By chance this week, this monkeys saw an episode of the truly terrible Francesco’s Italy (worth watching, if you turn the sound down), where host Count Francesco Da Mosta pulled his alfa-romeo spider into Verona. In keeping with the rest of the series, Da Mosta gave us a keen insight into the city’s history and identity – “Verona ees the city of laav”, he intoned dramatically against a backdrop of Romeo & Juliet.
A very different Verona, though, came to light in the Italian press during the week as news broke that Nicola Tommasoli, a 29 year old, had died in intensive care, a couple of days after being savagely beaten on the streets of the city by five neo-nazis after refusing to give them a cigarette.
It’s difficult to suggest that there were political motives for the murder – more likely, it seems, it was simply a case of clear-cut thuggery, a group of young men, with a history of violence behind them, acting like pack animals.
And yet the case raises serious political questions – questions that are decidedly uncomfortable for the ‘law and order’ party the Lega Nord, who increased their vote dramatically during the recent elections partly thanks to their promise get tough on crime.
Verona, you see, apart from being the city of Romeo and Juliet, open-air Opera, and a thriving tourist trade, is also one of the strongholds of the Lega. Current mayor, Flavio Tosi, who won the 2007 Mayoral election with over 60% of the vote, ran a campaign focussed almost entirely on ‘security’ issues, declaring “in this city there will be no space for those that don’t want to integrate and for those who don’t respect our laws”.
The five youths who beat Tommasoli to death, it seems, had been given plenty of space to roam the city streets. Two of the five, Federico Perini e Nicolò Veneri, had already been involved in violent incidents and under anti-hooligan legislation were both obliged to present themselves at the local police station whenever local team Hellas Verona played. Raffaele Dalle Donne, another of those involved, was under investigation for violation of the Mancino law against incitement to racial hatred (he had, amongst other things, complained when a lecture was arranged at his school on the Holocaust).
Then again, accusations of racial hatred put Dalle Donne in good company, given that Verona’s law and order Mayor Tosi himself has also, in the past, been charged with violating the Mancino law (he was cleared, although his election campaign was described as openly racist).
And as journalists delved further into the story, stories of regular beatings on the streets of Verona started coming to light – attacks on immigrants, gays, and anyone deemed ‘different’. The question, reasonably, then, is what role has the ultra-right political leadership had in the growth of these attacks? At best Tosi’s administration seems to have been ineffectual at stopping them, at worst there are legitimate fears that some in the administration see violence against gays, immigrants, and left-wing students as legitimate.
Tosi has, according to analysts, been spearheading a political experiment that, thus far, has reaped massive benefits, uniting a conservative ultra-catholic vote alongside the more extreme elements of the right, including neo-fascists and neo-nazis. The mayor participated in December of last year in an event organised by the Veneto Fronte Skinhead (a ‘cultural’ association that has promoted concerts by various neo nazi bands including No Remorse, authors of the charming song ‘Final Solution’). Later, after the event, three members of Italy’s air corp were threatened and attacked outside a bar in the centre of Verona, for being ‘terrone’ or southerners – their attackers were identified as participants in the earlier event.
In the wake, last year, of the rape and murder of a middle aged woman on the outskirts of Rome by a Romanian vagabond, emergency legislation was introduced by Romano Prodi’s government to allow for mass expulsions of Romanians.
In the wake of the brutal murder of Tommasoli in Verona no emergency legislation seems necessary. Life will go on as normal, it seems, for the racist thugs who roam the streets of Verona.
City of love me arse.