Political parties found
guilty of discrimination in Milan mayoral election campaign
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
- 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
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
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.
Naga press statement, 13.6.2012, Milan, "'Zingaropoli':
condannati Lega e PDL",
of the sentence by the first civil section of the Milan court,
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