ITALY: demonstration against fascism takes place in Macerata despite political pressure

On 10 February 2018, a demonstration against fascism and xenophobia took place in Macerata, bringing together about 30000 people from across the Country. People gathered in support of the cause also in other Italian cities for a total of 150 demonstrations.

The demonstration was called to denounce the fascist attack undertaken by Luca Train, who opened fire over six people based on their skin colour on 3 February. When he was arrested, he was wearing the Italian flag and making the fascist salute. He was a local candidate for the Northern League and a regular at the fascist group Casapound. Traini explained the attack as revenge after a Nigerian migrant was accused of killing a young woman found dismembered. In a moment of anger, he decided <<to kill them all>>.

What was the need?

Luca Traini’s assault had a fascist and xenophobic nature. Nevertheless, while the condemn to the use of violence was widespread, leaders of the main political parties have avoided calling out the episode as a form of fascist terrorism or xenophobia. With the political election scheduled for 4 March having migration as a core issue, representatives of the right and the left have directly or indirectly linked the attack to social tensions due to migration coming from Africa. Among them, the Minister of Interiors, Marco Minniti, member of the leftist Democratic Party (PD) and author of the Italian deal with Libya. During a rally, he said that <<ten months ago I had foreseen the attacker in Macerata, Traini, when we decided to change the policy of migration>>. Minniti’s new migration policy also includes the code of conduct on NGOs rescuing migrants in the Mediterranean and of the Orlando-Minniti decree criminalising migration.

Luca Traini was operating solo, and all political groups took distance from his raid. However, his violence did not happen in a vacuum. The group Infoantifa Ecn from Bologna has been collecting violence connected to extreme right groups since 2005. While the archive was built over several years and now counts more than 5600 documents, the group decided to launch the map online only in January 2018. According to the group, the reason for this decision is that in the last year the number of violent episodes has increased exponentially, together with the popularity of the groups that have carried them out.

To understand the phenomenon better, we talked to an expert of neo-fascism, European far-right and migration, Pietro Castelli Gattinara. He stressed that in Italy these fascist realities are quite small and their electoral results tend to be modest, especially compared to the phenomenon emerging in other European countries like Greece and Hungary. Nevertheless, due to the economic crisis and the migration phenomenon, xenophobia and anti-system feeling are spreading in the population.

<<Because of this growing xenophobia, extreme right actions including Luca Traini’s attack are gaining resonance beyond the small circle of people affiliated with the extreme right>>.

He explained to us that neo-fascism is gaining increasing visibility on the media also thanks to the confrontational approach adopted by Forza Nuova and Casapound in most recent years. The phenomenon remains complex and difficult to capture as these groups do not always claim the violence they carry out. But their visibility is bringing back fascist symbols and expressions.

Political parties were hesitant to call out xenophobia due to the upcoming election.

<<The campaign saw the parties of the centre-right coalition competing with these smaller extreme right parties on the migratory issue. As a result, the electoral narrative shifted toward the right for all parties, including those on the left>> said Castelli.

The attack and the weak political reaction contributed to placing migration at the core of the election, thus further increasing the extreme right groups’ visibility. In this context, he believes that a demonstration against fascist violence was necessary to spur a debate on the growing xenophobia.

What was the political climate surrounding the demonstration?

The march was felt necessary by many to heal the growing tension against migrants that is spreading within the Italian population. However, the Minister Minniti and the Mayor of Macerata Romano Carancini asked associations to stop the demonstration as a form of respect for the pain of the city. Following these statements, the police decided not to authorise it. NGOs, associations and activists have denounced the decision and the words of the two leaders as a breach of the right to peaceful assembly enshrined in the Italian Constitution.

Indeed, Article 17 states that

<<Citizens have the right to assemble peaceably and unarmed. […] In case of meetings held in public places, previous notice shall be given to the authorities, who may prohibit them only for proven reasons of security or public safety>>.

In the absence of clear threats to security, the Constitution does not foresee an official authorisation for people to exercise their right to demonstrate peacefully. According to the groups taking part in the demonstration, the reasons to call off the march were not concerning security, but politics. Public officials hold the responsibility to guarantee the safety of peaceful demonstrators, not to criminalise them.

The words of the two leaders, the decision of the police, and the mainstream narrative in the media contributed to the stigmatisation on the march in the eyes of the public opinion. According to Caterina Rodelli, activist and master student of migration and cultural mediation studies, the political rhetoric had de facto put on the same level the fascist demonstration of 9 February and the anti-fascist demonstration of 10 February.

<<In the previous days, the recurrent theme of public security connected to this peaceful demonstration created the perception in the public opinion that the march was going to be extremist and violent. I could see the fear of Macerata’s citizens looking the demonstrators from their closed windows. The narrative on the media had been completely different from the reality I saw at the march. It was peaceful and diverse, both in terms of social groups and ages. Children joined as well. This was a much needed peaceful, grassroots re-appropriation of the fight against fascism.>> she said.

What was the outcome?

The march was finally approved by the police headquarter on 9 February after a meeting with the organisers. The city centre was completely inaccessible to the demonstrators, protected by a great number of police officers armed with riot gear. For the Mayor’s order, the school were closed, and the public transport was stopped. Most shops were also closed and barred. Some used pieces of iron and wood to protect their shops. Caterina shared that Macerata looked like a phantom city and the people’s fear was palpable.

The demonstration was peaceful with messages calling for solidarity. The participants were taking distance from and condemning the narrative of the Northern League party and the policies of Minister Minniti. The demonstration was described as a grassroot response to the rampant xenophobia and the institutional silence in front of fascist terrorism. According to a local newspaper, the owners of local shops expressed surprise for how educated the participants were compared to expectations. Some said to regret closing their stores as the fear revealed unmotivated.

Despite the positive outcome of the march, with more than 30000 joining against fascism and xenophobia, the mainstream storytelling about the demonstration was heavily focused on a small group of protesters of Action Antifaschistische invoking a dark chapter of Italian history known as the Foibe Massacre. According to the participants, this was a missed opportunity for the press to narrate a crucial moment for Italy’s relationship with its fascist past.

To learn more about the demonstration: