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Salvini’s ‘Roma register’ marks a dangerous step towards fascism

How the left responds will be crucial to turning the tide against the racists

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ITALIAN Interior Minister Matteo Salvini’s order that all Roma people in the country be registered so that “non-Italians” among them can be expelled looks like fascism.

This is not an unexpected departure from the League leader.
Salvini has repeatedly called for Roma camps to be “razed to the ground.”

Opposition MPs are right to compare his planned register — which he says will follow on from his ministry preparing “a dossier on the Roma question” — to the race laws of Mussolini, but it is unlikely that the comparison will bother Salvini, who has made no secret over the years of his admiration for the founder of fascism, praising the dictator for his “dedication to Italy.”

The minister’s chilling remark that “unfortunately” a census will find some Roma to be Italian citizens, meaning they will be impossible to deport, suggests the register may only be a first step.

It would be criminally irresponsible to underestimate the need to defeat Salvini’s proposal.

Aside from the obvious importance of protecting Italy’s Roma community from humiliation, deportation and violence, Italy’s shift towards the racist right is part of a broader pattern.

Anti-Roma racism is routine in much of Europe — Jeremy Corbyn was warning years before he became Labour leader that abuse of Roma and traveller communities was too widely seen as an “acceptable” form of racism — and if the register goes ahead it is likely to be followed by similar measures in other countries governed by the hard right, including Austria, Poland, Hungary and Ukraine.

While social democratic parties have collapsed across the continent, in many cases leaving the “anti-Establishment” cause to the right, Britain has so far bucked the trend. Labour’s shift left under Corbyn has seen it challenge the status quo and offer the chance of real change to people who see that the system isn’t working, which has both improved its own performance and ensured the far right have remained small by European standards.

But recent mobilisations by the Democratic Football Lads Alliance and the outpouring of support for racist provocateur Stephen Yaxley-Lennon after he was imprisoned for attempting to interfere with court proceedings are a warning that things may not stay this way — as Corbyn recognised with his call at the weekend for a renewed anti-racist struggle.

How we approach that struggle matters.

In Italy, Salvini may be held back by state institutions. His plans are not welcomed by coalition partner Luigi di Maio or Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (though the latter’s lame plea that they go “too far” does not inspire confidence).

This would, however, do little to stem the rising tide of racism.

These policies are not new, and those who believe the liberal centre is a bulwark against the far right should note that former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi also pitched for an ethnic census of Roma — and got the European Commission’s blessing for it back in 2008. Italian courts later stopped the process and compensated some of its victims. France expelled tens of thousands of Roma in 2009-10.

An anti-racist offensive needs to bring people together on the basis of class.

Trade unions have a key role to play in bringing workers together around issues and demands that affect us all, and Labour commitments to stop bosses undercutting wages by bringing in cheap labour and to intervene strategically in the economy to create proper jobs and boost regional development are just as important as challenging racism on the streets.

The anti-racist movement must be socialist.

That does not mean a sectarian refusal to join hands across parties. But racism is not rising in Europe because people are getting stupider or nastier, it is rising because of the growth in poverty and insecurity rooted in economic policies imposed by Westminster, Rome and Brussels.

It will continue to be a threat until those policies are changed — which means unmasking our liberal elites as the handmaidens of the far right, not its enemies.

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