A new law, that came into effect in December, criminalised “illegal rave parties” in Italy. We interviewed Susanna Ronconi from Forum Droghe, an organisation that opposes the law on human rights and public health grounds.
Drugreporter: The Italian parliament passed a law against rave parties, introducing a new criminal offence of organising an illegal rave party. Why has the government decided that it has to criminalise this and why now?
Susanna Ronconi: When the government approved the d.l. (decree law) n. 162/22 of 31.10.22 (now, after the vote at the end of December, law n.199/2022, Art. 633 -bis), the decision was not based on any kind of social or health or safety alarm.
WitchTek 2022, the Halloween free party self-organised (without formal authorisation by the local public authorities) on the 29th October for the third successive year by some Italian crews near the city of Modena, was going on in a safe and quiet way. The location was an industrial shed abandoned for years, in the open countryside, with no impact on local residents or the environment. Harm reduction teams from different regions were on the spot to make the setting safer, through information, chill out zones, drug checking, and aid where needed, in collaboration with the Public Health emergency units.
No violence nor any negative incident occurred. So much so that local authorities and local police only controlled the situation discreetly, without any direct intervention, as often happens in Italy in similar cases.
On the contrary, the government (Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi, a member of Meloni’s party) on the 30th October decided that the event had to be immediately blocked, participants dispersed, and the building cleared out, sending hundreds of policemen in riot gear to the scene. Fortunately, his order was not implemented: the city Mayor and the local police decided to take their time and negotiated for a peaceful evacuation.
Simultaneously Piantedosi announced the immediate proposal introducing a new article of the Penal Code to “fill a regulatory gap” in order to be more effective in repressing free parties. Within 24 hours, on the 31st October, the new article was ready to be discussed at the Ministers Council, as an absolute political priority.
The reason for this decision was to give a strong signal, a sort of ‘political identity’ to prove that the right is able to use their iron fist against illegal behaviours: the second act, just on the same decree-law, was to block NGO ships which save migrants in the Mediterranean Sea, preventing the disembarkation in a safe Italian harbour. Of course the illegal behaviours included in the decree-law don’t deal with corruption, tax evasion, or human rights violations….
Matteo Salvini, the head of Lega Nord said that illegal rave parties are dominated by thugs, and the right wing depicts these parties as violent and dangerous. It seems for the right wing government this is a symbolic fight. What do you think, why do they hate these parties so much?
It is not the first time that in Italy the crews that organise free parties have been sanctioned: promoters often have to deal with the penal code, mostly with regard to offences against private property, when they occupy private buildings or lands, and with other administrative norms which regulate public events. None of this, anyway, has been able to stop or prevent rave parties: the lesson learned in so many years is that repression is not effective against events which are so deeply rooted in peoples’ culture and social rituals.
The new law changes this scene. Local authorities no longer have the possibility to mediate: the new rave crime, now connected with danger for public safety and health, forces them to repress and disperse raves, which are described as “Invasion of land or buildings with danger for public health or safety”, related to “a musical meeting or any other entertainment purposes” and including “a concrete danger for public health or safety related to non-compliance with the law on drugs”. There is, in this definition, a clear intention both to repress alternative youth cultures and to stress and relaunch the criminalisation of drug use.
This is more than simply a “law & order” approach, which is typical of the right, but is also a strong step towards a sort of ‘ethical state’ based on the right’s values. So, it is symbolic, it is true. But it is also dramatically concrete; not only a ‘manifesto law’, but something that can really change and afflict the life of so many people. We have to remember that the penalties for organising a free party are now 3 to 6 years in prison, meaning that rave organisers are excluded from some extenuating circumstances and alternatives to prison related to minor crimes, and that also participants can be sanctioned.
Prime Minister Meloni faced fierce opposition in this question from civil society, from the opposition parties and even from within the government coalition. Was there any meaningful public consultation before the law was adopted?
The government was in a hurry… they needed to show themselves right from the beginning to be the champions of legality, and there is no better target than young people, drug users, and migrants, the ‘perfect enemies’… Everything happened in a couple of days, so no consultation at all, even between the government parties (some ‘liberal’ member expressed timid doubts, but were quickly silenced). So much so that the first formulation of the article in the decree-law was at high risk of anti-constitutionalism, and they have been forced to change it before the vote in Parliament, including the rave crime in the penal code section dealing with the right of property and not, as in the decree-law, in the one dealing with disasters, slaughter, fire, flood, and specifying the cases of musical events and drug use, just to avoid the risks of criminalising a lot of other public events and threatening the fundamental right to assembly.
What do you think would be the optimal regulation of rave parties?
The new crime deals with free rave parties, meaning parties self-organised outside of a commercial setting. Free ravers claim the freedom of organising these events without any special permission, it is a part of their culture. We have to say that the Italian law is not so rigid, not all public events must have a formal authorisation, this is a matter of discussion. And what local authorities often do, mediating and controlling the situation without reporting or repressing, is an informal but effective way to govern these contexts. We have also to say that it is usual in Italy that free parties’ organisers ask for harm reduction interventions to make the setting safer – much more than ‘legal’ organisers usually do – and that there is an attitude of caring for lands or buildings. In other words, I think that more than a formal regulation it is useful and effective to continue a practise of dialogue, mediation, and informal agreements.
There was a protest of party-goers against the anti-rave law in Naples in December. Do you think this issue can mobilise young people? Can they overturn this law?
Not only in Naples, there were many street parades in many Italian cities. Torino, Rome, Florence, Bologna…thanks to a coordinated effort all over the country. Furthermore, a wide ranging movement is opposing the new ‘rave crime’: many CSOs, professionals, PWUDs organisations, harm reduction teams, people from the world of culture and policy are taking a position against it and ask for the new law’s annulment. Many jurists support the hypothesis of anti-constitutionalism, also of the new version of the article 633-bis. Many others contest the violation of the fundamental principle of proportionality of penalties. Notwithstanding all this, we have not been successful in convincing the Parliament not to approve the new law, even if we did work hard to educate policy makers about what a free party is, the possibility to promote participants’ health and wellbeing during the events thanks to an effective harm reduction and risks limitation system of interventions, and the evidence-based failure of the repressive approach.
Now that the rave crime is a law, we will see its implementation, we are ready to start again and again an abrogation campaign and also to appeal to human rights bodies for the many potential violations which we see in this law, also thanks to litigation: the recent statement and recommendations of the Committee on Economic Social and Cultural Rights to the Italian government against the criminalisation of drug use and of drug users is on our side.