Racism in Europe: Southern Europe: Horror at echoes of the past

HISTORICALLY countries of emigration, Spain, Italy and other southern European countries are having to contend with immigration for the first time in centuries because of freedom of movement in the European Community and the surge of immigrants coming from the Third World.

The recent racist outrages in Germany have had an echo in southern Europe, however. The victims have been mostly immigrants, many seeking asylum from war and persecution at home. Their numbers have swollen dramatically in the past few years, particularly Africans, from the Maghreb but also from the sub-Sahara; and in Italy, refugees from former Yugoslavia.

Estimates for the numbers of immigrants and asylum-seekers run to more than 3 million. Jewish people, gypsies and other vulnerable groups have also been victimised.

In the worst attack in Italy, five Muslims from Kosovo in former Yugoslavia died in March when an old farmhouse on the outskirts of Trento in which many of them were living was burnt down, presumably by racists. In Rome three Senegalese were shot at and one killed. Africans sleeping out among the ancient ruins in Rome public gardens have also been brutally stabbed or beaten up by fascist gangs on 'punishment expeditions'.

In Madrid, last November, a group of men burst into an abandoned discotheque, where families from the Dominican Republic were squatting, and one opened fire with a pistol. He was, it emerged, a former Guardia Civil policeman, his companions rapadas (skinheads) who resented the strong Dominican Republic presence in the Madrid suburb of Aravaca. His victim, Luc recia Perez, 33, became something of a martyr, moving thousands to march against racism. In Italy and Spain the worst racist incidents have been followed by demonstrations and declarations of horror by public figures while the media have engaged in anguished debates.

There is neither an Italian nor a Spanish Le Pen figure at present, although Italy's Northern League has shown itself reactionary and sympathetic to attacks on southern Italians and blacks, according to the Anti-Nazi League.

An ugly streak of racism also runs through the neo-fascist party, MSI, but anxious for respectability, it has repudiated the racist laws of the former fascist dictatorship.