Italy: A National Registry for Roma People?

Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi's new right wing Cabinet recently launched plans to carry out a national registration of all Roma people in Italy [it], including fingerprints of all children. Italy is home to an estimated 150,000 Roma and Sinti people (often referred to as Gypsies) who live in around 700 camps across the country. Although many Roma people are born in Italy, they are increasingly becoming scapegoats of a more complex immigration issue.

A growing perception in the general population that “all Gypsies are thieves”, is being publicly supported by some judges and politicians. According to the Interior minister and a leading figure of the anti-immigration Northern League, Roberto Maroni, the national registration initiative is needed to “prevent begging” and, if necessary, remove the children from their parents.

A few days ago the European Parliament urged the Italian government to stop the fingerprinting of Gypsies, calling it racial discrimination. The assembly agreed on a resolution saying the practice was not supported by European Union human rights treaties and insisting that, “EU citizens of Roma or Gypsy origin must be treated equally to others in Italy”. Maroni replied [it] he was outraged over the accusation of racism, insisting his plan is simply to carry out a “comprehensive national census” of the Roma people with no kind of discrimination whatsoever.

Caricature of Roberto Maroni by, republished under Creative Commons license

The ensuing, heated public debate is overflowing in the online space of Italy (and beyond), with many discussions focusing on civil rights protection and ethnic discrimination. On Kebelek [it], a widely-read blog that often links to writing by and about Roma people, Miguel Martinez writes:

Fingere la propria superiorità etica e distribuire colpe morali a grandi gruppi di persone è in qualche modo la matrice del genocidio.
Perché se gli altri hanno scelto di essere malvagi, se ogni singolo membro di quel gruppo ha scelto di essere malvagio, allora tutti i membri del gruppo meritano la punizione.
Condannare interi blocchi della specie umana per motivi morali è una perdita di tempo; e comunque le questioni sociali di grande portata non possono avere soluzioni etiche.

Pretending to affirm one's own ethnic superiority and assigning moral sins to vast groups of people, amounts somehow to a genocide matrix.
This implies that if others are evil, or a single person of that group has chosen to be evil, then all members of that group deserve to be punished.
To condemn entire chunks of human beings is a waste of time; and anyway, no social issue carrying such a large scope can have ethical solutions.

A blog published by the Sinti culture institute [it] provides comprehensive updates and other resources particularly on the fingerprinting issue. They also published an online poll questioning whether Maroni should resign from the Cabinet: so far 77% (262 people) voted yes. Their statement calling for Maroni's ousting [it] received many comments, including some heavy ‘flaming’.

Commenter xpisp [it]:

Personalmente se mi chiedessero di depositare impronte e DNA per creare una banca dati e risolvere + facilmente alcuni delitti, non avendo nulla da nascondere, non avrei proprio nulla in contrario.

Personally, it they'd ask me to provide fingerprints and DNA samples to create a databank to help in solving some crimes, since I have nothing to hide, I wouldn't be opposed at all.

Commenter Antonoi:

Per come è stata presa la decisione di schedare i rom sono contrario. è una politica razziale e xenofoba (giungendo da un ministro leghista….) se vi è la logica impellente della sicurezza prendiamo le impronte a tutte le persone presenti in questo momento in italia. scegliere di schedare una sola comunità è xenofobia, serve per dare un contentino al popolo bue che applaude e non capisce cosa realmente si muove in italia e soprattutto si imbocca tutto quello che mamma-tv dice.

In the way they decided for the Roma fingerprinting, I'm against it. it a racist and xenophobic policy (also being promoted by a league minister…). if there's a need of an emergency security then let's take fingerprints of each person currently living in italy. choosing to do it for just one community is xenophobic, it serves to give a sweetener to our stupid people cheering without understanding what's really happening in italy and moreover swallowing whatever godmother-TV tells them.

Commenter Carlo Berini:

il problema che poni è reale ma non è che negando i diritti civili che risolverai il tuo problema, anzi…

we have a real problem here, but denying someone's civil rights is not a solution, quite the opposite…

Finally, just one of the many initiatives supporting the Roma people struggle: Immigrazione Oggi, a video website in nine languages for foreigners living in Italy, launched a “Campaign against prejudice towards Roma people” mostly based on a video [it] showing images of ordinary Roma citizens at work.

Screenshot from the video by Immigrazione Oggi


  • simona

    Ciao Bernardo,

    You probably won’t publish my message because you won’t like what I have to say. I love Italy. There’s no place on earth I love more than Italy. I was born in Romania, but my family moved to the US when I was young. I know there are a LOT of good, hard working Romanians in Italy because I’ve met many during my many visits to Italy. What I don’t like is what the gypsies are doing in Italy. First, they gave Romanians a bad name. And if you think Italians are anti-gyspy, Romanians are worse because we had to endure generations of gypsies who refuse to integrate in society, and prefer to live on the outskirts without docouments, jobs, or houses. They prefer to steal and beg than work honestly.

