Pent-up hatred splashes out in Rome

The vicious attack on Spurs fans in Campo de’ Fiori raises all sorts of questions, the most immediate one being why it took the police 10 minutes to arrive at the scene.

I can testify from personal experience that the Rome Central police station is located 50 yards from the square, if that. This I found out a couple of years ago after having been pickpocketed on a bus. The need to have insurance forms filled in took me to Campo de’ Fiori and the antediluvian police station.

‘Rubato!’ I exclaimed, drawing on my scanty Italian mostly consisting of musical and gastronomic terms. ‘Autobus?’ yawned the desk sergeant. He then uttered the Italian equivalent of ‘Well, what do you expect?’, gave me two endless forms to fill and went back to tapping something out on an ancient typewriter.

The computer age evidently still hadn’t arrived in Rome, but perhaps this little anecdote contains the answer to the original question. Breaking up an armed raid would have distracted the carabinieri from their work, which is to yawn, fill in forms and assist others in doing so.

Other questions are more interesting, and their implications more sinister. For the 50-odd masked attackers came armed not only with gas canisters, knuckledusters, knives and axe handles but also with anti-Semitic slogans. As a demonstration of pan-European solidarity they were screaming them in German. Perhaps they just thought that ‘Juden’ would be better understood than ‘ebrei’, or else they wanted to evoke the highly publicised interplay between Germans and Jews in the past.

This suspicion was confirmed last night when Lazio supporters screamed ‘Juden’ throughout the match (many Spurs fans are Jewish). They then put their sentiments into a modern context by unfurling a poster saying ‘Free Palestine’. Since for all practical purposes this slogan is interchangeable with ‘Kill Jews’, the implication came across loud and clear.

This is as strange as it is disturbing. Unlike the French, Italians aren’t known for excessive anti-Semitism. Even Italian fascism generally directed its hatred into other conduits.

Mussolini, an ardent Lazio fan himself, was personally anti-Semitic, but this doesn’t automatically mean he advocated anti-Semitic policies. For example, two of the tsar’s ablest Prime Ministers Sergei Witte and Pyotr Stolypin didn’t have much time for Jews either, the former despite (I hope not because) being married to a Jewish woman. Yet, for raisons d’état, both advocated emancipation of the Jews, including the abolition of the Pale of Settlement.

In a similar vein Mussolini didn’t discriminate against Jews and in fact welcomed them into his fascist party; until 1938 the proportion of Jews in it had exceeded their proportion in the population. It was only under severe pressure from the Germans that Mussolini introduced his anti-Semitic Manifesto della razza, stripping the Jews of Italian citizenship.

However, most anti-Jewish atrocities in Italy were committed by Germans, not Italians. The local population didn’t participate in massacres with the same gusto, or on the same scale, as in Eastern Europe and France, and in fact tried to save Jews, specifically in Rome.

So why this outburst of anti-Semitism now? It would take total disregard not only for reason and human decency but also for arithmetic to blame Italy’s troubles on the Jews. After all, there are only 28 thousand of them out of a population of 60 million, a proportion that’s roughly one tenth of that in Britain, itself not the most Hebraic land on earth.

An interesting detail is that the raiding party, organised with military precision, included not only Lazio but also Roma fans. I don’t know if you’re alert to the nuances of the Italian football scene, but this is a bit like Arsenal and Tottenham fans joining forces in any cause whatsoever – a sheer impossibility in other words.

Lazio is traditionally fascist, while Roma is communist, and, though any substantive difference between the two creeds is slight, their exponents do tend to hate one another. Reversing this trend probably testifies to the newly emerging pan-European solidarity I mentioned earlier.

Further evidence is provided by the carabinieri who eventually dragged themselves away from their real purpose in life, filling forms, to make some arrests. According to them, some assailants were actually foreign, though their nationality was not specified. This isn’t entirely unsurprising.

All new states have to be based on some sort of grassroots consensus, so why should the European state be any different? The possible ramifications of this particular consensus are too hard to calculate and too awful to imagine, but the new state has to work with what it has got. This brutal assault just may be a taste of things to come.

The last question is less apocalyptic in its implications, but interesting nonetheless. What on earth were those Spurs fans doing drinking in Campo de’ Fiori at 1.30 am? This market square may be in the very centre of Rome, but it’s not in a good part of the centre. Even though Giordano Bruno was burned there, it’s not a nice place to be.

According to the publican, the British fans were well-behaved, and one has to believe an eyewitness even if his observation is counterintuitive. Nonetheless, perhaps next time the fans will do their boozing in the much safer Piazza Navona or Piazza del Popolo.

On second thoughts, let’s hope they won’t. Let’s further hope that they’ll stop following their teams around the world altogether. Perhaps this incident will discourage them in the future. If so, then it’s the only good thing one can say about it.

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