This area of the city has traditionally been strongly left wing since the 1940s – like nearby San Lorenzo, it was the among portions of the city most involved in the Resistance from 1943; it has an active branch of the Ex-Partisans' Association, and was a favoured hang-out of Pier Paolo Pasolini. In the last decade or so the character of the area has begun to change with the arrival of large numbers of students (the main university here, La Sapienza, is the largest in Europe with some 140,000 students at any one time) and of immigrants, both groups in search of cheap housing. And it was this latter group who were the target of violence last Saturday.
Late in the afternoon, a group of men armed with wooden clubs and with their faces covered burst into the area, smashing up first a food shop which has been run by an Indian immigrant for the past few years, before attacking another food store and a phone centre/laundrette both run by Sri Lankans. Finally a Bangladeshi man was set upon and badly beaten.
Alemanno's condemnation was swift, he visited the area and promised that the council would pay for repairs to shops. Initial reports claimed that the masked men shouted "dirty foreigners" as they attacked; subsequently the waters have been muddied by repeated claims that the assault was not political but a vigilante revenge for an incident of pick-pocketing and repeated sexual harassment of a few local women. Now two of the aggressors have given interviews; I shall report more on this once it becomes a little clearer, and I have waded through more or the vast swathes of newsprint on the subject.
In a separate incident that same night, the gay radio show presenter Christian Floris, 24, was assaulted and threatened in another part of the city, ordered to stop his public discussion of homosexuality and gay rights. Perhaps in a country where this week a 53 year old man in Palermo stabbed his own 18 year old son for being gay, saying that "it was a question of honour and shame", we shouldn't be too surprised.
Then Albanian ballet star and TV regular Kadiu Kledi was attacked in his own dance school on Wednesday, set up in my neighbourhood in 2004, where he was giving a speech at an end of term prize giving ceremony. When Kledi challenged three unknown men who were recording the occasion without having requested permission, one of them assaulted him. In front of pupils and their parents, the man attempted to throttle Kledi, shouting "You piece of shit Albanian, I'll send you back to Albania."
Alemanno has expressed his "solidarity with an artist who has enriched and honoured our city." This rather made me wonder whether it would be ok to attack Albanians who aren't important cultural figures or TV stars. He then continued that he would like to see "a joint appeal from the centre-right and the centre-left" so that "our city" (dammit, the man is from Bari ) would be free from "every risk of intolerance and violence. This is brilliant insinuation: what the hell has this got to do with the left, precisely? Of course, if they refuse to join his condemnation they leave themselves open to attack; if they join in, they appear to support the suggestion that this is a matter divorced from the new political realities of the city, or from the mayor and his party.
It would be specious to blame these events on Alemanno, clearly; racist, xenophobic and homophobic violence was taking place in Rome before his election, when Veltroni was still in power. And the election of a "post-fascist" mayor is clearly symptom as much as – or more than? – cause. But I can't help but wonder how the situation is going to develop. It would surely be impossible to deny that his high-profile comments about clearing the city of Gypsies, and the government's proposed hard line on immigration, are not having an effect on attitudes to foreigners and immigrants.
In a speech to Italian bishops yesterday, the Pope expressed his "joy at the new political climate". Ratzinger said that the country "is emerging from a long period of crisis" and that he is "comforted" by the way that certain shared values are spreading among the population. I can't quite find a way of reading this which is other than profoundly worrying.