Domenico (Mimmo) Lucano was, from 2004 to 2018, mayor of Riace, a small town in Calabria where he implemented, with the population, an exemplary policy of welcoming migrants. The installation of the exiles in the houses of the city center made it possible to repopulate the historic center. Thanks to a subsidy of 30 euros per day, granted by the State to the cities which take care of exiles, it has developed public services.
In the sights of the far right
This experience in a land of mafia was hailed all over the world, before Mimmo Lucano, in the sights of the Italian far right, was the subject after 2015 of a judicial cabal.
He was sentenced on 1 October to thirteen years in prison for granting an identity card to a Nigerian woman who did not reside in Riace so that she could have her child treated, and for irregularities in the award of public contracts. , who went to cooperatives in which exiles worked.
Where does the Riace model come from?
Domenico lucano I began to take an interest in hospitality issues long before I became mayor. In 1998, I was passing by the Ionica national road, and I saw people coming from the beach. They were migrants who had made the crossing by boat. They were taken to the Pilgrims’ house, a bishopric structure. There were more than 200 people there, from Iraqi, Turkish and Syrian Kurdistan. It was one of the first landings in Calabria. And it was my first connection with immigration.
That summer, I spent a lot of time in the refugee camp. This awakened in me an interest in the Kurdish question. The fate of these migrants was linked to a global problem, to the strong conditioning of the superpowers in this oil-rich area.
The idea for the “Riace model” came from a young Iranian. When the question of leaving the Pilgrims’ house arose, the Kurds wondered whether they should go or stay. Some had fallen in love with Riace’s geography, which reminded them of the country. This young Iranian said: “We are looking for a place to live, and we have found a place where there are houses without anyone. “ His vision helped me, along with the bishop, to find a solution. I understood that we had to contact the owners of empty houses in our historic center, who went to Buenos Aires, Toronto and elsewhere, or settled in northern Italy.
Therein lies the model: a reality in which the inhabitants of the place, for work reasons, have left and leave their house which becomes the abode of the newcomers. Between 1998 and 2001, we turned a reception experience into a political ideal. As there was a collective dimension, where the community was involved, this made it possible to imagine prospects for the future and to respond to the conditioning of the mafias. Elected mayor in 2004, I wanted to do so in line with my commitments. My administration has placed the themes of sustainable development and social anti-mafia at the center of its action.
What do you remember from this welcoming experience?
Domenico lucano In those years, migratory flows increased. Our town has become a benchmark showing that what was possible in Riace was possible everywhere. We have come up with something both mundane and prophetic. There are so many villages in Calabria which have no hope, which have an assigned destiny. Instead of the shantytown of San Ferdinando or the metropolises where we find forms of environmental or human degradation, Riace demonstrates that hospitality is a hope for the cities where all have gone.
The problem is the differences between poor and underdeveloped countries and Western countries where there is luxury and wealth. The central question is that of inequalities. When wealth is concentrated in the hands of few, war becomes the solution, the arms trade becomes the solution.
Riace, with his small size, made an extraordinary contribution: the solution is not war, not hatred, not to close ports or to monitor borders with military systems. Riace shows that the solution, in a place strongly marked by many negative stories, is above all human. The human solution does not produce war, death, misery. The human solution brings light and happiness for communities. In the place where you do not expect it, there can be light. It was ruled as criminal.
How do you live this judgment?
Domenico lucano This ending is unfair. What is the responsibility of the State, which saw Calabria as a dumping ground, not to bring migrants to the center and north of the country? They realize that there is nothing in my checking account, that I have no properties. I was a problem for them, because politics often gives another image: the search for gains, a system of corruption.
After years of phone interceptions, checks on everything, on my family, they found nothing. So they said that I was not motivated by the economic situation but by something political. Certainly ! We have to see what we mean by politics. My story is politics.
How do you explain the success of the far right in Italy?
Domenico lucano This is a question that applies to the whole world. In Lodi, the League municipality excluded foreign children from the canteen because their families did not pay. Children are innocent. Why such a choice ? You ask me why Gandhi and Hitler, Martin Luther King and the Ku Klux Klan exist? It is an enigma.
The liberation theologian Gustavo Gutierres said: life is a yes or no to God. If it is a no, it is because hatred, discrimination and fascism prevail. If it is a yes, that moment prevails when in consciousness bursts this sensitivity which makes you choose a smile, affection, which leads you to fraternity, to indignation against injustices.