Analysis: What’s behind Italy’s anti-vax protests and neo-fascist violence?

There are growing calls in Italy for new laws against groups aligned with fascism after violent clashes with police followed a protest against Italy's green pass in Rome. How did all this start, and what comes next?

Members of Forza Nuova have been involved in several 'No Green pass' protests in Rome, with the most recent on Saturday becoming violent. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP
Members of Forza Nuova have been involved in several 'No Green pass' protests in Rome, with the most recent on Saturday becoming violent. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

On Saturday, an estimated ten thousand protestors demonstrated in Rome’s Piazza del Popolo against an incoming expansion of the green pass health certificate requirement imposed by the Italian government. By Saturday night, clashes with police had left 38 officers injured and buildings ransacked.

Members of Forza Nuova who took part in the demonstrations broke into and occupied the headquarters of the CGIL labour union federation, smashing up the premises.

Several hundred others, also believed to have been led by Forza Nuova, targeted the prime minister’s office but were pushed back by police using tear gas and water cannon.

12 Forza Nuova members were subsequently arrested, and there are now growing calls for the party – and other similar groups – to be disbanded.

But what does this neo-fascist group have to do with a protest about a mandatory health certificate?

What was the protest about?

From October 15th, all workers across the public and private sectors in Italy will be required to produce a Covid-19 health certificate or ‘green pass’ to be able to enter the workplace.

The requirement had already been in place since September 1st for schoolteachers and university staff, as well as for anyone wanting to use long-distance public transport; and the certificate has been required since August 6th to enter most cultural, entertainment and leisure venues in the country.

The green pass proves bearers have either been vaccinated with at least one dose, have recovered from Covid-19 within the past six months, or have tested negative in the previous 48 hours (for rapid antigen tests) or 72 hours (for molecular PCR tests).

This means that workers can opt for testing instead if they refuse the vaccine. But coronavirus tests have never been free in Italy, and those who wish to remain unvaccinated must pay for one every two to three days.

Some of those demonstrating complained about the cost of testing and accused the government of using coercive tactics, while others held signs or wore t-shirts with slogans referring to conspiracy theories about vaccines.

With 8.4 million people who are eligible for a Covid shot in Italy still unvaccinated, and just days to go until the new rules kick in, it’s likely these most committed holdouts who made up the bulk of the crowd demonstrating over the weekend.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

Anti-green pass protesters demonstrate in Rome before the event descends into violence on October 9, 2021.

Anti-green pass protesters demonstrate in Rome before the event descends into violence on October 9, 2021. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

An estimated 10,000 people attended the protest, according to the news daily Corriere della Sera, making it the largest protest Italy has seen over coronavirus restrictions.

Previous demonstrations around the country – including one led by Forza Nuova in Rome July – attracted just a few hundred protestors.

One of the largest, held at the Piazza del Popolo in June, drew 1,000 demonstrators.

Who are Forza Nuova and why are they involved in the protests?

Forza Nuova was created in 1997 in the tradition of the violent, extreme right-wing organisations active in Italy’s so-called Years of Lead in the 1970s, and grew into a national force in 2008.

It demands an abortion ban, a total end to immigration, and the repeal of hate speech laws.

The group is openly neo-fascist. Its current leader, Roberto Fiore, a 62-year-old father to 11 children, was found guilty in the 1980s of subversive crime and founding a far-right armed political movement.

As a political party, it has never achieved a score of even 0.5 percent at any election, even when allied with other far-right groups.

Along with CasaPound, FN is the main neo-fascist organisation active in Italy and often makes headlines for violence against immigrants and police.

Most recently, the group has been involved in several protests against the expansion of Italy’s green pass system, with experts saying the pandemic has opened up new opportunities for the group to find support.

Political expert Marco Revelli, who has written books on Italy’s far-right and far-left, said the FN attracts support by helping those on society’s margins who feel abandoned by the state, delivering food parcels to the
poorest in city suburbs.

While “certainly not a credible political force”, polling at less than one percent of the vote, he said it has been infiltrating anti-lockdown and anti-vaccine demonstrations.

“The pandemic has opened up new ground,” the retired professor of political science told AFP.

Protesters shout abuse during clashes with police in Rome on Saturday night. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

It’s unclear how many of Saturday’s protesters were aligned with the party, but the demonstrators were reportedly bussed in from all over the country, with at least 56 minivans, five coaches, and numerous other motor vehicles identified by police currently reviewing security footage.

