Berlusconi Warns Against Multiculturalism

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Berlusconi Warns Against Multiculturalism

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By: Alessandra Rizzo

Date: March 28, 2006

Source: Rizzo, Alessandra. "Berlusconi Warns Against Multiculturalism." Associated Press, March 28, 2006.

About the Author: Alessandra Rizzo is a regular contributor to the Associated Press, a worldwide news agency based in New York.


In 2000, there were more than one million legal immigrants living in Italy. Immigrant communities were diverse, consisting of Africans from Morocco, Senegal, and Tunisia (a total of 310,748); Asians from China, India, and the Philippines (a total of 192,864); and Europeans from Albania, former Yugoslavia, Poland, and Romania (a total of 382,924). The legal immigrant population also included people of the Americas, including Brazil, Peru, Colombia, and the Dominican Republic. In contrast, there were nearly 600,000 illegal immigrants residing in Italy. Cities with the highest concentration of immigrants are Rome and Milan.

Italy has the unique distinction of serving as a bridge to other countries in Europe. Shiploads of immigrants regularly arrive with people seeking refuge from war and armed conflicts. At the same time, Italy is experiencing a labor shortage in Northern regions. Although most immigrants live and work in central and northern Italy (thirty-four and fifty-four percent, respectively), public opinion correlates immigration with poverty and crime.

In 2002, Prime Minister Berlusconi passed new legislation to regulate immigration for legal and illegal immigrants. Some fear the new Law No. 189 (the Bossi-Fini law), which is stricter than previous measures, will hurt the economy. Others argue that the law is beneficial because it requires employers to sign contracts for decent housing and return travel expenses, fixed wages, and set lengths of employment.

Those in favor of the law assert it benefits the country by improving living standards of immigrants and providing a more selective process for immigrant laborers.


ROME (AP)—Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi said he does not want Italy to become a multiethnic, multicultural country, drawing plaudits from a right-wing ally and criticism from center-left opponents.

Berlusconi, a conservative, faces a stiff challenge in next month's national election, with opinion polls putting him behind his opponent, former premier Romano Prodi.

The poor economy, a main worry for voters in this election, has fed concerns about immigration by right-wing parties in Berlusconi's coalition, although the kind of work usually done by immigrants is shunned by many Italians. Surveys show that some Italians also perceive immigrants as being linked to crime.

"We don't want Italy to become a multiethnic, multicultural country. We are proud of our traditions," Berlusconi said Monday on state-run radio.

Berlusconi's government has put in place a tough immigration policy, including legislation cracking down on illegal immigration. The 2002 law allows only immigrants with job contracts to obtain residency permits.

"We want to open (our borders) to foreigners who flee countries where their lives or liberties are at risk," said Berlusconi, adding those who come to Italy to work also are welcome. "We don't want to welcome all those who come here to bring about damage and danger to Italian citizens."

Thousands of illegal immigrants come to Italy every year, mostly crossing the Mediterranean from North Africa on rickety boats. The latest group of more than 200 landed Monday on Lampedusa, a tiny island off Sicily.

Most immigrants, if they elude police, move on to other European countries.

The Northern League, a right-wing anti-immigrant party, welcomed Berlusconi's remarks.

"Here's the Berlusconi we want," said Roberto Calderoli, a Northern League leader who was forced to quit as reforms minister last month after he wore a T-shirt on state TV decorated with caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. "Our values, our identity, our history, our traditions" must be defended against immigration, the Italian news agency ANSA quoted him as saying.

Paolo Cento of the opposition Greens party criticized Berlusconi, saying "the multiethnic society is a reality and an asset that must be handled," ANSA said.


Italy is in a state of political and social adjustment. Social scientists have been trying to understand the world's racial and ethnic interactions since World War II. Nearly sixty years later, race and ethnicity remains a difficult social topic to predict. Historically, Italy was a country of emigrants—with an exodus in the late 1800's and early 1900's of immigrants to the United States. In the twenty-first century, Italy must grapple with the reverse—an exodus from other countries to its shores. In addition, with one of the world's lowest fertility rates, fewer Italian workers and more immigrants on the way mean that migration management will be an issue for years to come.

Due to its position as a bridge to Western Europe, Italy has been criticized by the European Union for its immigration policies, especially with regard to implementation and enforcement. Critics doubt Italy's ability to regulate its vulnerable shoreline (4,720 miles, or 7,600 kilometers). Some tout the new Bossi-Fini law as the answer to Italy's immigration problem, while others assert that improved border management and economic support in developing countries is the answer.



Grills, R. D. and J. C. Pratt. The Politics of Recognizing Difference: Multiculturalism Italian-Style. Aldershot, U.K.: Ashgate, 2002.


Kowalczyk, Jaime and Thomas S. Popkewitz. "Multiculturalism, Recognition and Abjection: (Re)mapping Italian Identity." Policy Futures in Education 3 (2005): 423-435.

Rex, John. "Empire, Race, and Ethnicity." International Journal of Comparative Sociology 45 (2004): 161-177.

Web sites

Migration Information Source. "Italy." 〈〉 (accessed June 26, 2006).

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