At times sweaty, pale, cradling his head, likely suffering from a migraine, but always with at least the hint of a smile on his lips: that was Mimmo Lucano on Thursday night. “I’ll carry the memory of this day with me all my life, of all of you, each and every one.”
It was a tribute fit for a rock star. Rome, and in particular the “red” Garbatella district, was celebrating the mayor of the small southern town of Riace on the occasion of his being granted honorary citizenship by the Municipio VIII, a Roman district as large as a medium-sized city (250,000 inhabitants) and of the simultaneous announcement that Riace was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Spontaneous rounds of applause often broke out during his speech, honoring him and everything he represents. The Palladium Theater was completely packed, both on the floor level and in the gallery, and they even had to place screens outside for those who couldn’t get in. There were three hours of speeches, slideshows of photos of Riace and music, after a beautiful and complex theatrical performance organized by students from a Roman high school.
There were standing ovations with chants of “Mimmo! Mimmo!” whistles of approval, and many young people of color shook his hand. He went up on stage, with a tired face, to retell the whole story—one which “seen from afar, as it has been three months now since I’ve set foot in Riace, seems like a fairy tale.” It is the story of a depopulated village close to Locri, where, one day, “the wind” brought a sailing boat to shore at the marina, which had been drifting out of control, carrying refugees, mostly Kurdish. Nowadays, Lucano said, Riace “is back to being what it was before the arrival of the boat: there are around a hundred people left, residents and migrants, living in uncertainty and with little hope. We know that everything must come to an end eventually, but they were too late in closing it down: we have shown that a warm reception, based on solidarity and not on mistrust, is possible.”
Now, the Riace model has risen from the ashes, and not just on account of the Nobel Peace Prize nomination being sent to Stockholm. On Thursday morning, Lucano attended the press conference of the project by the Federation of Evangelical Churches that plans to reactivate the Riace facilities for the reception of groups of migrants arriving through the humanitarian corridors set up in cooperation with the Comunità Sant’Egidio.
The Evangelical churches have also started charity drives in Germany’s Westphalia and in the United States, aiming to support the search-and-rescue activities at sea conducted by the NGOs Proactiva Open Arms, SeaWatch and Pilotes Volontaires, and to set up scholarships for the young men living in the slums of San Fernando who are being forced to work as day laborers in conditions of near-slavery in the Gioia Tauro plain, not too far from Riace. The highly ambitious Nobel Peace Prize proposal for Riace has several prominent sponsors: in addition to the Re.Co.Sol network of solidarity among municipalities, the President of Municipio VIII, Amedeo Ciaccheri; the magazine Left headed by the writer Erri De Luca; as well as the vice president of the Greek Parliament. Furthermore, Lucano himself has become a symbol and a cause to rally behind.
He made no mention in his speech of intending to run in the European elections, something he had not ruled out some days before, when he received honorary citizenship by the town of Sutri from mayor Vittorio Sgarbi. Whatever his ultimate decision, it is clear that his figure now stands for values and a passion that are shared by a large part of the left, otherwise fragmented and disunited.
At the Palladium, after the President of the Lazio Region, Nicola Zingaretti, among the first to speak, expressed his “full support” for the Nobel Prize nomination and for the Riace model, Mimmo Lucano, like Father Alex Zanotelli, did not miss the opportunity to criticize the notorious former candidate for PD secretary, former Interior Minister Marco Minniti, accusing him of having “paved the way for state-sponsored racism and the persecution of NGOs engaging in acts of solidarity.”
Lucano pointed out that the former minister “recently said that he was on my side and on the side of Riace—why is he saying that now, a year too late? While I was officiating a wedding, why wasn’t he helping me, but instead making deals with Libyan tribal leaders so they would imprison migrants?”
He is still defending the President of the Calabria Region, Mario Oliverio, recently involved in an investigation of public contracts that may have ended up in the hands of the ‘ndrine (the local criminal gangs belonging to the ‘Ndrangheta mafia), but not accused of any crime so far. Lucano has come to think that Oliverio has been subjected to a campaign to destroy his reputation, precisely because of his direct involvement in the project of resolving the situation of the San Fernando tent city with the help of the Riace mayor.