Demonstrators in Riace protest on Saturday in support of mayor Domenico Lucano.
In 2009, shortly after his re-election as mayor and several years after he embarked on a policy of welcoming migrants as a means of reversing depopulation in his town, Domenico Lucano was shot at through the window of a restaurant where he was eating with friends. As if to ram home their opposition to his plans, the local mafia also poisoned two of his dogs.
Unperturbed, Lucano responded by installing a billboard at the entrance of the town, saying: “Riace – a town of hospitality.” The sign remains today, as does one on the main square that lists the 20 countries people have come from – Eritrea, Somalia, Nigeria, Pakistan, to name a few.
Riace, a tiny hilltop town in Italy’s southern Calabria region, has become famous for its much-lauded model of integration, which began in the late 1990s and continues to this day. But last week, Lucano, the man credited with changing the lives of Italians and foreigners through an initiative that breathed new life into a dying economy, was put under house arrest for allegedly abetting illegal immigration. On Saturday, lending their support to a man dismissed by far-right politician Matteo Salvini as worth “zero”, hundreds of people turned out in support of the mayor and his leadership. Invariably described as altruistic and honest, they struggle to comprehend how Lucano, 60, can have his liberty stripped from him while people belonging to the mafia, a scourge of Italy’s south, roam free.
“Mafiosi kill, yet a mayor who does good is arrested? It doesn’t make any sense,” said Elisabetta, who asked for her surname not to be used.
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