Sulla pelle dei rom, dei rifugiati, degli sfollati

di Nando Sigona (su

[For a brief on ‘Middle-Earth’ (Tolkien’s citation comes directly from the criminal network leader) in English: The Guardian; BBC, unfortunately they only focus on the involvement of Rome’s former mayor Gianni Alemanno and don’t explore the network targetting in particular of contracts for public services for the most marginalised groups in society.] 

L’inchiesta ‘Mondo di Mezzo’ fa tremare il sistema politico-economico romano. Presunti corrotti, corruttori, picchiatori, conniventi, collusi e faccendieri (nani, prostitute e ballerine verrano fuori fra poco) mostrano che non ci sono più divisioni ideologiche che tengano: ‘gli affari sono affari’, dice uno degli inquisiti. Il tariffario che emerge dalle intercettazioni ambientali mostra che la cifra giusta può comprare chiunque: tanto pagano i rom, i rifugiati e i senza casa.


 Noi quest’anno abbiamo chiuso… con quaranta milioni di fatturato ma tutti i soldi… gli utili li abbiamo fatti sui zingari, sull’emergenza alloggiativa e sugli immigrati, tutti gli altri settori finiscono a zero (Salvatore Buzzi, presidente della cooperativa ’29 giugno’, Roma)

Nel 2013 ‘Segregare Costa’, l’indagine di OsservAzione (con Lunaria ed altri) sui costi dei campi nomadi nelle principali città italiane aveva messo in evidenza per la prima volta in Italia l’enorme business che circonda la costruzione e mantenimento di questi spazi di esclusione sociale, ma anche la coltre di riservatezza che avvolge bilanci e spese legati ai campi. A simili conclusioni era arrivato anche ‘Campi nomadi spa’, lo studio su Roma dell’Associazione 21 Luglio apparso l’anno successivo. Alla luce dei dati empirici che emergono da queste importanti ricerche, molti si sono chiesti come mai gli enti locali coinvolti non prendessero in considerazione altre soluzioni, più sostenibili economicamente e meno ghettizzanti per i rom. Spesso abbiamo fatto ricorso al razzismo e ai pregiudizi per spiegare l’irrazionalità di un certo tipo di politiche abitative, altre volte abbiamo posto in evidenza come l’indotto dei campi nomadi (cooperative, associazioni e altri soggetti del non-profit) produce un bacino di consenso politico che ha la precedenza rispetto all’interesse dei rom che vi ci abitano.

L’ inchiesta ‘Mondo di Mezzo’ di Roma apre un ulteriore scenario, per molti versi ancora più inquitante. Quelli che siamo soliti considerare casi marginali e di marginalità estrema (rom, richiedenti asilo, sfrattati, senza fissa dimora) diventano il centro di un sistema politico ed economico corrotto. Con un paradossale ribaltamento delle parti, l’inchiesta ha portato alla luce l’economia illegale che circonda i campi, un’ economia di cui i rom sono le vittime e quelli che fanno campagna elettorale invocando la legalità contro i presunti rom criminali, sono i carnefici.


My (Roma) neighbours and me, the President

by Nando Sigona

Enrico Rossi, president of Tuscany, and his neighbours, 2014

Enrico Rossi, president of Tuscany, and his neighbours, 2014

In the last weeks, Italy has witnessed a spiralling resurgence of xenophobia, with migrants being violently attacked by gangs of far right activists and marches against immigrants organised in highly diverse, and often deprived, neighbourhoods by alleged ‘ordinary’ citizens. The long list of episodes which are contributing to create a toxic climate and a widespread sentiment of moral panic, includes a visit by the media-savvy new leader of the Northern League, Matteo Salvini, to a Roma encampment just before the regional election in Emilia Romagna that provoked a violent response from anti-fascist and anti-racist activists and hours of media coverage for Salvini; and a 500 people-strong sit-in organised by the right wing student organisation Blocco Studentesco in front of a Roma camp in via Cesare Lombroso in Rome to protest against the alleged misbehaving of some Roma against a local school. Demonstrators were accused of intimidating young Roma students who were on their way to school.

What the Roma rights NGO OsservAzione has termed the ‘Salvini method’- the deliberate targeting of highly stigmatised and voiceless communities to grab media attention and feeds the induced moral panic with banal but highly effective sound bites – is spreading rapidly across Italy. Hardly a year from the Lampedusa tragedy, the solidarity that had sustained the response of the Italian authority through Mare Nostrum operation is vanished, and new migrants and Roma are made scapegoats for a society undergoing a prolonged period of economic stagnation and waking up from the promises of rapid transformation of the PM Matteo Renzi. While at the national level, the anti-immigration flag is carried by the Northern League engaged in a radical rebranding that would transform it from a regional and secessionist party into the Italian version of Le Pen’s Front National, at the local level, in cities like Rome an odd coalition of right wing extremists, centre-right politicians and members of the mayor’s own party (PD) is using immigration and the Roma in particular to fuel public anxiety in the attempt to force the current mayor Ignazio Marino to resign.

