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Racism in Italy

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Racism in Italy

Front page of the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera on 11 November 1938: the fascist regime has approved the racial laws, enacting persecution of the Italian Jews. The title reads: The laws for the defense of race approved by the Council of Ministers.

Racism in Italy has been present throughout the country's history. In particular, under Benito Mussolini's fascist state and its pact with Adolf Hitler, the country adopted anti-Semitic principles. More recently, the World Values Survey, based on data from 2005–2007, found Italy to be among the least racially tolerant countries in Western Europe (though still one of the more tolerant countries globally), with 11.1% of respondents saying they would not like to live next to someone of a different race.[1][2]


  • Middle Ages 1
  • 19th and early 20th centuries 2
    • Lombroso and scientific racism in Italy 2.1
    • Other scholars of scientific racism 2.2
  • Fascist Italy 3
    • Anti-Semitism before 1938 3.1
    • Racial laws 3.2
    • Julius Evola 3.3
    • Second World War 3.4
  • 21st century 4
  • References 5
  • External links 6

Middle Ages

In Medieval Italy, slavery was widespread, but was justified more often on religious rather than racial grounds.[3] Almost all slaves in Genoa belonged to non-European races; the situation was different in Venice and Palermo, where emancipated slaves were considered free citizens in the 13th century.[3]

19th and early 20th centuries

Lombroso and scientific racism in Italy

Scientific racism was popularized in Italy by criminologist Cesare Lombroso. Lombroso's theory of atavism compared white civilization and other races with "primitive" or "savage" societies.[4] His theories connecting physiognomy to criminal behavior explicitly blamed higher homicide rates in southern Italy on the influence of African and Asian blood on its population.[3] In 1871 Lombroso published The White Man and the Man of Color, aimed at showing that the white man was superior in every respect to other races.[5] Lombroso explicitly stated his belief in white supremacy: "only we whites have achieved the most perfect symmetry in the forms of the body [...] possess a true musical art [...] have proclaimed the freedom of the state [...] have procured the liberty of thought".[3] Lombroso equated the criminal tendencies of the white population to residual "blackness".[5][6] The ideas of Lombroso about race would spread around Europe at the end of the 19th century.[6]

Other scholars of scientific racism

Other Italian anthropologists and sociologists also explored Lombroso's path of scientific racism. Alfredo Niceforo followed Lombroso's physiognomical approach, but in 1906 published a curious racial theory where both blond pigmentation of hair and dark skin were considered signs of degeneration, with the Italian race in a positive middle ground.[3] Niceforo held these views as late as 1952, claiming that "Negroid and Mongoloid types were more frequent in the lower classes".[3] In 1907 anthropologist Ridolfo Livi attempted to show that Mongolian facial features correlated with poorer populations. However, he maintained that the superiority of the Italian race was proven by its capability to positively assimilate other ethnic components.[3]

Fascist Italy

Anti-Semitism before 1938

It is still debated whether Italian Fascism was originally anti-Semitic. Some Fascists held racist views before the alliance with Nazi Germany, Giovanni Preziosi offering a prime example.[7][8] Preziosi published the first Italian edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, in 1921.[9] The book however had little impact until the mid-1930s.[9]

It has also been indicated Benito Mussolini had his own, if somewhat different from Nazi, brand of racist views.[10][11] Mussolini was quoted as saying: "the white man has to subdue the black, brown and yellow races."[12]

Mussolini had held the view that a small contingent of Italian Jews had lived in Italy "since the days of the Kings of Rome" (a reference to the Bené Roma) and should "remain undisturbed".[13] There were even some Jews in the National Fascist Party, such as Ettore Ovazza who founded the Jewish Fascist paper La Nostra Bandiera in 1935.[14] Mussolini once declared "Anti-Semitism does not exist in Italy... Italians of Jewish birth have shown themselves good citizens and they fought bravely in [World War I]."[15]

Despite the presence of a Fascist regime, Italy in the first half of the 1930s was seen as a safe haven by some Jewish refugees. The country hosting up to 11,000 persecuted Jews, including 2,806 of German descent.[16] However, as early as 1934 there had been removals of Jewish personnel from institutions and state organizations.[16] 1934 also saw press campaigns against anti-fascist Jews, equating them with Zionists.[17] Between 1936 and 1938, Fascist regime-endorsed anti-Semitic propaganda was mounting in the press and even in graffiti. Equally, scholars of eugenetics, statistics, anthropology and demographics began to outline racist theories.[16]

