Who killed Idy Diene?

Thomas Jones

The Italian general election has resulted in a hung parliament. There is already talk of a Third Republic, as the 'mainstream' parties have been swept aside by a populist wave, though it's worth remembering that the Partito Democratico was only formed in 2007, out of the remnants of the remnants of the parties that dominated Italian politics during the First Republic (from 1946 until 1994); that the current incarnation of Silvio Berlusconi's Forza Italia dates from as recently as 2013; and that the Second Republic (1994-2018) was dominated by Berlusconi and his meretricious brand of soi-disant anti-establishment but ultimately self-serving politics. It's hard to mourn the passing of that era; or would be, if it were possible to believe that it had really passed.

The avowedly anti-establishment Movimento 5 Stelle, formed in 2009, is now the largest single party in parliament, with 32 per cent of the popular vote and 35 per cent of the seats in both houses. Berlusconi's right-wing coalition got 37 per cent of the vote and has 40 per cent of the seats, though Forza Italia (14 per cent) was overtaken by Matteo Salvini's nationalist Lega (17 per cent) as the largest party in the alliance. (Thanks to a confusing quirk of the labyrinthine electoral system, Salvini himself will be 'representing' Calabria in the Senate; his party got less than 6 per cent of the vote in the region.) The PD and its coalition partners did even worse than expected, with 23 per cent of the vote and 19 per cent of seats.

Both Salvini and di Maio claim to have won the right to lead a government, but neither of them commands a parliamentary majority, and the differences between the parties are such that it seems unlikely, to say the least, that anyone will be able to form a governing coalition that works both numerically and politically. Matteo Renzi has said he will stand down as leader of the PD as soon as there is a government; his opponents say he has to go a lot earlier than that. The party is collapsing in a hail of mutual recrimination. Renzi shot to power promising to take the corrupt old politics to the scrap yard; Beppe Grillo joked on Monday that the M5S had put Renzi on the compost heap.

On Monday evening I picked my daughter up from basketball practice. She plays with children whose parents or grandparents were born in India, the Middle East, Eastern Europe (both within and beyond the borders of the EU) and the UK, as well as plenty of Italians. On the way home we passed the campaign billboards going soggy in the spring rain. 'STOP INVASIONE' the Lega poster screamed. The idea that Italy is being 'invaded' by immigrants ought to be laughable. But Salvini's is now the largest right-wing party in the country, and he is a contender for premier. The secret to his success was to convince enough Italians that immigration matters more than anything else. Eurobarometer polls show that before the 2013 election, only 4 per cent of Italians considered immigration one of the two most important issues; this year the figure soared to 33 per cent, second only to unemployment (a top concern for 42 per cent of people, which is one of the reasons the M5S did so well).

The PD, in government, cracked down on immigration. With EU backing, it last year negotiated a deal with Libyan forces, supplying them with funds and equipment to keep people from crossing the Mediterranean, knowing full well what detention in Libya would mean for them. The number of people arriving from Africa on Italy's shores dropped dramatically, from more than 180,000 in 2016 to fewer than 120,000 in 2017, and under 6000 so far this year. The PD's electoral dividend from this moral capitulation was nil (at best). People obsessed with immigration didn't vote for the PD; they voted for the Lega. Facts count for very little. Salvini insists on a connection between immigration and crime, even though statistics show that both overall crime, and crime committed by foreigners, have gone down over the last ten years, at the same time that the number of asylum permits issued has gone up.

The left has nothing to gain from 'taking immigration seriously': as soon as you put immigration at the top of your list of problems to be dealt with, you've accepted the far-right's terms of debate, which means they've already won. However 'tough' the left may try to get, the right can always get tougher. Promising 'controls on immigration' (as if they didn't already exist) did nothing to help the British Labour Party in 2015; Jeremy Corbyn said before the election last year that he didn't think immigration to the UK was too high, and that there were more important things to talk about. It didn't hurt.

On Sunday night, someone tried to set fire to a mosque in Padova. A 57-year-old local man has been arrested. At midday on Monday, Roberto Pirrone, a 65-year-old Florentine, left his house carrying a pistol. His intention, he later said, was to kill himself. But he didn't have the courage for that, so instead shot dead the first black person he saw. Idy Diene, a 54-year-old man from Senegal, died where he fell on the Ponte Vespucci (that's three bridges downriver from the Ponte Vecchio, named for Amerigo Vespucci, the migrant from Florence who gave his name to the Americas; the US consulate is nearby). Pirrone was arrested. The Senegalese community in Florence took to the streets. 'Salvini has sold his hate throughout the country,' one of the protesters said, 'and this is the result.'


  • 10 March 2018 at 1:15am
    generation_online says:
    Going for the anti-immigration vote is a common strategy in Europe, only differing in the extent of hyperbole. Yet, the lega nord deserves the credit of having made so many people truly obsessed. It would be a shame to take the credit away from them, a bit like taking the victory of Brexit away from UKIP.