One hundred years of isolation. How the “nomad emergency” continues in the coronavirus emergency

The interior of a “solidarity” container, where Roma families from the Salone camp in Rome spend the lockdown.

by Nexus *

1. A buffalo squared

The rumor begins to swell on the penultimate weekend of March. He says that several Roma from the Salone camp and “a Roma” residing in a popular house in Quarticciolo have been hospitalized in Spallanzani since 11 March since they are suffering from coronavirus.

The rumor becomes news, relaunched by several newspapers, and pushes the hospital’s Health Department to specify – in the medical bulletin of March 23 – that “Roma citizens are not currently hospitalized at this institution”.

Meanwhile, the Roma Special Office in Roma Capitale announced imminent prevention and assistance actions aimed at the Roman slums.

It takes two days to discover that the bulletin is fake – as much as the hoax on the “different Roma” hospitalized. On the pages of the Messenger comes the bitter news of the death of Stanije Yovanovic , the “positive Roma” of Quarticciolo, admitted to Spallanzani 3 days before the fateful bulletin and died there due to probable complications due to the virus. She was just 33 years old and is the youngest Sars-Cov2 victim in Lazio.

Beyond the foolishness in spreading (fake) ethnic medical bulletins, the toxic cloud that hovers around the “Roma” label, used to designate an exceptional subject – and title – is smelled a mile away . Starting from the single Roma to broaden the picture towards a whole community, it proves not only a hypocritical practice – did it take the contagion of a Roma, to focus attention on the living conditions of the Roma shacked? – but also dangerous: is the contagion of one equivalent to the contagion of all? Ergo, are all Roma possible unters ?.

As proof that these are not semiological speculations, it is enough to think of the treatment reserved for the “Chinese” who, from citizens of the territory affected by the epidemic (China), have turned – to the sound of headlines – into “epidemic subjects”. Come on, you’re laughing, by dint of combining the virus with Made in China , a good portion of the population has deserted “Asian” restaurants, bars and shops for days. Then the prejudice came back – when the virus became “Lombard” – but the same cannot be said for the stigma on the Roma.

And in fact, on the same day of Spallanzani’s bulletin, a parallel and opposite narration is produced. “Jackals in action: abusive Roma in search of housing,” headlines the Milanese edition of the newspaper , to warn its readers against nomads who “take advantage of the emergency situation” to occupy the homes of Italians in quarantine. For some journalists, “Roma” is the new “delinquent”, the politically correct label to identify the harmful subject par excellence, which today, one does not know how, is somehow colluded with the virus. A bit like when Salvini, in full hangoverpost-ministerial, he tried to connect the opening of the ports with the closing of the houses: “Italians cannot leave the house, but we welcome immigrants!” No hay gang . The fetishism on the term “Roma” reveals the two sides of the same coin: the need to armor a set of critical issues within a subject as such.

To say it with Yves Citton , the word “Roma” scenarios stories, clichés, newspaper headlines and even mental images associated with the different-from-us profile. And whoever makes information knows it.

Shacks in Rome in the 1950s

2. The lockdown of diversity

“A sort of total institutions aimed at achieving political control by means of exclusion and marginalization”, thus in the 1960s the anthropologist Amalia Signorelli D’Ayala defined the settlements of “Italian slums” who asked the Municipality to take measures against the housing emergency in the Roman villages. An emergency that had started in the fascist twenty years and would be extended ad libitum to the present day. From the disembarkations of the Romans to free the historic center in the 1930s and 1940s, to the barracks of southern emigrants in the 1960s / 1970s, to those of the Yugoslav exiles in the 1980s / 1990s, up to the establishment of “equipped villages”, an all- made excellence in Italy, designed in response to the subsequent “nomad emergency” of the 2000s.

