A recent series of homophobic attacks in Rome have left some people in the UK surprised about supposedly relaxed Italian attitudes turning into violence.
The truth is there have always been right-wing extremists in Italy. It’s definitely not the majority of the population but it’s probably a consistent percentage. Italian society overall is fairly polarised in terms of left/right and there’s a long history of fighting between left-wing and right-wing extreme factions (particularly in the 70s), so those on the left call every one else a fascist and those on the right call any liberal a commie. You can see these in the speeches of Berlusconi who constantly refers to the media attacking him as communist. It has been pointed out to him that he’s consistently attacked by the Economist which can hardly be defined a communist publication but this hasn’t deterred him much as he is not, shall we say, very aware of what goes on around him.
However, out of those on the right a very small proportion could be defined as extremists (or fascists, as they are called, even though the terms seems a little anachronistic to me). And of course they don’t like immigrants and they don’t like LGBT people, but to say that it’s the fault of immigrants for them firing up and becoming aggressive towards LGBT people is silly. These people are always on the edge of being violent towards anyone they don’t like and their behaviour is no more the fault of immigrants as gay people can be considered the source of homophobia by merely existing.
LGBT people are becoming very visible in Italy: Pride marches in every city, gay streets, the Gay Village in Rome is probably the single most popular summer event in the city (with straights and gay people alike) a large outdoor space turned into club/cinema/shops and this of course makes gay people very visible which spurs on those who don’t like them.
The problem is that at the moment Italy has a right-wing fairly moderate government. A bit of a joke in more than one way, but hardly a fascist government. In Rome, on the other hand, the mayor has a history of being one of those 70s right-wing violent types and although now he has supposedly “matured” and become a more moderate politician like many others of his generation, the mere fact that he is in power sends a strong signal to these extreme factions who feel legitimised and allowed to commit these violent acts.
Now the mayor has strongly condemned the recent attacks and declared his support for the government to swiftly pass new hate-crime legislation to protect LGBT people but his presence as a mayor still has a symbolic value for these extremists.
I suppose that in much the same way that some LGBT people think that Obama is in favour of same-sex marriage in spite of his official position (I am one of them), a lot of right-wing extremists in Italy are probably convinced that the mayor is playing the role of the acceptable face of a more extreme ideology. I don’t know if they are right. Just like I don’t know if Obama is really not in favour of same-sex marriage.