Flowers are still arriving at the roadside for Pamela Mastropietro. It is just over two weeks since this troubled blonde 18-year-old went missing here, only to resurface in a pair of suitcases left in a ditch.
No sooner was an illegal immigrant arrested for her killing than a local neo-fascist took it upon himself to drive around town in broad daylight shooting anyone who looked vaguely foreign.
Six African migrants were injured — though no one has left any flowers for them.
Several arrests and the arrival of one of the country’s top police officers here have done little to calm the mood.
The killing of troubled 18-year-old Pamela Mastropietro and the subsequent arrest of an illegal immigrant sparked vigilante attacks
Ms Mastropietro was reported missing and later resurfaced in a pair of suitcases in a ditch
Troubling questions continue to emerge. Why are some of the girl’s body parts allegedly missing? And why was the suspected murderer here in Macerata at all, having had all his claims for asylum rejected?
It may sound like something out of a gritty American inner-city drama, but it is all too real here in north-east Italy.
The shockwaves caused by events in this handsome hill town are not merely reverberating through Italy.
They may end up having a bearing on all of us. For Macerata finds itself at the political epicentre of an election campaign which could have consequences across the EU and even at the Brexit negotiating table.
A fortnight tomorrow, Italians will go to the polls in an election that was ill-tempered enough before the horror show in Macerata.
The EU’s failed migration policies and the arrival of hundreds of thousands of African migrants on the Italian coast had already made immigration one of the two big issues in the election on March 4. The other is Italy’s dismal economy, currently buried under £2 trillion of national debt.
The shockwaves caused by events in Macerata are reverberating around Italy. On Friday, riot police clashed with protesters in Bologna
The EU’s failed migration policies and the influx of hundreds of thousands of African migrants had already made immigration a key election issue. Pictured: Protesters in Bologna yesterday
Macerata has raised the stakes even higher.
Most Italians I meet blame their politicians for ineptitude and the EU for abandoning them. They are in a vengeful mood.
The rest of Europe, Britain included, cannot simply shrug all this off as internal business.
If Italy were to default on its debts, the carnage would be felt across the eurozone and beyond. If Italy could not cope with a fresh surge of migrant arrivals and merely sent the next wave on their way to northern Europe, the knock-on effect would soon be felt at Channel ports.
The next Italian government will also play a big part in shaping the direction of Europe and, thus, Brexit.
But you need only look at a ballot paper to appreciate the chaotic state of the political system, even by Italian standards.
This is a country that is about to elect its 66th government since World War II, a nation with five prime ministers in the past seven years.
If you thought British politics had a credibility issue, then study the current line-up here.
The two front-runners are the ‘anti-politics’ Eurosceptic Five Star Movement, founded by an anarchic comedian, but now led by a nervous young man in a suit. On the other side is a Eurosceptic, Right-wing coalition led by former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.
The rest of Europe, Britain included, cannot simply shrug Italy’s troubles off as internal business. If Italy were to default on its debts, the carnage would be felt across the eurozone
Here is a man who cannot actually stand for elected office himself because he is a convicted tax fraudster.
Though he has overturned a conviction for sex with an under-age prostitute, he is currently indicted for paying women not to testify about his ‘bunga bunga’ sex parties — gatherings that make Britain’s sleazy men-only Presidents Club look like a Sunday school picnic.
Berlusconi’s coalition partners are the hard-Right League or ‘Lega’ (previously the breakaway Northern League) and the even-more-Right-wing neo-fascist Brothers of Italy. Despite the name, they are led by a woman and their candidates include Rachele Mussolini, granddaughter of the wartime dictator.
As for the Left, things are looking bleak. Italy’s centre-Left Democratic Party (PD) is the only one sharing the vision of ever-closer European union peddled by France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel. But Italians want less Europe, not more.
Even diehard supporters of the PD admit this is not their year. Their great hope, the shiny Macron-style Matteo Renzi, was prime minister for five minutes, but destroyed his career with a botched referendum on the constitution in 2016 and had to be replaced by a caretaker PM.
Once the country has voted a fortnight hence, Italy seems likely to join the EU’s anti-Brussels nationalist awkward squad of Poland, Austria, Hungary and others.
There is, though, little appetite for a Brexit-style break with Europe — there will be no ‘Quitaly’ just yet — largely because the country could not stand the economic shock.
