Right-wing extremism resurgent in Europe

On last Tuesday, 13 December, two Senegalese street vendors, Samb Modou and Diop Mor, became the most recent victims of fascism on the streets of Europe. They were shot by a right-wing extremist, Gianluca Casseri, at the local market of Piazza Dalmazia in Florence, targeted simply because of the colour of their skin. Three more of their Senegalese compatriots were gravely wounded in a killing spree which continued in the popular tourist market of San Lorenzo close to the Duomo in the city centre. Casseri proceeded to take his own life when he was surrounded by police in an underground car park.

The immense tragedy of Tuesday cannot be dismissed as simply another case of a pathologically unbalanced individual waging his own private struggle against society. The killer was an active participant in the Casa Pound Italia (CPI) movement in the Florence area, a group which proudly describes itself as a ‘third millennium fascists’.

Until recently, the extreme right in Italy remained relatively weak and divided between a somewhat moderate institutionalist tendency and a number of paramilitary style factions. The paramilitarist wing led a campaign of violence from the 1960s to the early 1980s that wreaked bloody havoc across the country. It notoriously culminated in the massive bombing of Bologna’s train station in 1980 which resulted in eight-five fatalities. In 1994, the Italian Social Movement (MSI), the most significant neo-fascist political party, in an effort to win greater electoral credibility, dissolved itself and the National Alliance (AN) was formed from its ashes. The party, led by Gianfranco Fini, subsequently merged with Berlusconi’s People of Liberty (PDL) in 2009 and served as a crucial component in all of Berlusconi’s governments. However, this move to the centre resulted in a fragmented and highly volatile number of breakaway fascist groupings that rejected this parliamentary turn. In recent times the CPI has emerged the largest of these groups and has proved to be the most capable of harnessing the popular discontent of the right-wing margins of society. It now boasts nineteen social centres nationwide, eight regional councillors, thousands of members and a rapidly expanding student group, Il Blocco Studentesco. Much of its support has been obtained by adopting many of the social policies of the Italian left - such as the right to social housing and work related issues.

One could ask how a group that openly flouts the Italian Constitution (which prohibits any defence of fascism or organisations that espouse fascist principles), could have gained such widespread political consensus. But the Italian political spectrum in recent years has witnessed a massive shift to the right due to the collapse of the formerly powerful mass parties of the left and the concomitant rise of the populist and often xenophobic PDL and the Northern League. Accordingly, public discourse has become ever more tolerant of an openly racist vocabulary which has resulted in mass hostility toward immigrants and other minorities.

In recent weeks a Northern League MEP, Mario Borghezio, who has prior convictions for setting fire to homeless immigrants’ improvised beds under a bridge in Torino, applauded the actions of the Norwegian Anders Behring Brevik, declaring that he shared many of his ideas. The Northern League mayor of Treviso, Giancarlo Gentlini, has suggested that the Italian Navy should attack the boats of asylum seekers with bazookas.

It is little surprise that such discourse has facilitated the consolidation of a culture of impunity for those who seek to vent their racist and fascist hatred on vulnerable immigrant communities. In January 2010, in Rosarno in the south of the country, an attempt to intimidate immigrant fruit pickers took the form of an “immigrant hunt” and the indiscriminate shooting of a number of immigrants. Last week, a Roma camp in Turin was completely destroyed by a right wing mob determined to avenge what was subsequently confirmed as a totally unfounded accusation of rape by a local sixteen year old girl.

In such an environment fascist movements such as the CPI enjoy massive freedom to engage in their practices of intimidation and propaganda. Their formal and personal links with the so-called respectable face of right-wing politicians in the PDL and the Lega Nord have emboldened them to engage in ever more audacious activities. A prominent member of Blocco Studentesco, Alberto Palladino, was recently imprisoned for leading a vicious street assault on some members of the social-democratic opposition party, the Democratic Party (PD). According to La Repubblica, Palladino has already enjoyed a visit in prison from a current national PDL deputy. The Casa Pound headquarters in Rome enjoys not only the personal endorsement of the PDL mayor Giorgio Alemanno - whose teenage son is an elected delegate of the Blocco Studentesco - but it is also financed by municipal funding.

A brief wander around Florence’s streets will immediately show the extent of the local CPI’s activities. The areas surrounding secondary schools are systematically plastered with its posters, a fact which does not seem to cause any major concern for either the local education authorities or the police. Indeed, even when the house of spokesperson for the Florentine Senegalese community, Pape Diaw, was daubed with intimidatory Casa Pound graffiti a number of weeks ago it failed to elicit any police interest in the group’s activities.

Casseri may have been a man with certain social inadequacies but he cannot be simply depicted as a loner acting entirely in isolation. Notwithstanding the Florentine branch of the CPI’s attempts to distance the organisation from him, he was clearly an integrated part of their political community. He regularly contributed articles to their Virtual Laboratory of Ideas the ‘Ideodromo’. Last year he launched a book that he co-authored in one of their centres and he regularly participated in their community initiatives.

The recent Europe-wide tendency to pathologise and individualise right wing violence as simply cases of mentally disturbed individuals is not only mistaken but also inherently dangerous. It neglects the centrality of a burgeoning political scene that calculatedly nourishes sentiments of racial hatred. In recent times this has led to the July massacre in Norway, the neo-Nazi murder campaign across Germany and these most recent racist murders in Florence. Last Saturday the people of Italy turned out en masse in dozens of demonstrations across the country to express their revulsion at the killings and to offer their solidarity to their local immigrant communities. Such public actions are to be lauded and emulated throughout Europe if we are to pre-empt the rise of right wing intolerance in these economically straitened times – times which have historically proven to serve as such fecund breeding grounds for fascism.

Francis O Connor is a member of Collettivo Prezzemolo.

Image top: Corscri Daje Tutti! [Cristiano Corsini].