An emergency generated – with Law n.82 of 24/04/1985 – by the erroneous assumption that, as nomads, the life of Roma, Sinti and Caminanti ethnic minorities should be confined and managed in certain spaces with state control. These are “rules in favor of the Roma” – as the Lazio Region will specify – which frame the lives of the nomads (or presumed as such) within an increasingly stringent containment and prophylaxis apparatus.

We are not talking about smoky legislative orders (which still exist), but about restrictions that affect the physical and social mobility of tens of thousands of people who are cleared and transferred to state camps: metal fences, surveillance cameras, checkpoints 24 hours a day and a whole series of assistance services to be used strictly on site , that is, in the “equipped village”. The alleged protection of cultural diversity is transformed into what today, in the midst of a coronavirus emergency, we could call the ” diversity lockdown “.

A social pressure cooker that explodes in 2014, when the Mafia Capital scandal unmasks the organized crime circuit built on the field system, but at the same time further reduces the services for the “solidarity holidaymakers”, who after twenty years not only they did not “nomad”, but developed chronic isolation. First of all, that of two generations of girls and boys who were born and raised in the fields. The Roma emergency, generated by the nomadic emergency, pushes Roma Capitale to devise a new “inclusion plan”.

«We learned the best practices – those that worked – we bring them to Rome to overcome the fields […] The era of words is finally over! With this administration we move on to the facts »declares the mayor Virginia Raggi on 04/31/2017. The master plan , still in progress, has translated into proposals as unidirectional as nebulous about the concrete social, employment and housing interventions aimed at the families of the camps, while forced evictions, blackmail and abuses have remained on the agenda. **

I know these last things because I have seen them with my own eyes, but until a few years ago I was unaware of “tradition”. It was thanks to the friendship with Nedžad (twenty year old Roma from Centocelle), at the time of the break-dance workshops for the children of the suburbs, if I could get my bones and open my mind on the Roma issue. An obstacle course, because it is undermined by prejudices, mistrust and small mysteries that have led us to become friends for the skin and invent a storywhich was due to make its theater debut on April 3. With lowered curtains, we are consoled by the fact that it had achieved a result already last year, when Nedžad, at his expense, had managed to move from the “village” of via Salone to an apartment, where he is currently serving the # iorestoacasa.

Nedžad – who is a licensed nerd – found his balance between morning workouts, video games and noodles shits , but if he had still lived at the Salone , the routine would have been completely different.

Just yesterday, when I told him that I would write this article, he decided to call his friend R. (who still lives there at the Salone, together with 360 other people) to give body to those who, until a few days ago, were only unheard voices.

“If you want to leave the field you have to queue to fill in the self-certification and on your return, as proof, you have to deliver the shopping receipt to the police”. Not a novelty, given that the contingent entrance and the 24-hour police force had already been active for years, and not only at the Salone. As reported by the Association 21 July (the non-profit organization for which I worked together with Nedžad), about 3,500 human beings remain “in the field” only in Rome. To read “a good book”, as certain TV spots invite you to do, they should carve out a space in just 21 square meters which they share with six or seven other people, while basic necessities and reliable news are scarce.

Literally isolated from the world, there is a widespread atmosphere of fear and suspicion in the field, and someone prefers to tighten their belts rather than attempting to do the shopping with the risk of being fined. Nedžad remembers it well, the first supermarket is at least 40 minutes on foot from Salone.
– But the Red Cross, Caritas …?
– Usually they bring parcels of milk and pasta, but no one has been seen since the outbreak [ie from 30 January]. Maybe they too are collapsing.

Same situation for Barbuta , settlement of about 425 inhabitants near Ciampino: 24-hour garrison and receipts in hand. There Nedžad has several friends including B., a 40-year-old self-employed, who has activated himself to do the shopping for families who cannot (or do not dare) leave the house, pending the arrival of the cavalry – Red Cross and associations – who at the currently they are unable to ensure continuity of service.

