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May 02, 2013

Italy Probes Racism Against African-Italian Minister

by Selah Hennessy

The Italian government has ordered an inquiry into alleged racism on right-wing websites after slurs against the country's first black cabinet minister.

Italy's new Cabinet was sworn in on Sunday, and Cecile Kyenge took the post as minister of integration.
 
She is originally from the Democratic Republic of Congo and moved to Italy three decades ago. She is now an Italian citizen, is married to an Italian and has two children.

But right-wing websites have posted a range of racial slurs against the country's first black Cabinet member.

A member of one website described Kyenge as a "Congolese Monkey."

On Wednesday the government ordered an investigation into the websites. The new equal opportunities minister who ordered the inquiry, Josefa Idem, described the comments as "vile racist epithets."

Comments about Kyenge's race have not only appeared online.
 
Speaking on the radio earlier this week, Italian politician Mario Borghezio from the Northern League party referred to the new government as a "bonga bonga government" and said that Africans "had not produced great genes."

Other Italian politicians have been critical of what they have called "racist vulgarities."

Andrea Mammone is an expert in European politics at the University of London. He said the comments made by the Northern League do not come as a surprise.

"It is not surprising when it comes from the Northern League. They have always rejected immigration and this woman is not coming from Italy," said Mammone.
 
The anti-immigration Northern League has in the past been an ally of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi.

But Mammone said views voiced by the party represent only a slice of Italian attitudes and do not necessarily reflect a wider racism.
 
"It reveals a xenophobic approach made by some people, by some specific parties. But it is not widespread, it is something that is part of the far right in Italy," Mammone added.

Kyenge on Tuesday took to the online networking site Twitter to respond to the insults. She said that even criticism can inform "if done with respect."