Over the course of the last two decades, the question of race has come to the forefront of Italian politics. Inspired by waves of immigration from eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Middle East and Africa, it is most frequently associated with the anti-immigrant positions of right-wing Italian political parties, such as the Northern League, one of the main parties in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s current governing coalition. Italy’s leader is of course not exempt from this discourse, having made extremely bold statements such as expressing his opposition to a "multicultural Italy," and working hard to pass legislation and enact international agreements (most recently with Libya) attempting to limit illegal immigration.
The portrait of the country that emerges from this activity is clearly not flattering. Italy is increasingly regarded as paradigmatic of anti-immigrant and racist politics in Europe. As outspoken as rightists in Italy’s government might be, however, this sentiment is not neccessarily generalized. As many Italians find themselves opposed to this kind of politics as are supposed to support it. Even Gianfranco Fini, the ex-leader of the now-defunct, neo-fascist National Alliance, (now a part of Berlusconi’s People of Freedom party), has been increasingly cited as being uncomfortable with the rise in ethnic chauvinism on Italy’s right. Indeed, the picture is complex, made even more so by how commonplace pro-immigration, anti-racist street art is in the country.
The following pictures, of flyers and posters in Milan, give a good example of how decidedly heated, and undetermined, Italy’s debate on race remains. As an Israeli-American Jew whose background is partially Italian (my father’s family originally hails from Venice), I savor the ideological contradictions that these visual artifacts communicate about my ancestral (and literal) home.