Sunday, 29 May 2011

Social diversity the focus of Italian local election

Wearing an elegant silk jacket, carrying a white Dolce & Gabbana handbag and sporting her customary silver eye shadow, the beleaguered mayor of Milan, Letizia Moratti, cut an incongruous figure as she scrunched across the gravel at an old Gypsy campsite in Milan last week.The 1,500 Gypsies who once lived here have long gone, which is why Moratti had brought the TV crews with her. "When I first came here, I saw an undignified way of life. Now there are zero Gypsies," she said, before listing the other Gypsy settlements around Milan that she plans to shut down if re-elected this weekend.Moratti's tough talk matched her mayoral campaign, which has been the most vicious and xenophobic in living memory.

This is the way the Guardian's Tom Kington introduces the key issues that have dominated Milan's local election in his article on 28 May. Letizia Moratti has built a strong following partly on her reputation as an ardent critic of multiculturalism. The local Roma have been her favourite target over the past few years, but attacks on Muslims and the danger they pose to social cohesion and the Italianness of Milan have also contributed to her image as uncompromising on such issues. 

Prime minister Silvio Berlusconi has echoed this emphasis in his own website where he appeals against Moratti's opponent Giuliano Pisapia by drawing upon and cultivating fears related to the perceived destruction of the city's local fabric. "If Pisapia wins" he argues, "Milan will become a Muslim town, a Gypsyville of Roma camps, a city besieged by foreigners", while Massimo Corsaro, a Freedom People MP has been arguing along similar lines that "if Pisapia wins, there will be a boom in rapes and prostitutes on the streets," said.

The battle for Milan has been fought on the doorsteps of voters, in local markets and other public spaces of the city but also in the country's television networks, the press and cyberspace. The Berlusconi family owned Il Giornale has helped spread rumours and fear while regional and national television channels have hosted an array of right wing MPs and the prime minister himself trying to redefine the electoral confrontation along the local v foreigner dilemma. One thing is sure; the result of this electoral contest will leave its imprint on Milan and Italy as a whole and will inform debates on diversity in Italy for time to come.