After 14 days of house arrest, Domenico “Mimmo” Lucano is exhausted. He feels the snare set by the Interior Ministry closing around him. He is disappointed because of the Oct. 9 memo. But he is more ready to fight than ever.
This week, the Review Court of Reggio Calabria agreed to release him from house arrest but banished him from the town of Riaci, where he is still the mayor. On Tuesday there was a sit-in at the Piazza della Prefettura in support of Lucano, organized by the anti-racist movements and the networks of solidarity with Riace.
This maneuvering is entirely political, and also bipartisan, as both the previous and the current head of the Interior Ministry are involved. The first of them [former Interior Minister Marco Minniti] is a man who now aspires, unbelievably, to become secretary of the Democratic Party.
Do you know that I lay awake at night thinking about the terrible fate of the migrants locked up in Libyan camps after the agreements signed by Minniti with the Tripoli militias? We have one guest here in Riace, Kasai, who has been reminding me of the hellish hours he spent in those camps, and who is always asking me in disbelief: how is it possible that Italy is cooperating with these Libyan torturers? They are accusing me of arranging a “marriage of convenience,” even though there’s no sign of such “convenience”—but why is nobody ever holding Minniti accountable for the deaths of migrants in the Mediterranean, or for the deportations of Africans to Libyan torture camps? I know the answer to that: because we are powerless and we don’t matter. But there will come a time when the powerless, the “zeros” as Salvini affectionately called me, will rebel.
The Interior Ministry has claimed that there will be no forced relocations, and that migrants will be moved from Riace on a voluntary basis. Do you find such claims reassuring?
The Interior Ministry has been nothing but a source of disappointments in recent months. The SPRAR procedures are a sham. There is a vendetta against me by some inspectors and some bigwigs working for the SPRAR service. I didn’t want to adapt to their methods, and they have reciprocated by vilifying the Riace experience, with a lot of bile and mudslinging. There are two separate reports from the Reggio Calabria prefecture which are in full-on contradiction: at a distance of a few months, they say completely opposite things. The second report—which I would say is a praise of properly welcoming migrants, not just “sociology” as they dismissively called it in the Oct. 9 memo—dismantles point by point all the objections to the Riace system laid out in the first report. The Oct. 9 memo, however, doesn’t bother to do any more than just copy-paste from the first report. Now, we trust the TAR and my legal team from ASGI, Gianfranco Schiavone and Lorenzo Trucco, who are saying they are very optimistic. Furthermore, Judge Emilio Sirianni, who decided to conduct a spot inspection in May together with me regarding all the controversial issues, has declared—as I also wrote in the pages of your newspaper at the time—that everything was beyond reproach.
Salvini even posted a video online made by some ex-con, shamelessly insulting Riace and its mayor. Do you think he is obsessed with destroying Riace?
He’s obsessed with destroying anything that is human. Just look at his crusade against what he dismisses with contempt as “ethnic shops”; or think about the scandal of excluding the children of migrants from school canteens. With him, there is a full devolution of the conscience. We have never been so close to sheer barbarism as with this government.
What affects you the most: the loneliness of house arrest, or the groundswell of affection from people everywhere that has been felt in Riace in recent days?
Not having freedom is very difficult to bear, and I feel like a lion in a cage. Now and then, I count the steps I’m taking around the house, and I feel frozen and helpless in the face of all the bad things that are being done out here. But the solidarity I have received makes me proud, and pushes me to not back down even one iota. I would like to thank all those who have been close to me: from Father Alex Zanotelli to all the Comboni missionaries, from Agazio Loiero to Mario Oliverio, the president of Regione Calabria. And I was truly moved by the messages of support from overseas, from Canada to the US, and from the mayors of Barcelona, Madrid, Geneva. This is the power of utopia put into practice: a disruptive impact that allows a small town of 1,500 inhabitants to speak to the whole world.
Without the local SPRAR, will the “Riace model” still exist?
The Riace SPRAR will not be shut down by the Interior Ministry—I am shutting it down. They are not worthy of standing for a message of humanity and welcoming. We no longer want to be the scapegoats for their repressive policies. We have already suffered too much at their hands.
It’s time to take it to another level. All of us who stand in solidarity, and all those who choose to ‘remain human’—to quote Vittorio Arrigoni, someone dear to you at il manifesto—we will create a new refugee reception center, self-managed and self-sufficient. We will pay any outstanding debts that we’ve had to take on because of this mess of a system, and then we will go our own way, and they theirs. If the Interior Ministry doesn’t trust us, we will welcome refugees by ourselves, with crowdfunding, with solidarity. In Lodi, it took them just a week to raise all the money that Salvini had taken away for feeding the children of refugees at school canteens—this is the example to follow. We must rediscover our enthusiasm, but the Riace model will survive, no one will be forced to leave. We will systematically get all the facilities that we have built up and running: the olive press, the educational farm, the common living space, the livestock farms. We’ll do it without needing any SPRAR financing at all.