Organised crimes

The murder of a Sicilian policeman at a game led to new measures to combat Italy’s ultra culture. But, as Vanda Wilcox explains, everyone from the government down sees politics as the cause of the violence

On February 2, Inspector Filippo Raciti was killed by a blow to the stomach, during a deliberate ambush of the police planned and carried out by CC Catania ultras at their Sicilian derby by Palermo. The fatal weapon was a piece of sink wrenched from the wall of a stadium toilet. The police were attacked with rocks, metal bars, baseball bats, flares and – last but not least – home-made bombs, one of which stuck the dying inspector, causing further injuries. Before the match, Catania ultras had collected a huge arsenal of weapons in a stadium storeroom.

Despite the fierce rivalry between the clubs, the intention was always to attack the police. Palermo fans have a deserved reputation for violence, but they played no part. Some 200 Catania ultras attacked police outside the stadium as the away fans arrived and, at a prearranged signal, hundreds more burst out from inside the Curva Nord, trapping a group of police – including Raciti – between them. This was not the first planned attack. A few months ago a policeman was lured by a ruse into the Curva Nord – all curve are no-go areas for police and ­stewards alike – and was severely beaten.

Italy’s police, confusingly split into several independent parallel structures, are regarded with a degree of contempt by people of all ages and classes. Training is poor and rates of pay are abysmal (as low as £12,000 a year even for officers in their thirties); police are commonly dismissed as corrupt and ineffective. For many ultras this disrespect has hardened into hatred.

Most English fans who’ve been to a match in Italy are shocked at the rudimentary nature of crowd control and the frequency of casual police brutality. Here, many have suffered an unwarranted baton charge or tear-gas deployment too far. A lot of ultras blame the police for the proliferation of violence: one legendary banner at a Cremonese match read: “End this violence. Keep the police out of the stadiums.” Ultras sing offensive songs about the police at most games. The classic chant runs: “Unemployment has given you a great job… shitty job, carabiniere.” (It’s a bit catchier in Italian; the carabinieri are the armed, effectively military police corps.) But it’s not sung only by the far right or ultras: it’s used in all kinds of political protests by all kinds of social groups. It was sung during the street battles between police and anti-globalisation protesters at the G8 summit at Genoa in 2001, when, amid mass rioting, a 23-year-old was shot dead by police.

Italian politics are corrupt, disorganised, chaotic and curiously static, and there seem to be more parties than voters, but we don’t suffer from apathy. No visitor can fail to notice the political posters and graffiti, the endless marches, strikes and demonstrations. And political youth movements have always been connected to violence: from Mussolini’s blackshirts through to the rioting students of 1968 and the left-wing Brigate Rosse (Red Brigades), which terrorised Italy through the 1970s and 80s.

Certain political groups unsurprisingly see the ultras as a ready source of recruits not averse to a spot of violence. Traditionally, Lazio, Inter, the notoriously racist Verona, Udinese and Catania have had strong connections to the far right; fewer clubs have had links to the far left, but the hammer and sickle flies at every Empoli match in the club’s blue and white colours, while Livorno and Bologna are also left-wing.

In right-wing curve it’s not uncommon to find fascist salutes and flags displaying Celtic crosses (a fascist symbol across Europe), even swastikas. Police have uncovered close links between groups such as Inter’s Boys SAN and Roma’s (recently disbanded) Tradizione Distinzione and the organisation Forza Nuova, a neo-fascist movement founded in 1997 that is linked to far-right parliamentary parties but which operates outside democratic structures. Police claim these groups actively seek to spread neo-Nazi beliefs among other fans.

Extremist groups use the ultras not only as recruiting grounds but as willing partici- pants in violence against the police. The prefect of Rome, Achille Serro, observed recently: “Maybe they think that by fighting the uniform they’re fighting the institutions.” The Catania branch of Forza Nuova have been clearly implicated in the ambush of the police, though their website boasts the claim that the media have carried out a baseless smear campaign against them, and that “the Catania police have desperately sought to create a link” to the far right.

As Giuliano Amato, the Minister for the Interior, told parliament after the rioting: “Violence is not born within the stadiums, it is linked to political extremism.” His new regulations will increase the effectiveness of banning orders, improve stewarding, end organised away travel and help keep weapons and explosives out of the stadiums: all sensible measures. But the fundamental social and political issues fuelling the events at Catania will not be so easily solved.

From WSC 242 April 2007. What was happening this month