Several of Italy’s top politicians have spoken out in support of Italy’s Integration Minister, Cécile Kyenge, who has been the victim of a series of racial slurs since her appointment in April 2013.
The attacks came to a head on Friday, during Kyenge’s appearance at a political rally in Cervia, central Italy, when a member of the audience threw bananas towards the stage.
Her peers condemned the incident, with Environment Minister Andrea Orlando tweeting his “utmost indignation for this lowly act.”
Born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kyenge is the Italian Government’s first black minister. She has made the polemical proposal to grant Italian citizenship to anyone born on Italian soil: “A multi-ethnic Nazionale is inevitable, natural and unstoppable,” Nyenge stated during an interview with La Gazzetta dello Sport.
In protest against the proposal, members of the far-right Forza Nuova group left mannequins smeared with fake blood near the site of Friday’s Democratic Party rally. Leaflets placed with the mannequins sported the slogan “Immigration kills”, a motto previously used by the group when referring to murders committed by immigrants in Italy.
In a statement issued on Saturday, the group denied throwing the bananas.
The attack follows an incident earlier in July, in which a senator from the anti-immigration Northern League compared Kyenge to an orangutan. In June, a Northern League councillor was given a suspended jail sentence and a temporary ban from public office for stating that Kyenge should be raped so that she understands how victims of crimes committed by immigrants feel.
Kyenge is due to debate immigration policy with the Northern League’s Luca Zaia in August. Zaia, the Governor for the Veneto region, spoke out against the personal and physical nature of the attacks on Kyenge in a statement to the ANSA news agency:
“Throwing bananas, personal insults … acts like these play no part in the civilized and democratic discussion needed between the minister and those who don’t share her opinion.”
Kyenga tweeted a response to the incident, labelling it “sad” and a waste of food, adding: “The courage and optimism to change things has to come above all from the bottom up to reach the institutions.”
"Fear of diversity"
Speaking to La Gazzetta dello Sport, Kyenge drew comparisons between her experience in politics and the racism shown towards the footballer Mario Balotelli, citing insecurity and a fear of diversity as the root cause of the problem:
“Racism is helped by the economic crisis, by fear, insecurity and an idea of diversity that is never presented as enriching the culture,” she said.
“After all, what’s happening to me also happened to Balotelli. While he was an Italian player and that’s it, especially when playing abroad, he was in some way accepted. Then he represented Italy, playing for the Nazionale, scoring and winning. At that point, some people felt threatened.
“It’s a little bit like what happened when I was made a minister. It all comes down to fear of diversity, which is why we must change our way of communicating what diversity really is,” Kyenge continued.
The police have launched an investigation into Friday’s attack.
Cervia lancio banane durante intervento kyenge. "Con la gente che muore di fame e la crisi sprecare cibo così è triste"— Cécile Kyenge (@ckyenge) July 26, 2013