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 permit.
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.