Interview. We spoke with former Riace Mayor Mimmo Lucano about the Sardines, dock worker strikes and the upcoming Calabria elections.

Mimmo Lucano: ‘The Sardines speak the same language as Riace’

Mimmo Lucano has just returned from his North American tour, the guest of a conference organized by the Casa Zerilli Marimò Foundation and New York University.

Mr. Mayor, during these weeks, the sardine movement has taken center stage. Today [Saturday] there is a national demonstration in Rome. What do you think about it?

I see it as a hope. I have talked to some comrades on the left who view the sardines with condescension and a superior attitude. However, you have to look at the energy, at the inspiring nature of this movement with mass participation and without sectarianism. They are filling up the streets, and on the topic of immigration, they speak the same language of inclusion and anti-racism as Riace did. Indeed, they have told me that they will be coming here in the near future as well. I am waiting for them.

Since we’re on the topic of migrants: the laborers of Rosarno have occupied the port of Gioia Tauro to demand legal status and freedom. And there was a new tragedy in the favela of San Ferdinando, with the fire that started in the electricity cabinet. Do you see any discontinuity on this topic between the government currently in office and the previous yellow-green government?

I see no difference. I will note with regret that a hundred days after the agreement on a government deal, neither the abolition nor any modification of the security decrees has taken place. And furthermore, there is still a certain gentleman at the head of the immigration department who has done everything he could to destroy Riace [the former prefect of Calabria, Michele Di Bari]. That is one of the things that a real change would involve.

On Jan. 26, Calabria will vote. During the summer, your name was leaked as a potential future candidate for the left. You then declined the offer. In the light of the drama over nominations in recent weeks, do you regret your decision?

Absolutely not. I have another idea of politics, which is different from electoralism, and it may sound strange coming from me, as I was a mayor for 15 years. But I believe that governing a small town is infinitely simpler. Thanks to municipalism, which is what I call “democratic,” dreams can actually come true. I conceive of politics as a disinterested mission within a framework of municipal federalism. I like to imagine Calabria as a federation of free municipalities in solidarity with each other.

But if you were a candidate, on what priorities would you build your program?

I’d start with public ownership of water resources and shutting down SORICAL once and for all. Water is the oil of our region, but it is in the hands of a society that leaves our population thirsty and harasses them with illegal fees. The movements fighting for public water and Father Zanotelli taught me just how important this battle is. Water is a universal good, and Calabria is rich in it. However, many cities are often left without. Then, another priority should be the repopulation of inland areas. The left must get back to a dialogue with the disadvantaged areas and with the subordinate classes. It must speak a different language than it has up to now, and stop the endless internal division.

And here we come to the point. In Calabria, the PD has soured on Mario Oliverio and doesn’t want to run him as a candidate anymore. Do you think that the Democrats are making a mistake?

I know Oliverio comes from the PCI and has a left-wing history. When we had difficulties in Riace, he was always on our side. And also when I had my legal troubles, he always expressed his solidarity, on the human level and not only. Unlike the PD at the national level, he sensed that the Riace idea was a valuable resource for the whole Italian left, because it overturned the paradigm according to which immigrants were criminals. Unfortunately, that was what the national Democratic Party thought at the time. I remember that it was leaders like former minister Marco Minniti who ruined Riace. And, while Minniti was persecuting migrants with his decrees and cutting the funding for Riace, Oliverio was here with us.

Nicola Zingaretti has been touting Pippo Callipo. A right-wing man, by his own admission. Have you ever met him?

I don’t know him personally. But I know his background as a president of Confindustria who, whenever he got involved in politics, always sided against the center-left. I remember when he sided against Agazio Loiero, and Scopelliti’s right won. Well, I think the model to follow should be the one that led to the election of Loiero five years before: a wide coalition to beat the right. Instead, Callipo is a divisive figure.

Are you hinting that you’ll vote for Oliverio on Jan. 26?

If this is where things stand, yes, I’ll vote for the current regional president. I hope, however, that everyone is aware of the dramatic nature of the situation. Everyone needs to take a step back and find unity behind one figure to avoid a victory by Salvini’s right. There is still time.

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