Monday, June 3, 2013

Mario Borghezio expelled from European Parliamentary Group for racist comments

If nothing has been posted on this blog over the last weeks, it certainly isn't for lack of things to talk about: it was that time of the year when university students in the UK have no choice but spending all their time studying for their finals. But finals are over now, and I finally have time to write again. 
So many things happened in Italy over this last month that I'm not even going to try to cover everything now. Some of the major pieces of news would only sound out of date, such as the death of Giulio Andreotti, former PM and main protagonist of the (many) year of Christian Democrats hegemony in the postwar period. Then there was the appointment of the new leader of the Democratic Party, Guglielmo Epifani, following Bersani's resignation. Then the new judicial hearings of Berlusconi's trial, in which he is accused of child prostitution. Then the local elections and the impressive turnout decline. 
Voting behaviour and turnout are in fact one of the aspects of political science that I enjoy the most, and I had been expecting a fall in turnout in Italy for a while now. Italy has a record of really high turnout rates, but disengagement from politics and the idea that politicians are "all the same" usually lead to the feeling that your vote does not change anything, and as a consequence many people do not bother to vote. The Italian public has undoubtedly grown alienated about their representatives, and this has indeed really been a dramatic decrease in turnout, which was down by 20% in some cases. Now some cities will have to go back to the polls for the second ballot to choose their mayor, included the capital Rome and my hometown Brescia. 
However, the breaking news I am interested in today is the expulsion of Mario Borghezio from the European Parliament. I'll admit that I myself signed the petition that led to his suspension and then to his expulsion, and I think that this is a very positive sign for democracy. 
Mario Borghezio
Mario Borghezio, 65, is a member of the Northern League, and he had been a MEP since 2001.
Borghezio has been involved in some highly controversial episodes. He has been seen “disinfecting” train seats after immigrants had been sitting on them; in 2005, he was found guilty of arson, for setting fire to the pallets of some migrants sleeping under a bridge in Turin; in 2011, he even seemed to justify Anders Breivik’s massacre by claiming that it was due to Norway’s multi-racial society. He was temporarily suspended by his party for these last remarks, but I bet that in any other country they would be enough to sign the end of a political career.
Lately, he made himself known for insulting the new Minister for Integration, Congolese-born Cecile Kyenge. He claimed that she was “a s**t choice”, that she looked like a “housewife”, that she would impose “tribal traditions” in Italy and that Enrico Letta’s government is a “bonga bonga” government (I wouldn’t even know how to translate that, but I guess that is not necessary). 
A petition started from the Italian think tank Articolo21 asking for Borghezio’s resignation was signed by more than 130.000 people, and in May it was presented to European Parliament President Martin Schulz, who claimed that Borghezio’s words about Kyenge were “unacceptable”. 
Following that, Borghezio was suspended by the Eurosceptic group “Europe of Freedom and Democracy”. Today, it has been officially announced that the group expelled him.
What I find somehow ironic is that the party which was crucial in determining Borghezio’s expulsion is the British UKIP. UKIP in Italy is considered as the British counterpart of the Northern League (a racist, anti-immigration party). Yet, its leader Nigel Farage was the one who made the formal proposal to vote for Borghezio’s expulsion, which was achieved with a majority of over two-thirds. 
A small victory for participatory democracy, which hopefully will both restore (at least some) of people’s faith in politics and stop other politicians from following Borghezio’s steps.