By Nick Squires, Rome 2:56PM GMT 16 Jan 2014
Northern League politician blacks up, saying that all white Italians should do the same so as to receive benefits, free housing and preferential treatment African migrants do
Right-wing politicians in Italy plumbed to new depths in their denigration of the country’s first black minister after an MP from the xenophobic Northern League “blacked up” in parliament in a protest at supposedly generous benefits received by African immigrants.
The anti-immigration Northern League has accused Cecile Kyenge, the Congolese-born minister for integration, of using her post to “favour negritude” and the rights of asylum seekers and migrants.
In a blustering performance in the lower chamber of parliament, an agitated Northern League MP, Gianluca Buonanno, used a makeup pad to smear his face with black greasepaint, advising white Italians to “become a bit darker” if they wanted to benefit from the supposedly generous benefits given to black immigrants.
He accused the coalition government of “reverse racism”, claiming that asylum seekers and migrants were given free accommodation when white Italians could “hardly afford a panino” or pay the rent.
“Too much money” was being given to immigrants when “we do nothing for our own citizens”, he claimed on Wednesday night. “To get money, perhaps we all need to make ourselves darker,” he told the Chamber of Deputies.
The Northern League appears to be ramping up its anti-immigration rhetoric in the hope of winning votes in the European Parliament elections in May.
The stunt was the latest act of intimidation against Mrs Kyenge, who was likened by another Northern League MP last year to “an orang-utan” and who had bananas thrown at her when she appeared in public.
Earlier this week Massimo Bitonci, the leader of the Northern League in the Senate, the upper house of parliament, railed against the number of migrants entering Italy, claiming they caused grave security problems.
He placed much of the blame with the minister, saying: “Kyenge knows nothing about integration, she simply wants to favour negritude like they do in France. But we can do without that.”
In a further insult, Jole Santelli, a female member of Silvio Berlusconi’s newly-launched Forza Italia party, joked on television that “blacks are lucky because they don’t have to use make-up.”
The remark echoed Mr Berlusconi’s infamous comment about Barack Obama being “sun-tanned”.
The Northern League came under heavy criticism this week after La Padania, its official newspaper, started printing a daily agenda of Mrs Kyenge’s public appointments.
MPs from her centre-Left Democratic Party, which is part of the government, said it was an act of political intimidation designed to incite fresh protests.
“Can someone tell the racists that we’re in the Third Millennium and are a civilised country, despite them,” tweeted Nichi Vendola, the head of the Left-wing SEL party and the president of the southern Puglia region.
“The racists think they’re in Alabama or Mississippi of a half-century ago or in South Africa during apartheid.”
The “Here’s Cecile Kyenge” feature was launched days after the minister was heckled during a weekend appearance in Brescia, in the Lombardy heartland of the Northern League, by party supporters and other Right-wing extremists.
La Padania’s editor defended the feature, saying the information about the minister’s whereabouts was a matter of public record.
On Wednesday an envelope containing suspicious white powder was posted to Mrs Kyenge’s parliamentary office in Rome, prompting alarm.
Police were called and found that it was baking soda, but it added to the climate of menace and intimidation surrounding the minister.