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Tuesday, Jan. 12, 2010
In Italy, Racial Tensions Explode into Violence
By Stephan Faris / Rome
When hundreds of African immigrants rioted in the southern Italian city of Rosarno last weekend, the world got a glimpse of a very different Italy from the one pictured in tourist brochures. But while overturned cars, shattered shop windows and street battles may be a far cry from the tranquil villages in the Tuscan hillsides, the real contradiction uncovered by the violence has less to do with how Italy is perceived by outsiders than with how Italians view the country themselves.
Demographically, Italy is one of the most rapidly changing countries in Europe. Last year, according to the Catholic charity group Caritas, the percentage of noncitizen residents in the country ? 7.2% ? was greater than Britain's. And in a country where the native-born population is aging rapidly, 1 in 6 babies delivered in 2008 was born to a foreign-passport holder. La dolce vita is also becoming ever more dependent on immigrants and their labor. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that foreign workers account for 9% of Italy's annual gross domestic product. They pick the fruit in the country's orchards, staff its restaurants and workshops and look after its young and elderly. "If all the migrants just stopped working now, the Italian economic system would collapse," says IOM spokesman Flavio Di Giacomo. (See pictures of la dolce vita in Italy.)
Yet the country retains an intensely hegemonic streak. Rigid codes of behavior govern everything from how to dress to the proper time of day to drink a cappuccino. Far from being a melting pot, Italy remains a three-course meal, with the pasta carefully segregated from the appetizer and main course and no place for a bowl of hummus or plate of egg rolls. "People now accept that immigrants are here," says Giuseppe Sciortino, an immigration expert and sociology professor at the University of Trento. "But they're still in denial that they are a presence that will change Italy forever."
The violence erupted in Rosarno on Jan. 7 after two African immigrants were shot by white men with pellet guns. The town's immigrants responded by burning cars and vandalizing shops, prompting retaliatory attacks by residents. By the end of the weekend, at least 70 people ? most of them migrant workers ? had been injured. In the aftermath, the Pope called for tolerance and the government evacuated about 1,000 immigrants to neighboring cities to ensure their safety. The migrants also received uncharacteristically sympathetic media coverage. "This Time ... The Negroes Are Right," read the headline on Jan. 9 in the conservative newspaper Il Giornale. (See the top 10 news stories of 2009.)
The region of Calabria, where Rosarno is located, makes up the toe of Italy's boot. Seasonal migrants ? mostly from Africa and Eastern Europe ? have long been employed to work in the citrus orchards there. The hours are long, and the wages average less than $30 a day. When Fabrizio Gatti, a journalist for the Italian newsweekly L'Espresso, posed as a migrant worker in 2006, he uncovered a world where beatings were common and exploitation was rife. "You have no contract ? no rights," Gatti says. "So if they don't pay you, you cannot go to the police."
The international aid group Doctors Without Borders ? best known for its work in war zones ? considers the conditions so bad that it runs a clinic catering to workers who live in abandoned factories with no access to running water or basic health care. "This is a neglected population, and they are the victims of exploitation and violence," says Sophie Baylac, who coordinates the group's migrant programs in Europe. "The situation last weekend is a symptom of the ongoing neglect suffered by seasonal migrants." (See pictures of migrants being forced out in France.)
But not everybody is sympathetic to the migrants. Italian Interior Minister Roberto Maroni, a member of the anti-immigrant Northern League Party, blamed the riots on his country's lax approach to undocumented workers. "For years illegal immigration ? which feeds criminal activities ? has been tolerated and nothing effective has ever been done about it," he said. Never mind that the IOM estimates that at least half of the evacuated workers now held in reception centers obtained regular working papers. Or the fact that migrant workers make up a vital part of many industries. "It's very difficult to crack down on illegal immigrants because it means cracking down on one of the key structures of the Italian economy," says Sciortino.
