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Open Letter to MEPs, Italian MPs and Senators

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By EveryOne Group, Italy

Sergio Cofferati, the Mayor of Bologna, and Leonardo Domenici, Mayor of Florence and President of A.N.C.I, have been among the forerunners of the racist and xenophobic policies for which Italy now finds itself at the centre of international criticism. His anti-immigrant laws and persecutory measures against the Roma people earned Cofferati praise from the Lega Nord back in 2005, when the Lega leaders described him as “Better than Guazzaloca” (Guazzaloca was Bologna’s first right-wing mayor).

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During his term of office, Sergio Cofferati has distinguished himself by ordering a tragic series of camp clearances of Roma settlements without the offer of alternative lodgings, social assistance or medical aid for the women, the sick and infants, and with no integration programme or respect for the dignity of the individual. Cofferati’s Bologna has gradually become a hell for the Roma people, confirmed last October by a delegation of experts in racial persecution led by Viktoria Mohacsi MEP. “The Chinaman wants us all dead”, a Roma child said on that occasion, arousing the indignation of some of the experts present. The Roma child was one of the last taking shelter in an abandoned house in Bologna. “The Chinaman” is the nickname given to the Mayor of Bologna.

In 2005 Cofferati distinguished himself for his intolerance towards the Roma people who -surrounded by racial hatred and incapable of finding employment and therefore an income (due to their condition of social exclusion) - were attempting to survive by working as “windscreen cleaners” at the traffic lights. The same year he ordered the destruction of dozens of settlements where Roma families were living in conditions of extreme hardship: “We need to use an iron fist against illegality”, he commented when faced with criticism from Adriana Scaramuzzino, the deputy mayor. “He is a dictator, like Tarquin the Proud”, commented an advisor of the Bologna Social Forum, worried by so much intolerance.

Over the next few years Cofferati became an example for many mayors in central and northern Italy who would never have dared to hope that such intolerant and ruthless policies could come from a left-wing party. “They act without authorization and we have to fight them so that there won’t be any of them left in the future”, he said of the beggars, street artists and windscreen washers. His words brought forth enthusiastic approval from the Lega Nord, Forza Nuova, the neo-Nazis of Stormfront and White Pride and the xenophobic Right in general. In the first weeks of April 2009, Cofferati ordered further camp clearances of the Roma people who had taken refuge in Bologna (at the former military barracks of Prati di Caprara). Once again the operation was carried out without heeding the EU directives, the human rights charters, and the articles of the Italian Constitution that safeguard human dignity and equal treatment before the law. The Roma were offered no alternative lodgings, no social integration programme, and no assistance for the families or the sick.

Leonardo Domenici, on the other hand, is the mayor and ideator (along with the sheriff-councillor Graziano Cioni) of the ordinance of the city council dated 28th August, 2008, which foresaw a prison sentence of up to three months for those caught cleaning windscreens in Florence on the grounds of it being a “social conflict risk”.

“I am banning windscreen washing at the traffic lights following Lenin’s example”, the mayor told Corriere della Sera at the time, while spreading the news that there was a windscreen cleaning racket that threatened the safety of Florentine citizens. A few days later, Ubaldo Nannucci, the Public Prosecutor in Florence, publicly denied the declarations made by the mayor (and A.N.C.I. president) showing there was no crime attached to cleaning car windscreens and that there was no racket involved. Less than a month later, on September 11th, Domenici introduced another ordinance which cancelled out the first, (this time with no mention of the so-called racket) aimed at punishing “bothersome” windscreen cleaners. On both occasions, Domenici made use of article 154 of the Constitution: “Where it states”, said the Mayor of Florence, (again to Corriere della Sera) “that those who hold a public mandate must carry it out with ‘discipline and honour”. Our Constitution was written in 1947, and some of the words have fallen into disuse, but these are fine words: discipline and honour. I like them.”

Leonardo Domenici is also the mayor who authorized the new ordinances for Florence’s Municipal Police, which not only foresee fines of over 160 euros for people found begging on the streets of Florence, they also foresee detention for all beggars “obstructing the passage of pedestrians” or “pestering” people for money. Many Roma, homeless people and street artists have been heavily fined by the Municipal Police in the area surrounding Piazza Duomo and Piazza della Signoria for “begging” and “obstructing public property”. On several occasions (after being refused shelter in the local authority’s emergency shelters) Roma citizens and the homeless have had the blankets they were using to ward off the winter cold snatched from them as they slept out in the open. Between August and February, EveryOne Group and L’Aurora Onlus collected many of the 168-euro fines issued for “Sleeping in a clearly indecent manner while obstructing public property”.

In spite of the human rights associations seeking direct contact with the mayor to discuss the emergency of the homeless and to work together to create assistance programmes, no rescue operation has been undertaken and no reply has come from Leonardo Domenici, who has remained totally indifferent as always, to integration policies and humanitarian aid for the most vulnerable members of our society.

The members of EveryOne Group, based on the policies of intolerance and racial hatred carried out by Sergio Cofferati and Leonardo Domenici during their mandates as mayors of Bologna and Florence, are protesting most strongly and with great indignation against their candidacy at the European elections as representatives of the Democratic Party, which has chosen them as leaders for the North-West and Central Italy.

“There are even men of right-wing parties,” explain the leaders of EveryOne, Roberto Malini, Matteo Pegoraro and Dario Picciau, “starting with the President of the Chamber, Gianfranco Fini, who are making amends for the xenophobic and racist policies carried out by the Italian institutions over the last few years. How can it be that the Left (which should have human rights, tolerance and antiracism at the root of its politics) is instead rewarding its members who have distinguished themselves for their intolerance and persecutory measures against the Roma, immigrants and the homeless? We have to contribute to the civil progress of the European Union and not export the mistakes and horrors that have characterized Italy over the last few years, revealing it to be a country incapable of initiating policies of welcome and integration, and incapable of giving value to human life, whatever a person’s race, ethnic group, religion and culture. This is the reason we are sending this protest letter to the leaders of the Italian Democratic Party and to democratic individuals and groups of the European Union, in the hope that the Italian political class will stop trying to find consensus at the elections by playing on xenophobic sentiments and finally begin to follow the guidelines inspired by the highest civil values. Values contained in the Charter of the Fundamental Rights of the European Union, in the directives of the European Parliament and Council, in the guidelines of the European Commission and the policies which the European Union (with great wisdom and forward-thinking) is perfecting year by year in an attempt to transform Europe into a fair and welcoming place. A place where differences, abuse of power and persecution no longer exist, a place where a sense of security and brotherhood for every citizen pervades, something which can only be guaranteed by adopting a human rights culture.

EveryOne Group, April 16th, 2009

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