In such a climate, it is therefore remarkable and noteworthy a photo posted on his facebook page by the president of Tuscany regional authority, Enrico Rossi. The photo portraits President Rossi with his neighbours, a family of Romanian Roma. The caption includes the name of each member of the family and nothing else. This was enough to provoke over 5,000 comments, mostly negative, if not violent and openly racist, as well as 4000 likes. The accusations against the president reflect closely the repertoire of stereotypes on Roma people, and while they vary they can broadly be summed up as ‘we are the good citizens (ie. tax payers, law abiding, white, native, hard workers) and instead you choose to side with them (ie. foreigners, benefit scroungers, non-white, thieves, parasites, criminals)’. And it doesn’t matter if the Roma family includes children attending school regularly, adults that work and pay tax and have no criminal record. The point is that the people in the photo are not accepted as neighbours; they are dehumanised and deprived of their individual stories. It is admirable that the president hold his position despite the storm generated by the photo – ‘a social media disaster’ according to one of his party mate – and has also responded to many of the comments to his post individually. Whether or not this decision is going to affect the political career and the electoral fortune of Mr Rossi in the medium-long term is too early to say, but it is likely that we will see the photo reappear on billboards before the next election.

Lampedusa and ethics

[Caveat: A few unrefined thoughts likely to change over the next few hours]

BBC Radio 4's Moral Maze

BBC Radio 4’s Moral Maze

Tonight I am an ‘expert witness’ on the BBC Radio 4’s programme Moral Maze, the topic is immigration and I have been invited to reflect on the moral issues raised by the tragic incident off the coast of Lampedusa. As a constructivist sociologist, questions around ethics (especially my own) are not often at the forefront of the work I do. They are of course in the background, inspiring the kind of questions I ask, the people I choose to interview, the methods I use. I tend to look at normative framings (including human rights) as a subject of investigation rather than as a given. My recent review essay on globalization, rights and the non-citizen is an example of the work I am doing in this direction. But now, I am facing with a philosophical question on morality (which given my anthropological background sounds at times Euro-centric and paternalist) and in thinking on it I can’t avoid to go back to history instead, to colonial and post-colonial legacies, to how the world is inextricably interconnected. The paradox of a human rights framework which governments like the UK are happy to use only when it doesn’t affect them comes inevitably to mind, so at the end I’m back to an immanent critique of the state and the EU who commit on paper to principles they then only uphold selectively.

Lampedusa: Italy pays lip service but ignores real cause of refugee tragedy

photo credit: Corscri Daje Tutti! [Cristiano Corsini] via photopin cc

photo credit: Cristiano Corsini via photopin cc

Extract from the article I wrote for The Conversation, 4 October 2013.

Apart from superficial, if not cynical, displays of bewilderment and Christian solidarity by Italian government officials – an obligation for a coalition led by a Christian Democrat particularly at a time when the Church has taken a stronger position in favour of migrants – it doesn’t seem to be a genuine intention to address the causes of the latest tragedy. The call for a more substantial involvement of the EU risks becoming  justification for a further militarisation of the Mediterranean Sea in order to keep aspiring migrants away from EU shores, dead or alive.

Following the publication of the article I have been interviewed by: BBC Radio Scotland, Lithuania National Radio, Bulgaria National Radio, Greek newspaper ‘To Vima’, Turkish News Agency ‘Anadolu’. The article has been translated in Italian by Corriere Immigrazione and in Turkish by Translate for Justice. The piece was also cited in The Express Tribune.

Anti-Gypsyism and the politics of exclusion in Italy

The special issue of the Journal of Modern Italian Studies on contemporary anti-Gypsyism in Italy I have co-edited with Dr Isabella Clough Marinaro is now out! The collection includes work by Sabrina Tosi Cambini, Marco Solimene, Giovanni Picker, Ulderico Daniele, Isabella Clough Marinaro and myself. My article provides an overview of the current situation of Roma and Sinti in Italy, exploring in particular the ways in which recent political debate and policy initiatives have produced the securitization of the Roma issue and argues that the resignification, in the hegemonic discourse, of camps from ethnic enclaves for ‘nomads’ to Guantanamo-like enclosures for latent criminals is exemplary of this process.

View the introduction in pdf

View the table of contents