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Political parties found guilty of discrimination in Milan mayoral election campaign
21.6.12

On 28 May 2012, the first civil section of the Milan court upheld a complaint lodged by the association NAGA against the Popolo della Libertà (PdL) and Lega Nord (LN) parties for an LN election poster, an "Appeal for Milan" produced by the PdL and for statements by their leaders Silvio Berlusconi and Umberto Bossi during the 2011 Milan mayoral election campaign that warned of the threat of Milan becoming a "zingaropoli" (lit. gipsyville) if the left-wing candidate Giuliano Pisapia was to win. Judge Orietta Micciché ruled that: "The seriously offensive and humiliating character of this expression emerges clearly and does not just have the effect of violating the dignity of the Sinti and Roma ethnic groups, but also to favour an intimidatory and hostile atmosphere towards them".

Lawyer Pietro Massarotto, the president of Naga, claimed that the ruling "is a very important victory" and that "it is the first time in Italy that a judicial decision is issued condemning political parties for discrimination". He hopes that the decision "will be understood as a very clear message against the normalisation of marginalisation and of the practices of social exclusion to which, sadly, we have become accustomed".

In its complaint, NAGA mentioned the following incidents:

- statements by Umberto Bossi: "I will do my utmost against Pisapia, because he risks to transform Milan into a gipsyville"; "Pisapia risks to transform Milan into a gipsyville. The Lega [Nord] cannot afford to allow Milan to go down the drain. He wants to increase Roma camps and build the largest mosque in Europe."; "If Pisapia wins, Milan will become a gipsyville".

- Lega Nord electoral posters stating: "Gipsyville Milan with Pisapia. + camps for nomads and the largest mosque in Europe".

- claims by Berlusconi in the so-called "appeal for Milan": "On the eve of the Expo2015, Milan cannot become an Islamic city, a gipsyville full of Roma camps and besieged by foreigners to whom the left would even grant a right to vote."; "I don't think that it is a priority for us Milanese to see a beautiful mosque built in our city".

Naga's complaint argued that these expression constituted an offence in accordance with art. 3 of legislative decree no. 215 of 9 July 2003, which transposed Council Directive 2000/43/EC of 29 June 2000, "implementing the principle of equal treatment between persons irrespective of racial or ethnic origin". This is due to the obvious derogatory connotation of the term "gipsyville", of the implicit message that a group of Roma and Sinti people constitutes a danger, and consideration that the building of a mosque per se is negative. The request was for the election posters to be removed, for the discriminatory nature of this conduct to be certified and for it to cease, and for publication of the court's decision.

The Lega Nord denied the derogatory nature of the term "zingaropoli", arguing that it was merely the expression of a legitimate political position that opposes an increase in camps for nomads and the presence of a large Islamic centre. The party's defence counsel added that Bossi's claims cannot be judged as they were made in the exercise of his role as an elected politician. The Popolo della Libertà claimed that the phrases that were uttered had as their "sole objective, that of countering candidate Pisapia's political programme without any discriminatory intention and, in any case, they constituted an expression of the freedom to express thoughts" that is constitutionally protected. Moreover, the "Appeal for Milan" was removed from the party's website.

The parties attempted to end the proceedings by reading an agreed statement in Milan city council, but the plaintiff association argued that the statements read by Matteo Salvini (LN) and Masseroli (PdL) on 20 February and 5 March 2012 respectively, had been emptied of their reparatory content by the additions introduced to the agreed text.

The court rejected the arguments that Naga was not competent to present itself as a plaintiff, which the court dismissed, as was also the claim that Mr. Bossi's and Mr. Berlusconi's declarations were not subject to judicial scrutiny and hence the allegations were not valid. In fact, the court explained that the statements were not the key matter in the case, but rather, it was the use that the parties made of their leaders' words. While Bossi's claims were not repeated and embraced by the LN, Berlusconi's claims were appropriated by the PdL when it published the "Appeal for Milan" on its website.

According to the court, the use of the term "zingaropoli" in LN campaign posters and in the "Appeal for Milan" is "clearly derogatory, insofar as the gipsy ethnic groups (Roma and Sinti) are used as a symbol of negativity and a danger that must be avoided". The expression is "seriously offensive and humiliating … and does not just have the effect of violating the dignity of the Roma and Sinti ethnic groups, but also of favouring an intimidatory and hostile atmosphere towards them". Insofar as the statements about the mosque were in opposition to perceived plans of the mayoral candidate Pisapia and did not contain direct insults or discriminatory comments about Muslims, other than critically highlighting plans to build "the largest mosque in Europe", the parties could not be denied the right to legitimately voice a negative critique.

Thus, the references to "zingaropoli" in the LN campaign posters and in the PdL's "Appeal for Milan" in May 2011 are certified as "discriminatory", and the parties must pay for the ruling to be published in the "Corriere della Sera" newspaper in characters twice the size as normal within 30 days, and they must also pay the court costs.

Sources:

Naga press statement, 13.6.2012, Milan, "'Zingaropoli': condannati Lega e PDL",

Full-text of the sentence by the first civil section of the Milan court, 28.5.2012

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