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(Sputnik Mundo) Get to know the history of Eritrea, apartheid 'Made in Italy'

Posted by: Semere Asmelash

Date: Wednesday, 04 April 2018

Impero cinema (in Spanish, empire), in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea

Get to know the history of Eritrea, apartheid 'Made in Italy'

CC BY-SA 3.0 / Sailko / Asmara, cinema impero, 07

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Sputnik brings you the case of Eritrea, a territory marked by racism and inequality generated between Europeans and locals during the colonial period in the hands of Italy during much of the twentieth century.

Asmara, the capital of Eritrea, is often called 'Little Rome'. No wonder: its rationalist and modernist architecture is identifiable with that of some areas of the eternal city built throughout the twentieth century. In the restaurants, pizza, pasta and even panettone are served. These cultural elements are part of the legacy left by the colonial administration in this country of the Horn of Africa.

A coffee in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea
A coffee in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea

Established in 1882, the Eritrean Colony was the first in possession of the Kingdom of Italy. For more than five decades, the territory remained in the hands of Rome, a period in which European officials, soldiers and expatriates interacted with the locals, giving rise to mestizajes.

This exchange was accentuated between 1935 and 1936, when at least 400,000 Italian soldiers landed on the shores of the Red Sea to start the war and the invasion of Ethiopia. The presence of the military, which on numerous occasions maintained relations with Eritrean women, gave rise to a diffuse - but considerable - number of people of mixed origin.

But at that time Italy was in the hands of fascism. In 1938, shortly after the conquest of Ethiopia (1936), Benito Mussolini promulgated a set of laws that prohibited ties and marriages with people of other origins, both in the metropolis and in the colonies.

These rules accentuated discrimination against locals, Giampaolo Montesanto, director of the documentary 'Italiani d'Eritrea', told Sputnik, a film presented at the International Film Festival of Uruguay, which describes the life stories of a dozen mestizos born in those countries. circumstances.

"In Eritrea, apartheid was not hidden, it was evident and clear, there were laws that forbade the entry of blacks in the center, which was fenced in. The bus was divided in two, with a metallic network that delimited the so-called 'third'. Two thirds for whites, one third for blacks, they still remember this, "Montesanto said.

Overnight, the mestizos could not be recognized by their parents, therefore they were without identity. In addition, they faced the rejection of the locals, who viewed with suspicion the relationship with the settlers. Hundreds ended up abandoned in orphanages managed by the Catholic Church, where they were given an education in Italian, according to the documentary.

"When Italy lost the colony in 1941 and the English, anti-fascists, they decided to maintain apartheid for another ten years, until the 1950s, because it was comfortable for them," says the documentary filmmaker, who arrived in Asmara in 1994 and lived for almost twenty years in the country.

Tens of thousands of Italians stayed until several decades after the end of the Second World War and contributed to the wealth of Eritrea, until 1993 part of Ethiopia. In the period of government of Haile Selassie (1941-1974), although it was emancipated from the colonial powers, "kept the Italians in the administration of the factories." Thus, achieved an economic development that positioned the former among "the most developed areas of Africa."

While apartheid lasted in Eritrea, people with black skin - and often, also mestizos - were prevented from entering public spaces. This painful history is ignored in almost everyone, even in the peninsula.

"There are testimonies of discriminated black children, who told me that they could not go to this or that place, and had strategies to enter in a hidden way." Some reported that when they went to a bar and asked for water, they gave it to them in a can, as if they were dogs, while the Italians were given in a glass, "said Montesanto.

Children of unknown Italian father and Eritrean mother had no last name, so a black market of identity sales was created in the postwar period. Whites come unless they offered to adopt them in exchange for money. In some cases, these individuals had dozens of adopted children who could only acquire Italian citizenship. Those who could not pay for this 'service', were left in a legal vacuum.

Many of the mestizos who achieved this possibility could settle in the peninsula, where they enjoyed subsidies and aid. They were easily integrated into a society that required labor and that saw linguistic aspects as closeness.

The director's grandfather was one of the fighters of the Ethiopian War, a fact that led him to become interested in this area of ​​Africa. When he arrived there to teach, he did not know much more than the stories of his ancestor, but he found a fascinating story that awaited to be told.

A cinema called Dante in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea
A cinema called Dante in Asmara, the capital of Eritrea

"All the people who could remember things were dying because of a generational issue, those who were 80 years ago were no longer in. Then I had a need to collect these testimonies," the filmmaker said.

According to Montesanto, at a time when issues such as racism and xenophobia are increasing in many parts of the world, "this document is important because it opens a window to the drives of individuals". Also, 50 years after the death of Martin Luther King and 80 years of the approval of the racial laws in Italy, reflection on these issues becomes important.

"We often discriminate because of skin color or provenance, we build numbers - thousands, millions - that are individual people, and my job is to give voice to these people and the consequences of the discrimination they suffered," he concluded.

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