But Brussels is viewed with utter contempt. And politicians across the board are now capitalising on the Macerata situation.
A police officer and a protester who was marching against a demonstration from a far-right group
Berlusconi himself has warned of a ‘social bomb’ as a result and says that just 5 per cent of Italy’s 600,000 migrants are legitimate refugees who should be allowed to stay.
The newspaper La Repubblica has carried a pre-Macerata opinion poll showing that 40 per cent of Italians ‘strongly or very strongly’ agree that migrants represent ‘a danger to public order and personal safety’.
Here in Macerata, 150 miles north of Rome, I find zero appetite for greater European integration — and this is a Left-wing university town.
Historically, it would have been firmly behind the liberal consensus.
Not any more. Even the liberals talk like Ukip, while those on the Right talk of mass deportations. Every conversation involves the phrase: ‘I’m not racist but . . .’
Last weekend, thousands of Left-wing demonstrators descended on the town for an anti-fascist demonstration following the attack on the migrants. The locals, however, did not take part.
All tell me that the situation had been getting out of hand long before recent atrocities, with a marked rise in begging, petty theft and increased inter-racial tension.
Most suspect the authorities are not telling them the whole story about Pamela Mastropietro’s death.
At first, it was suggested that she was a drug addict who had taken an overdose and that her panicking drug dealer had disposed of the body.
Then the coroner informed a newspaper that there were signs of a violent death.
Next, came reports of body parts being removed, prompting wild theories about ritualistic killings. Four men, all believed to be Nigerian, have now been arrested in connection with the death.
Today, the tension is palpable. I am standing on the steps of the town hall when a furious row breaks out right in front of me. A middle-aged Italian man is hurling racist abuse at a Nigerian migrant who is riding his bike down a flight of steps.
The Nigerian man unleashes a torrent of fluent Italian swear words right back at him. It is so loud and unpleasant that the mayor leans out of his office window above and appeals for calm. The two move on, yelling back at each other.
Following Mastropietro’s death, a local neo-fascist took it upon himself to drive around town in broad daylight shooting anyone who looked vaguely foreign. Pictured: Protests in Bologna
All over town there are ugly reminders, starting with the fresh bullet hole in the wall of the railway station. Walk up the hill and you find the shattered glass in the window of Catia Monachesi’s patisserie.
Three members of one family were enjoying a Saturday morning coffee at this counter when a bullet missed them by inches as neo-fascist Luca Traini, 28, went on his racist mission to avenge Pamela’s death. Catia, her family and her customers all had to dive for cover behind the counter.
On a country road a few miles out of town, I find flowers and rosary beads at the roadside ditch where Pamela’s remains were found.
‘I am a mother of a girl your age,’ says the card on one bouquet. ‘How could they do this to you?’
Traini’s shooting spree ended at Macerata’s war memorial, where he was arrested draped in the Italian flag. Ulderico Oratzi’s cafe is opposite. He is appalled by what has happened — both to the girl and to the migrants — but says tighter migration controls are now vital.
‘The first thing the new government needs to do is check all these migrants and send back those who do not have the right to be here,’ says Ulderico, who happens to be an active member of the centre-Left PD.
In the streets, all voice incredulity at the twin horrors of a murder and drive-by shootings.
‘It’s like being in a horror story,’ says Anna, a neighbour of the private apartment block where Pamela was murdered.
The suspected killer was paying £600 a month for a flat in a complex with a private garden, entryphones and a tidy marble hall. Like everyone else around here, Anna wonders how a failed asylum seeker could afford it.
It has been widely reported that the man was a known drug-dealer who applied for asylum and was rejected, but had simply remained in Italy. That is confirmed to me by Macerata’s mayor, Romano Carancini, who says the migration system needs speeding up so failed asylum seekers are not left eking out a criminal existence.
But he also urges Italians to keep things in perspective. In his town, he says, there are only 350 asylum seekers in a population of 42,000. He wants people to think of Macerata as a civilised, welcoming place.
Italians go to the polls in two weeks and immigration is a key issue. On Friday, protesters out to challenge a far-right group clashed with police in Bologna
That, unfortunately, is not how it is seen elsewhere. I go to Milan to meet a man who may be the prime minister of Italy in a fortnight.
