The Egyptian museum in Turin, a northern city in Italy, is keen to diversify its clientele. It offered a three-month discount (link in Italian) for Arabic speakers to come and see its artifacts, many of which originated from Egypt. The offer did inspire a crowd, but not the one the museum was probably hoping for.
Brothers of Italy, the far-right party which is a junior member of a three-way coalition led by Silvio Berlusconi, staged a protest outside the museum last week (Feb. 9) after taking offense to the museum’s offer because it was “discriminating against Italians,” said The New York Times reports (paywall).
Giorgia Meloni, the leader of The Brothers of Italy who has been dubbed the “friendly face of Italy’s surging far-right,” stood behind a “No Islamization” banner and accused the museum of discrimination on Facebook Live. In a separate—widely viewed video—the museum director, Christian Greco, can be seen confronting the protestors. Greco insists the museum belongs to everyone and quipped: “Why don’t you come to protest when students get in free on Thursdays?”
After the exchange, support for Greco came flooding in. Culture Minister Dario Franceschini expressed his support for the director on Twitter, saying: “We called skilled and independent people with international experience, such as #ChristianGreco, to direct Italian museums. The right threatens to kick them out because they don’t obey. It’s true a leopard can’t change his spots.” The museum board had also backed the director, stating their “solidarity and full support for the management of the institution and the cultural operations conducted since his appointment.”
The row over discounts to Arabic speakers highlights rising anti-immigrant sentiments in Italy. The country has borne the brunt of Europe refugee crisis over the last three years—a fact that has bolstered anti-immigrant populists. Immigration remains the most contentious issue in the upcoming elections, with even the center-right now accused of fanning the “flames of racism.”
The tension has reached boiling point. Earlier this month, a gunman, who had an Italian flag wrapped around his neck when he was detained, carried out a drive-by shooting spree that targeted African immigrants. All six people who were wounded survived the attack. Following the incident, thousands of people demonstrated in central Italian town of Macerata to protest against racism and fascism.