Posted on January 16, 2014

Italy’s Cecile Kyenge Calls for Action on Rising Racism

BBC News, January 15, 2014

Italy’s only black cabinet minister has called for more support as she endures relentless non-violent racist attacks.

Cecile Kyenge is in charge of efforts to integrate immigrant communities into wider Italian society and is frequently targeted by right-wing opponents.

Ms Kyenge said Italy’s institutions and political establishment must do more.

“Politics must stand up as one and condemn racism lest it become a dangerous weapon that can kill democracy,” the Congolese-born MP said.

Ms Kyenge has faced a torrent of abuse since her appointment in April from the right-wing Northern League party and its supporters.

The League’s newspaper, La Padania, has just begun publishing her daily itinerary–presumably so that the hecklers will always know where to find the minister, says the BBC’s Alan Johnston in Rome.

Last year, one of its most senior figures likened her to an orangutan. Another accused Ms Kyenge of wanting to impose “tribal traditions” on Italy.

One of the League’s councillors even called for the minister to be raped.

Ms Kyenge has been heckled, and had bananas thrown at her during political rallies.

‘Better than this’

Ms Kyenge has now called for action.

“Our constitution is a strong tool to fight racism, but it’s never used.

“The country must react in response to these acts, which must be recognised for what they are, that is, acts of racism and discrimination,” Ansa news agency quoted Ms Kyenge as saying.

In a newspaper interview, Ms Kyenge said that, as a black woman, who had studied and become a minister, she had challenged the prejudices of the most intolerant people.

But she made clear that she would continue to do her job. If she backed down she would hand victory to her opponents.

Members of Ms Kyenge’s Democratic Party and other centre-left politicians have called for the League’s newspaper feature “Here’s Cecile Kyenge” to be pulled, describing it as “tantamount to intimidation”.

La Padania’s editor said the information was in the public domain anyway.

In a separate development, police confirmed that a suspicious powder mailed to Ms Kyenge on Wednesday was baking soda.

The package was intercepted at a mail-processing centre.