Matteo Salvini is the charismatic leader of the hard-Right Lega or ‘League’, the main coalition partner of Berlusconi’s Forza Italia.
His party was originally the ‘Northern League’ and favoured separating Italy’s prosperous north from the poorer, subsidised south. He has now dropped the ‘Northern’ bit and is campaigning nationally.
In Milan’s Prealpi district, most of his activists are young.
‘People of my age are joining the League because we do not see Europe as the future of Italy,’ says Stefano Pavesi, 26, a local councillor for the League.
He is currently studying for a second university degree because, he says, youth unemployment of 36 per cent means there are few jobs going.
In Britain, it is the young who tend to be most pro-EU. In Italy, they are the keenest Eurosceptics.
A media scrum gathers as Salvini arrives at a market and is mobbed by old ladies and young mothers.
Giorgio, 64, a market trader, complains that he is rigorously taxed and monitored by the authorities, whereas illegal street vendors — ‘Moroccans’ — go unchallenged. Salvini promises ‘tighter controls’.
Suddenly, a man pops forth from the crowd and announces that he is an Egyptian migrant. ‘What is wrong with me? Why am I not a good person?’ he asks.
Salvini does not hold back. ‘If you have documents, fine. If you’re illegal, then you shouldn’t be here,’ he retorts.
He goes into a cafe where I join him for a coffee. He is, he says, an admirer of both Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. ‘Make Italy great again!’ he jokes.
He likes British football, Brexit and Nigel Farage. So would he like to take Italy out of the EU,
too? Not just yet. ‘We need to be part of the EU, working within to change it,’ he says, adding that he is looking forward to working with Eurosceptic leaders such as Viktor Orban of Hungary.
I ask him about events in Macerata. The man with the gun was a failed candidate for his party, not that this seems to have harmed the League much in the polls.
‘I don’t want to win elections on dramas, but the fact is that immigration is a problem we see every day,’ says Salvini.
Back on the street, he announces: ‘I want an Italy where our children can hop on the bus without being in danger!’
Italy is in deep trouble. And it regards the EU as the problem rather than the solution
The latest opinion polls suggest that his Right-wing coalition, with Berlusconi and the neo-fascists, is the largest grouping and currently just shy of the 40 per cent threshold required to form a government. The largest single party, however, is the Five Star Movement, with 27.5 per cent of the vote.
Founded by comedian Beppe Grillo, it has made great strides in recent years, even winning the mayoral election in Rome. But Grillo has handed the leadership to Luigi Di Maio, 32, a former student activist who lacks his star quality.
‘I’m not going to say much,’ Di Maio announces at a rally in Torre del Greco, outside his native Naples, and proceeds not to say much beyond promising a ‘new’ kind of politics.
‘The bankers have lost your savings and are out shopping with your money,’ he says peevishly.
Grillo has turned up at this event to inject some passion as he rails against the EU’s inability to crack down on fake imported goods. ‘What is Europe?’ he shouts. ‘Europe has lost its bearings!’
It’s a mixed crowd in terms of age and background. Giuseppe Vitiello, 52, a gas company manager, tells me he usually votes PD, but will vote Five Star because Italy needs a ‘radical change’ and ‘Europe has forgotten us’.
At another Five Star rally, in the rough Neapolitan suburb of Scampia, it’s a very different crowd. Many are poor and jobless. This is the location for Gomorrah, the Italian TV series about organised crime and inner-city lowlife shown on British TV.
Di Maio talks of political corruption and his determination to slash the number of MPs and their salaries. In Italy, MPs take home £10,000 a month after tax, plus perks.
‘We need to get our money back,’ says Di Maio. ‘The era of having a nice life in politics for 40 years is over.’
Some members of his party would seem to have other ideas, judging by this week’s series of pay and expenses scandals involving several MPs from the Five Star Movement. Having pledged to slash their salaries and reimburse the difference to the state, a million euros has gone missing. So much for ‘new’ politics.
This will be Italy’s first election under a complex new electoral system which already has its critics. But two things seem clear enough. Italy is in deep trouble. And it regards the EU as the problem rather than the solution.
The Eurocrat elite might have thought their troubles had passed following last year’s election wins for the status quo in France and Germany — albeit with increased support for the far-Right. Brussels may soon have to think again.