attacks on them.

Ettore Fusco, the League's mayor of Opera, said at a council meeting about a Roma shantytown, 'Let's all go and resist. Residents' interests don't include solidarity with travellers.' The shantytown was set on fire later that evening.


The increased persecution of Roma across Italy is the most recent example of the horrific oppression the Roma have faced for generations.

The Roma are a distinct ethnic group. There are thought to be over 12 million Roma spread across many countries throughout the world today. Official numbers are not available as they are often not recorded in official census counts.

The Roma have faced large-scale, state-sponsored persecution. The Nazi Holocaust during the Second World War saw the slaughter of six million Jews. The Nazi's racism also extended to the Roma – up to 1.5 million were killed.

Today, although Roma Gypsies have become more established and integrated, they remain one of the most marginalised and persecuted groups in Europe. They face poverty, ill health, racism, violent attacks and unemployment.

The recent experience in Italy shows that the scapegoating of the Roma for society's problems continues to this day.

'Where we live isn't fit for dogs'

We spoke to a Roma woman who lives at the Via della Martora nomad camp situated on the outskirts of Rome.

'I've lived in Italy for 17 years. I was born in Serbia, but my parents died here and are buried here. All my children were born here. We lost everything when we left Serbia – we have no ties left with that country.

'Where we live isn't even fit for dogs. Look at how we live – we are next to an open sewer. In the winter we have a major fire risk because these shacks are all made of wood. My shack has burned down three times. Once when it burned down we were left with nothing but the clothes we were wearing.

'Our shack is also damp because of the mud from the sewer. We have one toilet to serve over 100 people. We have to wash ourselves from a plastic tub. The council does nothing for us.

'There is mud everywhere. When my daughter goes to school I have to carry a flannel with me to remove the mud from her shoes. I don't want my children to have this life.'

'My children have been taken into care'

Cazim Rustic and his family are homeless and spend their lives near Tiburtina railway station in Rome. They told us about the tragedies that have hit their lives.

'I have lived in Italy since 1969,' said Cazim. 'We have been homeless for the past 12 years. All of my family are living in car parks. My wife had bronchitis. She caught a cold from sleeping outside. We sent her to the hospital. The following day she died.'

Miso, Cazim's son, told us, 'I was born here in Rome – but the authorities put me in detention for 60 days for no reason. They won't give me a passport or an ID card.

'My brother Adja was killed by a drunken Italian motorist six weeks ago. He died because he was sleeping in the streets.'

Adja's widow said, 'My children were taken into care because I was living in the streets. The authorities tell me I can't have my children back until I find a home.'

'The government sends soldiers against us'

Cesim Casic lives at the Via Pontina camp 20 miles outside Rome next to a busy dual carriageway.

'I am 24 years old,' he said. 'I was born here in Rome, but I'm still a foreigner. My children were born here. They too remain foreigners.

'We are in the same position as clandestine immigrants who come from Africa or Albania. I have never been to the land of my parents.

'It seems as if Italy is becoming like the 1940s when Benito Mussolini and the fascists were in charge. For me this is no longer a free country. The government is putting soldiers on the streets against immigrants. Why? We are not at war.'

'My children have to play in dust'

Zubeida Hibeshid is a 62 year old woman who also lives at the Via Pontina camp. 'I came here from Bosnia with my husband 40 years ago,' she said.

'I was living in another camp in Rome until two years ago. It was much better than here. We built our own shacks and had our market stalls.

'Now the council has put us in these metal boxes in the middle of nowhere. They are too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. We do not have adequate running water or electricity. This place is laid out like a concentration camp.

'And if you don't have a car, you are a prisoner here. Look at the dust my children have to play in. It is no good for their health. All my children were born here. But they are not citizens and receive no welfare.'

These interviews and more will appear next issue of Reel News, the anti‑capitalist DVD magazine. Go to »

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