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The picture that shames Italy



The picture that shames Italy

By Peter Popham in Rome
Tuesday, 22 July 2008

Holidaymakers sunbathe, indifferent to the bodies of two Roma girls that
lie on this beach near Naples

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Cardinal Crescenzio Sepe: Prejudice in life, indifference in death
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It's another balmy weekend on the beach in Naples. By the rocks, a couple
soak up the southern Italian sun. A few metres away, their feet poking
from under beach towels that cover their faces and bodies, lie two drowned
Roma children.


The girls, Cristina, aged 16, and Violetta, 14, were buried last night as
the fallout from the circumstances of their death reverberated throughout
Italy.

It is an image that has crystallised the mounting disquiet in the country
over the treatment of Roma, coming after camps have been burnt and the
government has embarked on a bid to fingerprint every member of the
minority. Two young Roma sisters had drowned at Torregaveta beach after
taking a dip in treacherous waters. Their corpses were recovered from the
sea – then left on the beach for hours while holidaymakers continued to
sunbathe and picnic around them.

They had come to the beach on the outskirts of Naples on Saturday with
another sister, Diana, nine, and a 16-year-old cousin, Manuela, to make a
little money selling coloured magnets and other trinkets to sunbathers.
But it was fiercely hot all day and, about 2pm, the girls surrendered to
the temptation of a cooling dip – even though they apparently did not know
how to swim.

"The sea was rough on Saturday," said Enzo Esposito, the national
treasurer of Opera Nomadi, Italy's biggest Roma organisation. "Christina
and Violetta went farther out than the other two, and a big wave came out
of nowhere and dashed them on to the rocks. For a few moments, they
disappeared; Manuela, who was in shallow water with Diana, came to the
shore, helped out by people on the beach, and ran to try and get help."

Other reports said that lifeguards from nearby private beaches also tried
to help, without success. "When Manuela and Diana came back," Esposito
went on, "the bodies of her cousins had reappeared, and they were already
dead."

It was the sort of tragedy that could happen on any beach. But what
happened next has stunned Italy. The bodies of the two girls were laid on
the sand; their sister and cousin were taken away by the police to
identify and contact the parents. Some pious soul donated a couple of
towels to preserve the most basic decencies. Then beach life resumed.

The indifference was taken as shocking proof that many Italians no longer
have human feelings for the Roma, even though the communities have lived
side by side for generations.

"This was the other terrible thing," says Mr Esposito, "besides the fact
of the girls drowning: the normality. The way people continued to
sunbathe, for three hours, just metres away from the bodies. They could
have gone to a different beach. It's not possible that you can watch two
young people die then carry on as if nothing happened. It showed a
terrible lack of sensitivity and respect."

The attitudes of ordinary Italians towards the Roma, never warm, have been
chilling for years, aggravated by sensational news coverage of crimes
allegedly committed by Gypsies, and a widespread confusion of Roma with
ordinary, non-Roma Romanians, who continue to arrive. The Berlusconi
government has launched a high-profile campaign against the community,
spearheaded by the programme announced by the Interior Minister, Roberto
Marroni, to fingerprint the entire Roma population. The move has been
condemned inside Italy and beyond as a return to the racial registers
introduced by the Fascist regime in the 1930s. The fingerprinting of Roma
in Naples began on 19 June.

The most senior Catholic in Naples, Cardinal Crescenzo Sepe, was quick to
point out the coarsening of human sentiment which the behaviour on the
beach represented. But the Mayor of Monte di Procida, the town on the
outskirts of the city where Torregaveta beach is located, defended his
citizens' behaviour.

When the Roma girls got into difficulties, he said: "There was a race
among the bathers and the coastguard and the carabinieri to try and help
them." He rejected the claim that the indifference of the bathers was due
to the fact that the girls were Roma.

The two cousins were given a Christian Orthodox funeral service in the
Roma camp in Naples, attended by 300 Roma and city and regional
representatives.

In a speech yesterday, Mr Maroni proposed, "for humanitarian reasons",
granting Italian citizenship to all Roma children in Italy abandoned by
their parents.

The Italians and the Roma

Roma have been living in Italy for seven centuries and the country is home
to about 150,000, who live mainly in squalid conditions in one of around
700 encampments on the outskirts of major cities such as Rome, Milan and
Naples. They amount to less than 0.3 per cent of the population, one of
the lowest proportions in Europe. But their poverty and resistance to
integration have made them far more conspicuous than other communities.
And the influx of thousands more migrants from Romania in the past year
has confirmed the view of many Italians that the Gypsies and their eyesore
camps are the source of all their problems. The ethnic group is often
blamed for petty theft and burglaries. According to a recent newspaper
survey, more than two thirds of Italians want Gypsies expelled, whether
they hold Italian passports or not.


Per chi come me ha proprio bisogno di un aiutino ...
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