Racial laws

In 1937, the Second Italo-Ethiopian War led to the first Fascist Laws promoting explicit racial discrimination. These were the laws against madamato – that is, the concubinage between Italians and African women in occupied territories.[9][18] The penalty for madamato was from one to five years of prison.[18] Remarkably, one of the justifications of the laws was that such relationships were abusive towards the women. In the occupied Eritrea women in fact took marriage by the traditional custom of dämòz, which was not legally recognized by the Italian state, thus relieving the husband from any legal obligation toward the woman.[19] However, at the same time, a campaign against the putative dangers of miscegenation started in Italy.[9] The Church endorsed the laws, stating that the "hybrid unions" had to be forbidden because of "the wise, hygienic and socially moral reasons intended by the State": the "inconvenience of a marriage between a White and a Negro", plus the "increasing moral deficiencies in the character of the children".[18]

In the late 1930s Benito Mussolini became a major ally of Nazi Germany, culminating in the Pact of Steel. The influence of Nazi ideology on Italian Fascism appeared in a 16 February 1938 press release by Mussolini in which some restrictions on Jewish people were suggested.[16] An anti-Semitic press campaign intensified, with Jews blamed for high food prices and unemployment.[17] The Fascist regime assumed an overt racist position with the Manifesto of Race, originally published as Il fascismo e i problemi della razza ("Fascism and the problems of race"), on 14 July 1938 in Il Giornale d'Italia. The Manifesto was then reprinted in August in the first issue of the scientific racist magazine La Difesa della Razza ("The Defense of Race"), endorsed by Mussolini and at the direction of Telesio Interlandi.[20] On 5 August 1938 Mussolini issued another press release, this time acknowledging that restrictions on Jews were going to be enacted. The release noted that "segregating does not mean persecuting", but persecution had in fact begun.[16]

The anti-Semitic metamorphosis of Fascism culminated in the racial laws of 18 September 1938. Although they did not directly threaten Jewish lives, the laws excluded Jews from public education, the military and government, and made it practically impossible for them to pursue most economic activities. Jews could not hire non-Jews. The marriage of Jews to non-Jews were also prohibited.[17]

Fascist racism also impacted French, German, and Slavic minorities, most notably in the attempts to fully Italianize the Balkans' territories that were annexed after World War I.[21]

Julius Evola

Julius Evola was an intellectual of war and post-war period. It is believed that Evola was the main Italian theoretician of racism during the 20th century.[22] Evola published two systematic works on racism, including The Blood Myth (1937) and Synthesis of the Doctrine of the Race (1941). Furthermore, Evola discussed the subject in a substantial number of articles in several Italian journals and magazines.[23] Evola also introduced the 1937 edition of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published by Giovanni Preziosi. Evola wrote:

While The Blood Myth aimed at being an impartial review of the history and latest developments of racism theories in Europe, Synthesis of the Doctrine of the Race introduced the concept of spiritual racism.[23] This concept met with the approval of Benito Mussolini. Mussolini was looking for a theoretical justification of racism different from that of biological racism, which was mainstream in Nazi Germany.[23] Evola's brought together several underlying themes of her thought. Among those themes were anti-Darwinism, anti-materialism and anti-reductionism. Anti-Darwinism is the concept of history as regressive, positioning the apex of civilization at the beginning of history.[23] For Evola, race existed on three levels: body race, soul race and spiritual race. The concept was pinned to a transcendent foundation. Evola wrote: "[r]ace and caste exist in the spirit before manifesting themselves in the earthly existence. The difference comes from the top, what refers to it on earth is only a reflection, a symbol."[23] Evola explicitly criticized the Nazi racist view, deeming them "trivial darwinism" or "divinified biologism".[25] For Evola, the Jewish race was not meant to be discriminated for mere biological reasons. In fact, Jewishness was essentially instead a "race of the soul, an unmistakable and hereditary style of action and attitude to life."[23] Evola's spiritual racism was more powerful than biological racism, because it also recognized Jewishness as a spiritual and cultural component which tainted what Evola recognized as the Aryan race.[23] Despite this peculiar theoretical elaboration, Evola's overall description of Jewishness was not particularly different from the common racist stereotypeoff this period.[23]

