Being self-employed without income is not always easy, but it does give a lot of freedom. Every morning when I wake up, I can choose the subject I want to talk and write about. That usually is an advantage but not today. I had saved the subject of immigration for Brindisi, inspired by old TV images of Albanians reaching the Italian East coast. And what strikes my surprise when I get to Brindisi? Everybody is Italian. But that does not mean people don`t have an opinion about the immigration issue.
Paolo (31) confirms that Brindisi experienced an abundant influx of Albanians in 1991, but he is quick to add that most of them either returned to Albania, or moved further into Italy. `In 1999 there were also quite some Kosovars coming in on small boats, but it has been rather quiet ever since. Those who do arrive in Brindisi do not stick around. There is not even enough work here for the Italians, so anybody who does not speak Italian does not even stand a chance.`
`Job opportunities for immigrants are hard to find in the South of Italy`
Andrea (19, photo) tells the exact same story. `Immigrants are not very welcome here either. They are the subject of many jokes and the Italians hold many prejudices against them. Whether or not they have a different religious background is not even an issue, they first of all cannot communicate because of the language difference. They soon head north to join their friends or family who have installed themselves over there. Others, mainly gipsies, travel around the country without any other purpose than collecting money, and they often use their children to do the dirty job.`
Alessandro (30) claims that many of the immigrants are involved in illegal activities: `Immigrants who stick behind in Brindisi are only here to help their compatriots into Italy. There`s lots of trafficking going on. Only some Romanian and Polish women succeed in finding jobs. They help out old people who have no family and are not looked after, but those jobs are paid under the table, just like the jobs in agriculture that serve as pretty much the only alternative.`
As Angela (35) tells me, the immigrants from Eastern Europe are not the only ones who stay away from Brindisi: `There is huge competition from nearby Bari. Until five years ago, Brindisi was the major access point for people traveling to Greece. The main street of the city connected the railway station with the port and the entire area inbetween was filled with currency exchange offices and ferry ticket resellers. All of that business has collapsed. The ferries now leave from somewhere far away in the harbour and many shops went bankrupt. Bari is taking over the activity, and it does the same with the airport. It`s probably all political decisions, I don`t know why else Brindisi hasn`t done more to consolidate their position as a hub for Interrailers or even cruise ships.`
Turning the subject back to immigration, Angela tells me that the North of Italy is suffering more than the South. The news doesn`t stop reporting about violent burglaries and rapes committed by Romanians. Especially in rich areas like Treviso. It seems that many people get killed in their own houses over there.`
`Another group causing concern are the Chinese, albeit in a different way. They open plenty of shops that sell clothes at almost zero costs. There is no Italian manufacturer who can possibly compete with their prices. No violence there, but they do manage to pose a threat to the local economy. Political parties from the extreme right are becoming more and more popular, as people become impatient for solutions.`
As I have learnt earlier during my visit to Italy, many people hold positive memories of the fascist Mussolini regime in the 1930s and 1940s. The sense of national shame in no way compares to how Germany feels about the Second World War. Many Italians have only seen one side of the fascist regime: the part that increased employment and filled people with national pride. The atrocities of the Second World War are not intentionally denied in history books: they simply haven`t been witnessed in the south.
Today is my last day in Italy for now, but I aim to get a glance of Northern Italy on the way from Slovenia to Austria. At that occasion, I will write about the immigration issue again, and also about separatist movements that want to cut Italy in half. I`m now off to Greece, which is the last out one of five EU countries that I had never visited before leaving on this trip. Tomorrow`s article will come in from Patras, I hope it will prove to be another pleasant read.
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