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Italian Prime Minister Renzi criticizes headmaster for banning Christmas concert

Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi has weighed in on the debate over a headmaster banning a Christmas concert at his school in northern Italy. Renzi called the headmaster's interference "a very big mistake."

The Garofani comprehensive school in the small town of Rozzano near Milan attracted some considerable media attention recently after headmaster Marco Parma decided to postpone an annual Christmas concert at his school to January, presenting it as a "winter concert" without any religious music instead. Parma had also rejected a plea by two mothers earlier, who wanted to teach Christmas carols to pupils at the school.

Italy's Prime Minister Matteo Renzi criticized the headmaster's decision, saying that Christmas was "much more important than a headmaster being provocative."

"If he thinks he is promoting integration and co-existence in this way, he appears to me to have made a very big mistake," the Prime Minister told the Italian daily newspaper "Corriere della Sera."

Multiculturalism versus long-standing traditions

Parma, 63, defended his decisions, saying they were based on negative experience from last year's concert and that continuing with Christmas traditions at his school would not be in the spirit of multiculturalism.

"Last year we had a Christmas concert and some parents insisted on having carols. The Muslim children didn't sing, they just stood there, absolutely rigid," Parma said.

"It is not nice watching a child not singing or, worse, being called down from the stage by their parents."

The Italian daily "Avvenire" meanwhile quoted the headmaster as saying that the collective rendition of Christmas carols could be interpreted as a "perilous provocation" in the wake of the

Paris attacks

- particularly among local Muslims. The school has roughly 1,000 students, with an estimated one in five of non-Christian beliefs.

Mussolini's crucifixes

Parma stated publicly that he was prepared to resign over the row, and stressed that teachers at the school were supporting him wholeheartedly. Matteo Salvini, the leader of the populist, right-wing Northern League, has called for Parma's immediate suspension from the school.

Headmaster Parma denied reports saying that he was planning to ban crucifixes from classrooms as well. Italy does not officially have a state religion since 1984, but a law dating back to Fascist dictator Benito Mussolini's years still requires the hanging of crucifixes in all school rooms.

ss/rc (AFP, KNA)

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