Alfredo Jaar on Transformational Italian Mayor Domenico Lucano

‘Since Lucano was elected mayor in 2004, the town of Riace, located in one of the most impoverished regions of Italy, has welcomed thousands of refugees’

Domenico (‘Mimmo’) Lucano at a demonstration against the Italian government’s recent decree restricting the rights to asylum in Rome, 2018. Courtesy: Christian Minelli/ NurPhoto/ Getty Images

Domenico (‘Mimmo’) Lucano at a demonstration against the Italian government’s recent decree restricting the rights to asylum in Rome, 2018. Courtesy: Christian Minelli/ NurPhoto/ Getty Images

Domenico (‘Mimmo’) Lucano – the Mayor of Riace in Calabria – was placed under house arrest on 2 October 2018 after police accused him of abetting ‘illegal’ immigration into Italy. In the previous months, the Mafia had set his car on fire and Matteo Salvini, the right-wing deputy prime minister of Italy, had called him ‘a nobody’.

Since Lucano’s election as mayor in 2004, Riace, located in one of the most impoverished regions of Italy, has welcomed thousands of refugees, providing them with free housing in the small town’s abandoned homes and job training with a salary.

The ‘Riace Model’ completely transformed the city, increasing its population from 900 residents to thousands. Riace has been reconstructed thanks to dozens of workshops, which have provided recent arrivals with training opportunities. This has created new jobs, as an increasing number of teachers and other workers are required in the town for its growing population. Calabria has the highest unemployment rate in Italy and large segments of its economy are controlled by organized crime, including refugee centres.

Lucano’s model was born when a boat of Kurdish refugees fleeing Turkey and Iraq landed on the Calabrese coast a few kilometres from Riace. His project has restored the ailing economy and cultural fabric of the town while providing a solution to the so-called European refugee crisis.

The extraordinary Riace model will survive. Lucano said recently: ‘If you have the right to divide the world into Italians and foreigners, I claim the right to divide the world into the dispossessed and oppressed on the one hand and the privileged oppressors on the other. The former are my fellow countrymen; the latter are strangers to me.’ His supporters chant outside his window every day: ‘Stay strong, continue fighting.’

Alfredo Jaar is an artist based in New York, USA. This year, he will have a solo show at Nederlands Fotomuseum, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

Issue 200

First published in Issue 200

January - February 2019

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