In a raid last month, police reportedly found batons, smoke bombs, and ‘No Pass’ banners in the home of Forza Nuova Rome leader Giuliano Castellino and other figures high up in the party.

“Tonight we’ll take Rome,” Castellino is reported to have shouted during a speech to the crowd, before leading a charge on Palazzo Chigi, the seat of the Council of Ministers and the official residence of the Italian prime minister.

While police prevented rioters from reaching Palazzo Chigi using water cannon and tear gas, video footage appeared to show a small number of officers overwhelmed by a violent mob outside the CGIL building.

CGIL, the Italian General Confederation of Labour, was formed by agreement between the anti-fascist socialists, communists, and Christian democrats in the “Pact of Rome” of June 1944, and is an obvious targe for those with extreme right-wing views.

Once inside, rioters were reported to have used a loudspeaker to make accusations that CGIL had “betrayed” workers by allowing the green pass expansion to go ahead.

Castellino is now under house arrest with an electronic tag and a five-year DASPO (a ban on attending sporting events, usually used against football hooligans).

“For me this is a medal, I’ll continue the fight,” he’s reported to have said.

Among the other other Forza Nuova leaders arrested are the group’s national head Roberto Fiore and the restauranteur Biagio Passaro, leader of the IoApro (“I open”) movement against coronavirus lockdowns, reports the national broadcaster Rai.

Forza Nuova Rome leader Giuliano Castellino gives a thumb to a riot policeman during clashes in central Rome on October 9, 2021.

Forza Nuova Rome leader Giuliano Castellino gestures at a riot police officer during clashes in central Rome on Saturday. Photo: Tiziana FABI / AFP

What happens next?

Politicians across the spectrum condemned the violence, and the centre-left Democratic Party (PD) and the once anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) on Monday signed a motion in parliament calling for Forza Nuova to be banned.

PD leader Enrico Letta, a former prime minister, compared Saturday’s events to the storming of the US Capitol in Washington by supporters of Donald Trump.

“Neofascist groups have tried to use this difficult (pandemic) situation for acts of insurrection, nothing more and nothing less than what happened in the United States on January 6th,” he said.

Two separate investigations into the riots in the capital have already been opened by prosecutors, Italian media reported.

FN’s website was taken offline Monday by order of a Rome court as part of an investigation into alleged “incitement to violence”.

READ ALSO: Riots put Italian government under pressure to ban neo-fascist groups

Palazzo Chigi has issued a statement saying that rules on protests must be tightened in the wake of Saturday’s clashes.

The institution has said that demonstrations should only be permitted after a rigorous risk assessment, “to demonstrate that the State exists and intervenes to counter the violent, to crush extremism and the initiatives of those who aim to create tension and instability,” reports Corriere della Sera.

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Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

After Italy recently removed most Covid-related restrictions, readers have been asking us what exactly to expect on upcoming visits. Here are your questions answered.

Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

Rules around travel to Italy and within the country have changed multiple times over the past two years. Unsurprisingly, they changed again just over a week ago.

On May 1st, Italy removed nearly all of its Covid-related social restrictions, including the so-called ‘green pass’ (or certificato verde), which was previously required to enter most venues across the country.

READ ALSO: Dining outdoors and hiking: How visitors plan to holiday in Italy this summer 

As the bel paese moves past its former state of emergency and opens up again to international tourism, we asked readers whether they’ll be travelling to Italy this summer. Most said yes, although some of you had doubts and reservations about the Covid restrictions currently in place.

And you had some questions for us, too – mainly about what to expect once you arrive in the country.

Below are our answers, based on the Italian government’s latest decree and the current advice from the health ministry.

If you’re looking for a detailed look at the entry rules when travelling to Italy this summer, please find more information here.

Q: Does Italy still have vaccine requirements in place?

A: A valid Covid vaccination or recovery certificate will be required to enter Italy until at least May 31st, when the current travel rules expire. 

As for travelling within Italy, as of May 1st, a valid health certificate is no longer required to access indoor venues and transport services. All visitors are free to travel across the country and enter restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatres and other indoor locations without having to provide a valid health pass.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What Covid-19 are now in place in Italy?

The only exception is for hospitals and care homes, which will continue to require a ‘green pass’ or its equivalent in the form of a foreign-issued vaccine or recovery certificate until December 2022.

