Interview. The former mayor speaks out on the eve of his appeal trial. ‘Giorgia Meloni makes the sign of the cross. Sometimes I wonder how that gesture can be reconciled with the political ideas she professes.’

Mimmo Lucano: ‘I represent an ideal. Why should I be afraid’

Physicist Carlo Rovelli is right: white holes do exist. There is such a fountain of life in Riace: here, in a very small space, humanity multiplies, resists, releases new energy. Women and children are playing, small craft stores are open – it is the still-surviving Global Village of a stubborn utopia.

Mimmo Lucano, who welcomes us at the Taverna, is surrounded by friends and comrades from Calabria and beyond. From Crotone came Filippo Sestito from ARCI and Giuseppe Tiano, a veteran trade unionist. There are Martine Mandrea and Robert De Luy from the Marseille Spring movement, with whom we talk about the health of social struggles in Europe. And there is Maria Giovanna Rullo, asking Lucano to come up with a name for a children’s fairy tale she has just written.

Before us is a table full with the traditional delights of Magna Graecia: soppressata, caponata, red wine, sun-dried tomatoes. But Mimmo isn’t eating anything, due to the stress. He’s in a hurry to take his leave; lawyer Giuliano Pisapia is arriving in Reggio, where, in a few hours, he will defend Lucano at the decisive hearing in trial in which he is being charged with the crime of humanity.

We talk to Mimmo as he tries to calm his nerves on the eve of a day that, no matter the outcome, is certain to be disruptive to his biorhythm.

Luigi Ferrajoli wrote that “we are faced with a grievous example of a massive violation of judicial deontology, which would require judges to respect all parties involved, starting with the defendant, who is not an enemy.” This logic, that of the “enemy,” has been “displayed and applied by our right-wing government towards the whole phenomenon of immigration.” So, is this truly a political trial?

I do not hesitate to stress that yes, it is one. A dangerous message has emerged from Riace all these years. Humanity is dangerous to power during this time. I’ve always shown in my actions that it is the human being who has a choice. Experiencing injustice on one’s own skin comes naturally, it doesn’t come from any ideology – Guevara said that. Being a mayor in Locride has given me a privileged vantage point when it comes to the mafias. The miller Rocco Gatto refused to be lorded over by the criminal underworld. He said in an interview, “I’m not afraid.” Neither am I.

The government has brought in the army to wage war on migrants. Multiethnic integration models like Riace now seem like relics of a bygone age. Do Prime Minister Meloni’s strategies seem rational to you?

The government’s strategy, the right-wing’s aversion to those who are different, is one of its constant traits. The right is like that all over the world. Don’t they feel any shame in Pontida [the site of a yearly right-wing gathering a few days ago that featured Salvini and Marine Le Pen] when they say those terrible things? These people are coming here from other continents because the West forced them to come. Giorgia Meloni’s messaging is sleazy: she wants to pass as representing a right-wing that isn’t boorish, isn’t aggressive. But that’s not its true nature. I would rather have the right show its true potential of racism, populism, xenophobia. This is what lies behind the assault on Riace. Our experience overturns the narrative on migration. Don Ciotti has said lovely things about us, and with him Father Zanotelli and Monsignor Bregantini. Meanwhile, the gospel according to Matteo Salvini comes with ostentatious displays of crucifixes, but exudes rancor, hatred, malice. It is antithetical to the gospel of Christ. It’s significant that today the Pope is going to Marseille, not on an official visit but as a pilgrim to that city of welcoming [Lucano received the honorary citizenship of Marseille].

Have we already forgotten the tears shed in Cutro?

This government is more dangerous than Salvini’s blunders. It is chameleon-like. Giorgia Meloni makes the sign of the cross. Sometimes I wonder how that gesture can be reconciled with the political ideas she professes.

You’ve toured Italy this summer, reaffirming your innocence. How were you received?

The people have always been by my side. This shows that the smear campaign against me didn’t take root. Four years ago, one of the goals of those in power was to show that the Lega could win in Riace. And they succeeded in doing that. But Riace was born with the Kurds, with the condemnation of capitalism and neoliberalism, which are the real cause of mass migration. The powerful always say the same things, but nothing is solved. We are in the time of the exacerbation of consumerism. Riace has demonstrated, in a visible manner, that the left is a Christian and human ideal. The right is the complete opposite. That is the impulse behind the persecution against us.

If they were to convict you at trial, how do you imagine life in prison?

I’m not in good health. I have a different perspective on life, I’ve already done most of what I can do. There are so many human beings in prison. I’d have to figure out how I would spend my days. If I was in prison, I’d be studying. But I’ve already been kept waiting since 2016.

How do you feel about today?

I’m not afraid of material punishments. I represent an ideal that belongs to all of you. Why should I be afraid? I’ve never gotten rich. I have a very particular relationship with money – I don’t like it. I could have run for the European Parliament, but I didn’t want to. I remain firmly convinced of our ideas: that security, weapons, war lead to death. Equality and welcoming create life.

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