    There ARE many gypsies who are decent people. In Romania they work as musicians and sell hand made crafts. In Italy too: you see them playing music in Piazza Navona or in Florence’s Piazza Repubblica. I don’t want to include ALL gypsies into the same category.

    BUT, if you read any travel guide books on safety in Italy, they don’t warn tourists of pickpocketing Italians, and Italians using their children to rob you. It’s the gypsies, and they say: watch out for the gypsies.

    I for one am tired of tripping over them as they lay down prostrating and wailing for money. GET A JOB!!!!!

    Why doesn’t France and Germany have gypsy problems? Because they don’t allow nomadic camps. The Romanian president himself said these camps are breeding grounds for crimes. The Romanians just say: Now you know what WE had to put up with in our country for generations!!

    The gypsies left Romania because it’s a poor country with no one to beg and steal from. And if they did, the legal punishment is severe, not a slap on the wrist like in Italy. So they head to the easy targets: Italy and Spain. Again, while there are some decent gyspies that might be willing to integrate in society and be helped by the Italian agencies….the majority won’t. And they should be removed from Italy because they are preying on the tourists that Italy DEPENDS on, and on the locals. How many people have to be mugged and killed by criminal gypsies before someone else burns their camp down?

    The gypsies in Italy is an embarassment and a bad image when it comes to tourists. We don’t want to go there and have our wallets and purses stolen, and trip over these begging gypsies who refuse to work. Send them back to Romania…they’ll have no choice BUT work…there are no tourists there to steal from.

  • Thanks for your message, Simona. I do understand your points, but I think there much more at stake here.

    The relatively recent migration from Romania and other former Soviet countries in Italy (much more than in other EU contries) has very little to do with Roma people; add to that a constant wave of (mostly illegal) immigrants from Norther Africa and other countries, something not new for Italy, along with year after year of bad policies about integration and assistance – and we have a series of problems affecting the everyday life in Italy, including those you point out (pickpocketing, etc.)

    That is, Italians and tourists alike are suffering the conseguences of a wider and largely unattended immigration problem – not to mention the very migrants themselves, legal or not legal.

    But my point is exactly that politicians and ordinary citizen should and must avoid to use the Roma people as scapegoats for such problems, since that attitudine (and practice) will only exacerbate such problems for everybody involved and uselessly criminalize an ethnic group which has a long history and whose communities are traditionally thought to have been originally from India, entered Europe in 14th or 15th century.

    See “Gypsies” on wikipedia. Also, “Gypsies” is not used by the Roma and is considered pejorative by some, especially among the Roma themselves.

    We should also remember that the Roma people were persistently persecuted by the Nazis and put in concentration camps, along with the Jews: here is a quick link.

    E grazie!

  • simona

    Ciao Bernardo,

    Thank you for posting my message and for replying :)

    In Romania the Roma are called “tzigani” (very rarely anyone uses Romi), in the US “gyspies”. Roma – gypsies – tzigani – any other way they want to call themselves, it doesn’t change who they are. Some gypsies are good, and some are bad. The bad ones gave the good ones a bad name… Call me crazy, but if my family were thieves and beggars and criminals, and I’m not – but people assume I am too because I’m around them all the time, I would just have to remove myself from the mess! No? Why don’t the good gypsies leave the bad ones??

    But if the bad ones don’t like to be called gypsies, then they should stop acting like a gypsy: get a job and stop begging. Get a job and stop sealing. Get a job so you can have a house to live in, instead of a shanty camp.

    In Romania the government (even the communist gov) tried to integrate them…gave them jobs, gave them houses, did everything for them!! BUT, they refuse to work, they refuse houses, they preferred to live in a horse pulled wagon and beg and steal instead. SOME, did change and they were very nice, creative, clean, and interesting people that you liked having as neighbors. The rest continued their criminal and wandering ways.

    And as long as the greater part of them continue their generations long traditions of lying, begging, stealing, and refusing to integrate into society in a legal manner, people will continue to have the same sentiments about the gypsies. It’s not xenophobia or ethnic discrimination. It’s like the old saying: “Burn me once, shame on you. Burn me twice, shame on me”. It doesn’t matter if you’re white, back, yellow or green: it’s your actions that count, not your skin color or the clothes you wear.

    And don’t get me started on the Northern African peddlers who sell illigal knock offs enmasse!!! What infuriates me is their lack of respect of Christian sacred places like Florence’s Duomo. You can’t even walk up the steps to the Duomo because they literally barricade the entire area. You have to trip over them and their junk to walk into the church. God knows, if Italians surrounded a mosque in Africa to peddle illigal knockoffs, they’d be shot dead. No respect…. And for the record, I’m NOT anti-Northern-African. I lived their culture, and they’re wonderful hard working and generous people. Again, it’s the bad ones that give the good ones a bad name (and they have their own share of bad ones to deal with).