The challenge for Italy is to match its policies with reality. About 20% of Italy's foreign population is under age 18. Many of these people know no other home other than the land that won't accept them as its own. Italians don't like to think they're racist, but it would be hard to find a dark-skinned resident who agrees. "We're creating a group of people who are heavily marginalized and will react the way that marginalized people react," says Sciortino. If the country wants to avoid clashes like the one in Rosarno, it will have to shift its efforts from keeping immigrants out to finding a way to fit them in.
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* http://www.time.com/time/world/article/ ... 64,00.html
Last edited by momopi on Wed Jan 13, 2010 2:09 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Tuesday, Dec. 01, 2009
An Italian Town's White (No Foreigners) Christmas
By Jeff Israely
Italy's influential Northern League Party has stood out over the past decade for its particular knack in finding new (and not-so-new) ways of offending people based on country of origin and color of skin. In 2003, Umberto Bossi, founder of the party, which once espoused separatism, told an interviewer that police should open fire on the boatloads of undocumented Africans arriving on Italian shores, calling the would-be immigrants "bingo-bongos." Other Northern League pols have proposed everything from separate trains for immigrants to banning the building of new mosques and even prohibiting the serving of kebabs and other non-Italian food in city centers.
The latest swipe by the Northern League attempts some kind of holiday spirit. The league-led city council in Coccaglio, a small town east of Milan, has launched a two-month sweep ? from Oct. 25 to Dec. 25 ? to ferret out foreigners without proper residency permits. It has been dubbed Natale Bianco, or "White Christmas."
Claudio Abiendi, a longtime Lega Nord member who leads security policy on the city council, told the daily La Repubblica that he came up with the initiative as a way "to start cleaning things up" in Coccaglio, a town of 7,000 with some 1,500 immigrant residents. "For me, Christmas isn't the celebration of hospitality, but rather of Christian tradition and our identity," he said. Abiendi also told the paper that approximately half of the 150 inspections already carried out turned up people who no longer had a right to reside in Italy. He said he would report them to national authorities. (It's not just Italy. See a story about Switzerland debating Swiss identity.)
The city council office is responding to requests for interviews with a press release denying any racist intent, noting that the Natale Bianco moniker was not an official public designation. The impromptu local census "was born to know the real number of foreign-born citizens present in Coccaglio so as to better manage the economic resources destined for integration projects." Local officials say the measure follows a national policy set forth by Italy's Interior Minister, Roberto Maroni, a member of the Northern League, to give local administrators more authority in monitoring the residency status of foreigners.
The Northern League, founded in 1991 on a platform to separate the richer northern regions from the rest of Italy, is as strong as it has ever been. It is now a key ally in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi's majority in Parliament after garnering 10% of support in the last national election on a campaign focused on deepening worries about crime and the economy. Last week, the league floated (but then withdrew) a measure in Italy's budget bill that would have capped unemployment benefits for foreign-born workers. (See a story about how the Northern League roils even its allies.)
Both the economic scapegoating of immigrants and the vision of the league's White Christmas irk the Comunita di Sant'Egidio, an influential Catholic lay group that defends immigrant rights. "The insults and rhetoric help to exploit uncertainty and create political consensus," says Mario Marazziti, Sant'Egidio's spokesman. "But in the end, it is against the national interest. Italy is in demographic decline, and the only real chance is to work to integrate immigrants, who are the last hope for the country to start to grow again. All the rest just creates conflict and puts off resolving this crisis."
Indeed, even as the Northern League continues to cite Christian themes in its opposition to a growing Muslim minority, Pope Benedict XVI on Nov. 27 presented the annual message for the upcoming World Day of Migrants and Refugees. "Jesus' words resound in our hearts," he said. " 'I was a stranger and you welcomed me,' as, likewise, the central commandment he left us: to love God with all our heart, with all our soul and with all our mind, and to associate this with love of neighbor." Now that is a different kind of Christmas spirit.
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* http://www.time.com/time/world/article/ ... 76,00.html
Monday, Nov. 09, 2009
Identity Crisis for the Swiss
By ANDREW MARSHALL
If my son were a watch, he might not be Swiss. No, that is not the caption to a Surrealist painting. Let me explain.
