Are we talking about christmas already, I asked myself. It was an ordinary November evening in 2009 when I saw the TV news presenting operation 'White Christmas' from Coccaglio, a town in the Brescia plain with 8, 000 inhabitants. Yet more marketing strategies for christmas - after all, Brescia, which is a half an hour's drive from me, is the land of shopping centres and sparkling wines.
But no. White Christmas is not a pre-festive dinner clean. It's about 'cleaning' the entire town of illegal foreigners. The security package approved by the Italian government allowed town mayors more autonomy. So, the district council of Coccaglio, which has a centre-right and Lega Nord majority, decided to use its power to knock on the doors of those whose permits have expired. If renewal applications have not yet been sent, then the foreigners, who make up a quarter of the total population, will find residence repeals under the christmas tree.
In Italy, residence permits are only renewed if there is a work contract. Seeing as redundancy payments and unemployment are prevailing, it’s likely that the council coffers are quite full. Safety assessor Claudio Abiendi has clarified that it’s a routine reconnaissance not dictated by any alarms to security, but just to assert that 'christmas is a celebration of our roots, not of welcome reception.' All this in a town wherein reside 1500 regular foreigners, 400 guests and an unknown number of illegal immigrants, according to data given by the-then mayoral candidate Franco Claretti (Lega Nord) to the daily paper Brescia Oggi in May. Prevention, in other words, as the electoral programme focused on 'safety and family' promised, words which are now obligatory for centre-right councils, and put into action after Claretti’s victory in June’s administrative elections. In La Repubblica on 18 November, the new mayor followed in his predecessor’s tracks by stating that 'There is no crime in Coccaglio. We just want to start cleaning up.'
'There is no crime in Coccaglio. We just want to start cleaning up'
But couldn’t they call the campaign something else? Even the head of the Lega Nord Umberto Bossi, who praises Coccaglio’s pragmatism as an example of efficiency to be emulated, has commented on this. The people behind White Christmas assert that it’s purely incidental that the name smacks of racism. They say that the main objective remains the 'firm opposition to illegal immigration with controls by the local police; this includes checks on regulations regarding hygiene in the accommodation, night patrols and adding 20-25 more CCTV cameras' - with regards to the latter, bear in mind that the municipality of Brescia is only 12 square kilometres large!
On 28 November 2009, the council in Coccaglio experienced an anti-racist protest by those who don’t agree with 'general lynchings'. 2, 500 people united under the international name of the 'United Colours of Christmas'. It reminded me of christmas carols. It reminded me that when I was young, I was encourgaed to write letters to the baby jesus, so that He would give a roof over the head of those who needed it and had less than me. Now it's the police who write letters to give news to the ones who have 'been bad', or to be more precise, to those who continue to live in Coccaglio with expired permits, and who can’t renew them because they have lost their jobs. They will lose their roofs in any case. For once, I would have preferred to be bombarded by christmas sales campaigns.
(Images: ©About PassionFruit Popscicle/ Flickr)