In this contribution, Massimo Ricciuti talks about Xenophobia, a phenomenon in great growth also in Italy. Even in daily life, discrimination increases

A modern town centre. An elegant street with ancient buildings, some offices, among them there is the Institute Grenoble, the French school which I attended in my younger years, and then there is a bank. I went inside the bank and made a bank transfer, insodoing signing up for the Italian Federation of Human Rights.

With the news that the Helsinki Committee are to open a new office in my city, I’m in a good mood as I complete this transfer. Leaving the bank, I continue walking on this street – that I know very well and where I grew up.

I became then became a witness to a scene. A bunch of well-dressed, good-looking kids surrounded an ethnic minority man working as a florist. They harassed, tugged and teased this peacefully working man. They were around the age of my children. The florist didn’t react, even as they continued to insultt him, and devastate his small shop. I looked around, and it seemed nobody wanted to intervene, just passing by with total indifference. I quickly stood between the kids and the man with trying to stop this street violence.

To my shock, when I asked what they were doing, one boy replied: “Nothing, he is a black man…” I was shocked. One of the boys finally apologised after I told him off but I am not sure that any of this really taught the boys a lesson, as they continued to laugh as they run away. The young vendor and I looked at each other silently as I helped him rearrange his things and tidy up. I apologised for what happened although it was difficult to find the right words to do so. Instead, he smiled at me and said: “It’s only a child. Don’t worry. I’m used to it” He told me his name was Nimal.. I still felt embarrassed, I asked him how much would a bunch of red carnations would cost. He picked the freshest ones up and wrapped with paper it for me and told me I owed him nothing as he gave the flowers to me with a kind smile. I didn’t insist. I thanked him and got my bouquet of flowers and with a smile, I walked home.

I reflected on the day’s events. These children were so young, and had already started to so casually display xenophobia. Just one step away from fascism, I thought to myself.

The newspapers write about the declarations of extreme right-wing politicians during elections. Some politicians speak about the purity of the white race, some about defending their country’s values from the ‘invasion’ of immigrants. Some write about concern for ‘our’ women, and also that they have to back to be better mothers. Some weeks have passed since these events, and every time when I pass through the shop of my friend, the florist, I buy a bunch of flowers for my wife and my daughter.

Fresh beautiful flowers from my friend, Nimal.

Massimo Ricciuti


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