My son is Anglo-Swiss, born to a Swiss woman and her British husband (me), and holds passports to both countries. In other words, he is 50% Swiss, and that makes him all Swiss. A not-dissimilar legal privilege is extended to Swiss watches, which can only claim the celebrated tag "Made in Switzerland" if at least 50% of their production costs are incurred in the country. (See pictures from EURO 2008, which took place in Switzerland and Austria.)
But that could soon change, renewing a debate on what Switzerland's German-language newspapers refer to, in English, as "Swiss-ness." The government is mulling new laws that will raise the Swiss share of those production costs to 60%. Forty million fake Swiss timepieces are made every year, most of them in China, claims the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Sales of the real thing are threatened, despite the federation's slogan: "Fake watches are for fake people. Be authentic. Buy real."
The new laws will also apply, with various alterations and restrictions, to products such as cheese and chocolate (but not, thankfully, to children). Enforcing them could be problematic, since identifying "Swiss-ness" is sometimes not as easy at it seems. Just ask McDonald's. Its campaign to assure customers that its ingredients are 100% "aus der Schweiz" took a knock last July when it emerged that the cow used in a poster was in fact Austrian. But then cows aren't the only Swiss animals having an identity crisis. (Read: "Supersizing Europe: The McDonald's Stimulus Plan.")
Nobody can deny there is something special about Switzerland. Just ask the Swiss. Their sense of exceptionalism is based on being both central to the world and remote from it. The country is situated at the heart of Europe yet is not a member of the European Union. It didn't join the United Nations until 2002, despite the fact that Geneva has the largest U.N. office outside of New York. It has tough immigration and citizenship laws, but also one of Europe's highest immigration rates. A fifth of its 7.5 million population are foreigners, mostly from Western Europe, but increasingly from Turkey, the Balkans and beyond.
But as other countries have learned ? not least my own, which in June elected two far-right members to the European Parliament ? pride and exceptionalism can easily morph into isolationism and xenophobia. The country's most popular political group is the right-wing Swiss People's Party (SVP). It won nearly 29% of the vote in the 2007 election with anti-immigration posters showing white sheep kicking black sheep off a flag-clad outline of Switzerland. The SVP is also driving a Nov. 29 referendum to ban the construction of new minarets. Listen to its leaders, and you would assume that the picturesque Swiss landscape now bristles with minarets. There are actually only four in the entire country. The fifth, to be built near the capital, Bern, got planning permission in July.
As the SVP's popularity shows, Switzerland has yet to make its peace with immigrants, despite how central to the economy they have been and ? with a falling birth rate and aging population ? are still. Postwar Switzerland was built by Italian "guest workers," many of whom eventually won the right to settle, and today perhaps a quarter of the nation's workforce are non-Swiss.
This has not gone entirely unrecognized. On Aug. 1 ? Switzerland's 718th birthday ? the Swiss National Museum in Zurich opened a new permanent exhibition to chart a history of immigration since the Bronze Age. In a section called "No One Has Been Here All the Time," visitors to the museum are reminded that many famous Swiss have foreign blood. Take tennis superstar Roger Federer: his dad was born South African. Exceptionalism is out of fashion these days. (Well, unless you're Chinese.) Global recession is a great leveler, its seismic shocks felt in big and small nations alike. Even Switzerland has not escaped the carnage. Its unemployment rate is at its highest for more than 11 years, and those fathomless repositories of Swiss-ness, the banks, are reeling from their exposure to sub-primes and credit markets. Switzerland's two biggest banks needed multibillion-dollar bailouts ? UBS with public money, Credit Suisse with private ? and, like bankers everywhere, they face the rage of ordinary people. In August, a civil action by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service forced UBS to reveal the names of thousands of tax-dodging Americans with bulging Swiss accounts. (See pictures of Roger Federer.)
My son will likely come of age in a very different Switzerland. One day, he will vote in its elections and do national service in its army. But he will always be half English and ? since he was conceived and born in Bangkok ? "Made in Thailand," too. Fake watches might be for fake people. But authentic Swiss are harder to define than ever, and that's something Switzerland should probably celebrate.