    But there should be a law fining tourists who buy these illigal things…as long as tourists are not buying, they’ll leave. From my last visit to Italy, I’ve noticed they’ve gotten more and more aggressive!! They follow me, whistle and yell at me. What the heck!! Now I don’t even feel safe to walk around a church!!! This is why I prefer Assisi and other small towns….none of Rome and Florence mess. Oh, and I don’t buy their stuff. Italy has enough stores and there are enough legal street vendors to buy from.

    Italy is a kind humanitarian country and too many opportunists take advantage of it. It’s like having a nice, kind, and generous zia, and everyone takes advantage of her. Pisses you off!! Italy needs stronger immigration laws and actions to back it up.

    And by the way…back to the gypsies (sorry, I love ROME/ROMA too much to call the gypsies by its name). They don’t have to be poor or immigrants. Here’s a true story from the US. A group of individuals came to my mother’s church claiming they’re passing through town and wanted a church to go to while here. My mother immediately recognized them as gypsies, and they told her they’re 3rd generation, US born, and their ancestors are former Yugoslavian gypsies. My mom went on alert mode and told the Pastor’s wife to lock up the church valuables (donation box, expensive crosses, electronic gadgets, stuff like that). Boy, the Pastor and the church people gave Mom hell for discriminating against these innocent children of God. Well….the next Sunday they came for another sermon, and said their goodbyes because they’re leaving town now. And with them went all the donation money and valuables that weren’t under lock and key. No one even noticed them steal it, they were THAT good!!! My mom was too much of a lady to say :I TOLD YOU SO!!!

    I know the gypsies are people too and I feel bad that they were persecuted for so long. But by the actions of so many, they’ve become a group highly disliked by society in general. For the most part not much good comes to people’s mind when they hear the word gypsy/Roma/tzigani. If the gypsies/Romi/tzigani don’t change their ways, they will be persecuted into infinity. Criminals have no rights…Romi who are honest and willing to live a decent life will do so and continue to pass down the beautiful gypsy traditions of music and handicrafts. The rest will continue to suffer the wrath of society. I’m only be realistic, and sometimes being realistic is not a popular thing to be…

    Such is life….

    E grazie a lei (scuza, ma il mio italiano e tropo male!)

  • […] Bernardo torna a scrivere su Global Voices di storie italiane. Come nel caso dell’articolo A National Registry for Roma People? e segnala in conclusione: Finally, just one of the many initiatives supporting the Roma people […]

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  • John R

    Italy has EVERY right to expell any non-citizens. It always amazes me how some countries eagerly dump their lower-class dregs onto their neighbors with hardly any notice from the liberal do-gooders. When that neighboring country controls and/or sends them back for good reasons there is an uproar. More western nations should stand tall and protect their turf in the same manner.

  • Yusuf

    From France24 news (EU tackles discrimination against Roma people)I when to Google to get more information about this subject … and I got this web blog.

    In Finland the Roma people(called Mustalanen,singular form)are known as dangers people as well here (carrying knifes, stealing). One thing for sure that not every Gypsy is bad!Finns do not like them anyway.

    My neighbor is a Gypsy marriage couple, they were born in Finland.They don’t follow the local communal rules;fixing car in the from of our block of flat and often their cars staying over night – the rule give permission to any car into the building area just for loading or unloading only.

    We should love everybody, as HE loves us, it’s no question about that. But some immigrants (I am an immigrant as well) need special education and treatment for living in peace together with others.

    Hoping the best for Italians and the Gypsies in Europe!

  • birhane Ibrahim


    AFTER LONG TIME IN 2001, I HEARD THAT MY SON CAME BACK TO ETHIOPIA TO VISIT ME; UNFORTUNATELY HE COULDN’T REACH ME. I HAVE ALREADY CHANGED MY ADDRESS FROM WHERE HE GREW UP. I HEARD THAT HE CAME TO THE PLACE WHERE HE GREW UP, BECAUSE OF THE LANGUAGE BARRIER, HE COULDN’T GET THE INFORMATION FROM MY FORMER NEIGHBOURS WHERE I’M LIVING KNOW. LASTLY, I HEARD THAT HE WENT BACK TO ITALY WITHOUT MEETING ME. But I found a piece of information which is very helpful to find my son. My son’s father had been married to another girl in Ethiopia before 25 years ago. Her name is “Meskerem Abate”; she is living in Italy with my son. When my son’s father was in Ethiopia, he was running cattle rearing and gas station business with his wife (Meskerem Abate) before they went to Italy together. I was working as a servant in their home which becomes the reason to have my son (being pregnant) with Meskerem Abate husband, Gorgo.
    Finally, I heard that my son’s father, Gorgo has died in car accident in Rome, Italy about before 14 years ago. Now my son is living in Italy with Meskerem Abate. They have one hotel and gas station in Rome, Italy.
    I hope the above information will give some clues to find my son .Would you please help me to find him or if there are any possibilities which are helpful to find him? I would be very glad if you let me know some one comes to you with likely similar information.

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