3. Anything new under the sun?

Guenda is another ex-laboratory colleague of mine, who in these days is grappling with the school emergency of many children from the suburbs, including those of a housing occupation of the eastern suburbs of Rome, where a Roma community of about 300 people. The school assistance project, which among other things aimed to dismantle the stereotype of the Roma child “culturally” discouraged from reading and writing, has now been converted into “digital” assistance.

«Here at the camp not everyone has smartphones and Wi-Fi available , but above all, electricity is scarce. The power generators are active only in the dark hours and if during the day you have a dead phone, you are automatically out of teaching. In addition, the app with which teachers upload and verify their homework is in English, which further complicates matters. Without close collaboration between teachers, parents’ representatives, families and well-disposed children, it becomes almost impossible to attend like everyone else ».

Here too, nothing new under the sun. For children who used school transport in the famous “yellow buses” for Roma only before school closed, entering the class an hour later and going out an hour earlier was already the practice. Inserted within special educational and monitoring plans, under the heading “nomadic pupils”, Roma boys and girls end up playing the role – also now stereotyped – of the pupil at the last school, «who instead of writing draws and does puzzles ».

«The situation in general is critical», concludes Guenda, «For those who live for the day, there is no possibility of sustenance. There are those who have tried to go out to pick up something from the bins, but have had to go in reverse: they would throw stones from the buildings, ordering them to stay at home ».

– Let’s keep in touch -, I ask Nedžad and Guenda before ending the call, – and daje forte! -, I tell him. I will spend the rest of the day in front of the computer. I would like to make everyone understand that starting from protection, passing through control and ending with re-education, from the Roman slums to the Yugoslav exiles, the lockdown and social distancing procedures put in place by the government to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus epidemic they are the continuation of an old school social discipline pathand never suspended. That what touches us now took place yesterday and will aggravate tomorrow. That everything happens under the sun of the democratic state, not in the shadow of a totalitarian or dystopian regime, but this does not mean that we must let our guard down. That the emergency measures that governments have easily legalized and are preparing to conform in the coming months and years, must make us vigilant and not vigilant , because – here they are! – the long-range effects are already excavated in the hypervisible yet forgotten faces of the Italian Roma.

– Daje forte! -, I tell him, and I start writing.

Nexus is a Roman director and performer. For more than twenty years he has been exploring the link between street culture , visual arts, philosophy, break dance and literature. He holds dance and theater workshops in the suburbs and in the Roma camps. Together with the actress Laura Garofoli he founded the theater company Garofoli / Nexus .

** the data and quotes on the history of Roman housing emergencies are taken from the Rome reports : beyond the slums and the paper plan of May 2018 by the Associazione 21 luglio which I thank for the availability and comparison.

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5 comments on “ One hundred years of isolation. How the «nomad emergency» continues in the coronavirus emergency “

  1. paololiu04/01/2020 at 11:49 amSee the comrades of Rome!Log in to reply
  2. plumb04/01/2020 at 3:24 pmHere in Bologna confusion reigns supreme. In the center, in my neighborhood, several people mobilized to assist the “forgotten”. I set up a completely informal “association” to provide veterinary assistance to homeless dogs. The participation and support of many people derive from the … [Continue reading]Log in to reply
  3. paololiu04/01/2020 at 4:14 pmGiven that I do not consider myself a goodist; that I have never had relations with the Roma. I buried “by myself by order (?)” (after having “bypassed” the gathering of police, the trucks of the PS mobile units and finally the Carabinieri patrol with submachine guns, which they had not informed any staff … [Continue reading]Log in to reply
  4. plumb04/01/2020 at 4:27 pmHypocritical goodism that illuminates the dog better than a person and even better than a child. Because to make projections of our goodness we need a passive subject. For this reason the problem is strictly political and not of charitable humanity. But of solidarity.Log in to reply
  5. paololiu04/01/2020 at 8:31 pmWe face human frailty thinking that speciesism is also a specific trait of anthropocentrism.Log in to reply