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* http://www.time.com/time/magazine/artic ... 53,00.html
Monday, Jan. 26, 2009
Supersizing Europe: The McDonald's Stimulus Plan
By Bruce Crumley / Paris
There was a time not so long ago when U.S. fast-food giant McDonald's was viewed by European consumers as the advance scout of what the French loudly decried as American cultural imperialism. The Golden Arches, ran the prevailing European line, were a threat to the Continent's refined palates and appreciation of the civilized sit-down meal, and the livelihoods of people staffing "real" restaurants. Well, with the global economic crisis deepening, even the French aren't complaining nowadays ? especially with news that McDonald's plans to invest more than $1 billion to keep its lucrative European business booming.
On Monday, McDonald's confirmed earlier press reports that it will spend about $1.1 billion ? more than half its total global investment funding in 2009 ? to revamp scores of existing restaurants in Europe and open 240 new ones there. That effort will not only focus on relatively new markets in Eastern Europe like Russia and Poland, but also sink roots deeper in West European nations like Italy, Spain and France ? generating about 12,000 badly needed new jobs in the process. As part of that expansion plan, McDonald's says it will add about 400 new McCafÃ©s to the 800 outlets it already operates in Europe. Viewed from any angle, this kind of spending indicates that Ronald McDonald is feeling bullish about his future in Europe ? the dismal global economic slowdown be damned. (See pictures of what the world eats.)
Such optimism in the face of prevailing economic gloom is understandable given the apparently recession-proof recipe McDonald's has cooked up. Indeed, while most companies limped out of 2008 on slumping results that look likely to plummet in 2009, McDonald's on Monday announced earnings of $985.3 million in the fourth quarter of last year. While that near billion-dollar activity represented a 23% drop over the same period the previous year ? due mostly to an extraordinary tax bonus accounted to 2007 books ? McDonald's also revealed an 11% rise in fourth-quarter consolidated operating income to $1.5 billion on global sales gains of 7.2%.
Europe now ranks as McDonald's largest region in revenue terms. Although Europe has nearly 25% fewer outlets than the U.S., in 2007 its $9 billion in revenue outpaced the $8 billion generated in America, partly because of a strong euro but also because of consistently higher sales. Given that, McDonald's new European investment strategy seems quite clear: provide its operations in Europe a boost by multiplying the number of restaurants capable of serving clients there. And ironically, a swiftly tightening recession may be the best environment in which that can be done. (See the top 10 food trends of 2008.)
"People forced to economize by forgoing outings to restaurants will visit McDonald's to compensate, while lower-income people already frequenting McDonald's will tend to choose cheaper menu options there rather than giving it up," says Raphael Berger, deputy director of the consumer division at France's Research Center for the Study and Observation of Living Conditions in Paris. "McDonald's has successfully marketed itself as a festive and affordable dining option to young and less-affluent people. That is now starting to spread to other segments as people in most socioeconomic categories feel less affluent due to the recession."
But a financial pinch isn't the only reason McDonald's is winning fans in Europe ? and in standoffish France in particular. According to Berger, after laboring for years in France with the greasy-spoon label imposed by detractors (as le mal bouffe, or junk food), the company has of late made very determined and demonstrative efforts to adapt menus, tailor to hygiene sensibilities and communicate with clients on dietary and nutritional questions that have long dogged its food. "It has introduced salads, begun using certain traditional French cheeses on burgers and told clients, 'Our food is good food, but it isn't meant to be eaten every day and can't replace the regular diet you'll get at home,' " says Berger. "Basically, McDonald's and France have worked out an understanding that [its] kind of fast food is all right ? albeit in moderation."
But wouldn't the billion-dollar expansion drive of McDonald's suggest that the company is seeking to lure more time- and cash-strapped European clients as frequent diners? If so, Berger says the objective may well prove elusive ? at least among continental Europeans. "People will make concessions to time pressures when necessary for convenience's sake, but will often reserve evening and weekend meals for quality, sit-down, often homemade food," he says. "The British are a bit different in that regard ? which may be why the U.K. seems to be a particularly strong market for McDonald's."
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