Second World War

During the Second World War, Italians engaged in ethnic cleansing. In the summer and autumn of 1942, as many as 65,000 Italian soldiers destroyed several areas of occupied Slovenia. Many areas were left almost depopulated after the killing and arrest of the residents. Between 1941 and the Grand Council's deposing of Benito Mussolini on 25 July 1943, 25,000 Slovenians (roughly 8% of the population in the Ljubljana area) were put in Italian detention camps.[21]

In order to close Italian borders to all refugees and to expel illegal Jewish immigrants, Italian authorities complied with German requests to deport Jews in the occupied Balkans and French territories.[21]

A pivotal event of the Jewish persecution in Italy during the war was the so-called razzia, or roundup of October 1943, in Rome. On the morning of 16 October 1943, German troops arrested as many as 1259 Jews for deportation to concentration camps.[26] Notably, while Pope Pius XII did not object to the relocation, members of the lower clergy assisted thousands of Jews in escaping deportation.[26]

21st century

An Italian bus with advertising by the president of Calcio Monza soccer team, Anthony Armstrong Emery, against racism in soccer (2013).

There has been a concern that racism and xenophobia in Italy has increased in the 21st century. In particular, actions by the Lega Nord have been criticized as xenophobic or racist by several sources.[27][28][29][30][31] Italians protested the murder of Burkina Faso native, Abdul Salam Guibre, along with racism in Italy on 20 September 2008.[32] L'Osservatore Romano, the semi-official newspaper for the Holy See, indicated that racism played an important role in the riot in Rosarno.[33] According to a Eurobarometer study, Italians had the third lowest level of "comfort with person of Gypsy origin as neighbour", after Austrians and Czechs.[34][35]

Contemporary Italian football fans, of lower-league and top-flight teams, have been noted by foreign media for racist behaviour.[36]

Following the 2013 nomination of Cécile Kyenge, a Congolese-born Italian immigrant, as Minister of Integration in the government of Enrico Letta, she became subject to several racial slurs by local and national politicians.[37][38] One of these slurs was made by Roberto Calderoli, a prominent figure of the anti-immigration and populist party Lega Nord. Calderoli claimed that whenever he saw Minister Kyenge, an orangutan came to his mind.[39] During a speech by Kyenge at a meeting of the Democratic Party a few days after Calderoli's slur, some members of the far-right and neo-fascist New Force threw a clump of bananas at the minister.[40][41]

Another example is the packages containing a pig's head that were sent to Rome's Synagogue, the Israeli embassy and a museum showing an exhibition on the Holocaust in January 2014.[42][43]


