December 6, 2005

‘Dirty negro’ insult not always racist: Italy court

By Gavin Jones

ROME (Reuters) - Calling a foreigner a "dirty negro" in
Italian is not necessarily a racist insult, Italy's highest
court has ruled.

The verdict, relating to a case where a group of Italian
men punched and insulted some women from Colombia, caused deep
unease at a time when Italy is struggling to contain racism.

The court on Monday ruled in favor of one of the men, who
argued he was not being racist when he launched the assault
with the words: "Sporche negre -- cosa ci fanno queste negre
qua?" ("Dirty negroes -- what are these negroes doing here?")

Most Italians would have no doubt that calling someone a
"dirty negro" was a racist insult. The term is seldom heard and
is considered no more acceptable in Italy than it would be in
Britain or the United States.

However, an insult should be judged racist "only if it is
motivated by real hatred," or is likely to cause racial hatred
in others or lead to "discriminatory behavior for reasons of
race, ethnicity, nationality or religion," the court ruled.

On the other hand, the crime of racism is not constituted
by expressions of "generic dislike, intolerance or rejection
based on race, ethnicity or religion," which appeared to fit
the case in question, the court said.

Politicians across the political spectrum criticized the
ruling and said it could not have come at a worse time.


Soccer matches around Italy began late on Sunday as players
unfurled banners saying "No To Racism" in response to an
episode on November 27 when Marc Zoro, Ivory Coast defender for
Messina in Serie A, the top division, threatened to walk off
the pitch because of racist chants from Inter Milan fans.

"This judicial interpretation is astonishing," said Green
Party lawmaker Paolo Cento.

Luigi Bobbio, of the conservative National Alliance party,
said the verdict was the result of "a subtle poison (that) has
seeped into our jurisprudence: originality at all costs."

The supreme court is no stranger to controversial

In recent years it has ruled that "an isolated and
impulsive" pat on a woman's bottom at work did not constitute
sexual harassment, and returned a verdict that a woman could
not have been raped because she was wearing skin-tight jeans.

Carlo Fucci, the vice president of Italy's national
association of magistrates, warned that the court's ruling
"could blunt the weapons that can be used against racism."

As part of the campaign against racism, all but one of the
parties on Milan's city council this week appealed to the mayor
to grant Zoro Milan's most prestigious award, a golden statue
of its patron saint, Ambrogio.

The populist Northern League party, which is often accused
of racism, dissociated itself from the appeal.

(Additional reporting by Crispian Balmer)