Thursday, 20 December 2007

Racial tensions flare up in Italy

The murder of an Italian woman by a Romanian gypsy has caused the Prodi government in Rome to issue a decree expelling the numerous illegal immigrants, including many Romanian gypsies, who have gathered in great camps in Italy, including in Rome, since that country joined the EU at the beginning of this year. This represents a severe setback for relations between the two Latin peoples.

Hundreds of thousands of Romanians, if not more, live in Italy as guest-workers and have done so for years: they regard the gypsies in their own country as a different people, and they resent the implication that they are themselves gypsies. In addition to those Romanians who work as cleaners and in restaurants, there are some 342,000 new arrivals (556,000 according to the organisation Caritas) and these are mainly gypsies who have settled in camps and who are the object of considerable intolerance. Indeed, there has been so much emigration from Romania to Italy (and Spain) that there is a now a shortage of labour in Romania itself: one Italian clothing company which has a factory in Bacau has had to employ 300 Chinese workers instead of locals.

There are 22,000 Italian businesses in Romania and 7,000 Romanian businesses in Italy, Italy being Romania’s principal economic partner. Italians have bought up some 300,000 hectares of agricultural land in Romania, 2 per cent of the country’s total, and about a thousand new Italian companies a year are set up there. Some 5,000 Italians travel to Romania every day and there are some 12,000 Italians living in Western Romania, especially in Timişoara, and many of the expatriate Italians have expressed outrage at the condemnation of an entire nation which, they say, is implied in the Prodi decree.

When the Italian Minister for Economic Development, Pier Luigi Bersani, visited Romania at the beginning of development, he was told that the decree would have a negative impact on the economic relations between the two countries, and that many Romanians in Italy now wanted to come home.

There is also resentment now in Romania at the rich Italians who have come to live in their country, and who earn far more than the locals. Italy is involved in a number of major construction projects in Romania, including that of a second nuclear power station at Cernavoda and a proposed oil pipeline from Constanta to Trieste. This project may now be in jeopardy. [Mirel Bran, Le Monde, 29 November 2007]

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