  1. ^ "Racism in Italy: Educating Cécile". The Economist. 31 August 2013. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  2. ^ Gye, Hugo (16 May 2013). "Map shows world's 'most racist' countries". Daily Mail. Retrieved 24 November 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g Steven Epstein (1 January 2001). Speaking of Slavery: Color, Ethnicity, and Human Bondage in Italy. Cornell University Press.  
  4. ^ Gibson, Mary; Hahn Rafter, Nicole (15 June 2006). "Editors' Introduction". In Lombroso, Cesare. Criminal Man. Duke University Press. pp. 17–.  
  5. ^ a b Nicole Rafter (1 January 2008). The Criminal Brain: Understanding Biological Theories of Crime. NYU Press. pp. 1–.  
  6. ^ a b Dr Suman Fernando; Suman Fernando (15 April 2013). Cultural Diversity, Mental Health and Psychiatry: The Struggle Against Racism. Routledge. pp. 63–.  
  7. ^ Richard S. Levy, Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution, Volume 2, 2005, p. 556
  8. ^ Fascist Italy by John Whittam
  9. ^ a b c d Valentina Pisanty (2006). La difesa della razza: Antologia 1938–1943. Bompiani. 
  10. ^ Racial theories in Fascist Italy by Aaron Gilette
  11. ^ Dictating Demography: The Problem of Population in Fascist Italy by Carl Ipsen, pg 187
  12. ^ Duggan, Christopher (2008). The force of destiny : a history of Italy since 1796. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.  
  13. ^ Hollander, Ethan J. Italian Fascism and the Jews (PDF). University of California.  
  14. ^ "The Italian Holocaust: The Story of an Assimilated Jewish Community". 8 January 2008. 
  15. ^ Benito Mussolini By Jeremy Roberts
  16. ^ a b c d e Giuseppe Acerbi (2011). Le leggi antiebraiche e razziali italiane ed il ceto dei giuristi. Giuffrè Editore. pp. 33–.  
  17. ^ a b c Richard S. Levy (1 January 2005). Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution. ABC-CLIO. pp. 585–.  
  18. ^ a b c Sergio Luzzatto (5 November 2008). "Pio XI e quel razzismo d'Africa". Corriere della Sera. Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  19. ^ "Il madamato". Museo virtuale delle intolleranze e degli stermini. Istituto Piemontese per la Storia della Resistenza e della Società Contemporanea "Giorgio Agosti". Retrieved 19 September 2013. 
  20. ^ "Manifesto della Razza". Dizionario di Storia (2011). Treccani. Retrieved 9 August 2013. 
  21. ^ a b c Peter Hayes; John K. Roth (25 November 2010). The Oxford Handbook of Holocaust Studies. Oxford Handbooks Online. pp. 89–.  
  22. ^ Mussolini's intellectuals: fascist social and political thought by Anthony James Gregor, Chapter 9
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h Rota (2008). Intellettuali, dittatura, razzismo di stato. FrancoAngeli. pp. 57–.  
  24. ^ J. Evola, Il Mistero del Graal e la tradizione ghibellina dell'Impero, Laterza, Bari 1937 p.182. Evola says also that this was precisely Preziosi's own view. It should also be noted that in speaking of a 'Masonic' conspiracy in such texts, 'Masonic' was often a code word for a secret lobby containing prominent secularized Jewish businessmen. The point is underscored by a recent controversy in Italy where a priest used the word 'Masonic-Jewish lobby', and, in reaction to a public outcry, subsequently changed the reference to 'Masonic', which however retains the old ambiguity in Fascist usage. See 'Don Gelmini, prima attacca poi rettifica,' in La Repubblica, 5/8/2007
  25. ^ Antonello La Vergata (2005). Guerra e darwinismo sociale. Rubbettino Editore. pp. 189–.  
  26. ^ a b Richard S. Levy (1 January 2005). Antisemitism: A Historical Encyclopedia of Prejudice and Persecution. ABC-CLIO. pp. 518–.  
  27. ^ Naughton, Philippe; Costello, Miles (15 April 2008). "Silvio Berlusconi: third time lucky?". London: The Times. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  28. ^ Horowitz, Jason (17 June 2003). "Italy: Statement On Immigrants Denied". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  29. ^ Lewis, Aidan (17 April 2008). "Italy's Northern League resurgent". BBC News. 
  30. ^ Johnston, Bruce (4 August 2004). "Italian mayor fights terror threat with ban on Muslim veils". London: The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  31. ^ Rogers, Iain (15 April 2008). "League allies may hinder Italy's Berlusconi: reports". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2010-05-07. 
  32. ^ Times Online
  33. ^ Nick Squires (12 January 2010). "Vatican accuses Italians of racism after southern riots". The Telegraph (Rome). 
  34. ^ Eurobarometer, p. 43
  35. ^ Squires, Nick (5 October 2008). "Protests in Italy against escalating racism". London: The Telegraph. 
  36. ^
  37. ^ Whitnall, Adam (18 July 2013). "Defamation case opened against racist Italian senator Roberto Calderoli as abuse of black minister continues". The Independent. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  38. ^ Scherer, Steve (14 July 2013). "Roberto Calderoli, Italian Politician, Compares First Black Minister Cecile Kyenge To Orangutan". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  39. ^ Mezzofiore, Gianluca (17 July 2013). "Italian Court Opens Investigation into Roberto Calderoli's Orangutan Slur". International Business Times. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  40. ^ Hornby, Catherine (27 July 2013). "Bananas Thrown at Black Italian Minister, Cecile Kyenge, During Speech". The Huffington Post. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  41. ^ Williams, Rob (28 July 2013). "Fury after banana thrown at Italy's first black minister Cecile Kyenge in latest racist attack". The Independent. Retrieved 7 August 2013. 
  42. ^ Mackenzie, James (25 Jan 2014). "Outrage in Italy at pig's head sent to Rome synagogue". The REUTERS. Retrieved 29 Sep 2014. 
  43. ^ "Pig heads sent to synagogue, Israeli embassy and museum in Rome". The Global Jewish News. 26 January 2014. Retrieved 29 September 2014. 

External links

  • Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on Contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance on his visit to Italy 2007
  • CERD Concluding observations on Italy, 2008
  • European Commission against Racism and Intolerance — 3rd report on Lithuania, 2006
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