The Italian government, which scaled back a crackdown on illegal immigration and other security measures after critics alleged they were too heavy-handed, now faces accusations that its security efforts aren’t even working after brutal attacks on four tourists.
Silvio Berlusconi’s Rightist government, elected in April on a platform of making the country safer, encountered roadblocks as it tried to implement its security program, including declaring a state of emergency on illegal immigration, assigning soldiers to patrol sensitive areas, and having traffic police carry guns.
During the summer, the measures drew accusations of heavy-handedness and xenophobia from human rights groups, the European Union, and the Catholic Church. Others also voiced concern about possible resurgent fascism in Italy.
In response, the government moderated some plans: The effort to fingerprint all of Italy’s estimated 150,000 gypsies, including children, was trimmed to only some cities because of allegations that it was discriminatory. A law forbidding street begging and rummaging through garbage bins also was scrapped.
Despite criticisms against the government, most Italians back the security clampdown, and Berlusconi has a 55 percent approval rating in polls—the highest of any European leader. His supporters argue that most crimes are committed by foreigners, unemployed immigrants or gypsies in particular, and that tackling the issue is in everyone’s interest.
The government believes that a nationwide census will cut crime, stop children from being used for begging or theft, and help identify illegal immigrants for expulsion. Roman gypsies protest that not all of them are criminals and feel they have been blamed unfairly since a Romanian immigrant brutally killed a navy officer’s wife last year.
Vatican officials voice private concerns about possible rising xenophobia. Without specifically referring to Italy, Pope Benedict XVI called last week for an end to racism in favor of building a society based on justice and peace. The government’s critics interpreted the comments as an endorsement of their criticisms.