Q: What kind of masks do you have to wear when travelling by train?

A: The use of FFP2 face masks is mandatory on all means of public transport, so not just trains but also buses, ferries and so on. Those equipped with a different type of face covering will be prevented from using the service.

The obligation to wear face masks on public transport will remain in place until at least June 15th.

Please note that FFP2 face masks are also required to enter the following indoor venues: cinemas, theatres, entertainment and sport venues (but not museums or galleries).

READ ALSO: Where do you still need to wear a mask in Italy from May 1st?

Q: Will more restaurants and shops be closed than normal?  

A: No, quite the contrary. After a couple of rather grim years, things are apparently once again looking up for Italian tourism. 

According to a survey from market research institute Demoskopika, the number of domestic and international tourists in Italy is set to rise by 43 percent compared to 2021. The first signs of such expected recovery manifested themselves over the Easter holidays, when some of the most popular Italian tourist destinations recorded ‘pre-pandemic’ numbers of visitors. 

So, to answer the question, most local businesses will look to capitalise on the renewed inflow of both international and national tourists and will therefore keep their doors (and hearts, hopefully) open.

View of the bars in the Navigli area, Milan

After a couple of rather bleak years, bars and restaurants are ready to welcome back international visitors. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Q: I’m vaccinated but not ‘boosted’ and want to know if this is acceptable.

A: It is indeed. 

For the sake of clarity, here are the current rules on the topic.

Until at least May 31st when the rules expire (they may either be scrapped or extended after this point; The Local will provide updates when the deadline approaches), travellers may enter the country if they are asymptomatic and can present one of the following:

  • A Covid-19 vaccination certificate recognised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Presently, EMA recognises the following vaccines: Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, Vaxzevria Johnson and Johnson, Astrazeneca and Novavax. Please keep in mind that the minimum requirement is that you have fully completed the primary vaccination cycle (in this case, your pass will be valid for 9 months). For those who have already received a booster shot, the certificate is valid indefinitely.
  • A valid medical certificate confirming recovery from Covid (this is valid for 6 months from the positive swab test)
  • A negative molecular (PCR) test carried out within 72 hours of arrival in Italy or a rapid antigen test carried out within 48 hours of arrival

As previously mentioned, you won’t need a health pass (nor negative test result) to travel across the country.

Q: What type of health pass is needed for indoor dining from May?

A: None. No vaccination or recovery certificate is required to access bars and restaurants. Face masks are also no longer mandatory. 

Having said that, the use of face coverings in all indoor settings is still “strongly recommended” by the government. Furthermore, some local businesses have chosen to independently enforce stricter rules and only allow people equipped with a face mask to enter their premises.

Q: What are the current restrictions for hotels, restaurants and museums? 

A: There are no Covid-related restrictions (that is, not even face masks) for hotels, restaurants and museums.

However, as mentioned above, some businesses may choose to enforce their own rules and ask customers to wear a face covering. So, keep this in mind before you waltz into your local grocery store without a mask.

Musei Capitolini in Rome

Health certificates are no longer required to enter indoor venues, including museums and galleries. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Q: What are the isolation rules if you test positive while visiting Italy?

A: If you test positive for Covid during your trip, you will have to self-isolate at your existing accommodation and notify the relevant local authorities (Aziende Sanitarie Locali, ASL) as soon as possible.

The Italian quarantine instructions are a bit of a head-scratcher, therefore we’ll try to summarise them as follows:

  • Those who have received a ‘booster shot’, have completed the first vaccination cycle no more than 120 days prior to testing positive or have recovered from Covid no more than 120 days prior to testing positive will be required to self-isolate for at least seven days. 
  • All others will be required to self-isolate for at least 10 days, regardless of whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic.

You’ll be able to exit your quarantine period by taking a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

However, note that you will only be allowed to take such tests if you’ve shown no symptoms in the three days prior to the supposed date of the test. If you have, your self-isolation period will be extended. 

For instance, if you’re supposed to get tested on the tenth day of your quarantine but show symptoms on the ninth, you’ll only be able to get tested on the twelfth.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on specific cases. For more information about how the rules may apply to you, see the Italian Health Ministry’s website or consult the Italian embassy in your country.

You can keep up with the latest updates via our homepage or Italian travel news section.