Familiar strangers: the black radicals who civilised Britain

Familiar strangers: the black radicals who civilised Britain

When the story of radical politics in Britain during the second half of the 20th century comes to be written by future historians, pride of place will surely be given to the black activists drawn from the post-war generation of migrants from the Caribbean and the Indian sub-continent. This thought occurs after reading reviews of Familiar Stranger, the recently published collection of autobiographical essays by Stuart Hall, who was – in Tim Adams’ words in the Observer – ‘perhaps the most significant figure on the British intellectual left over the course of the last 50 years,’ and learning of the death of Darcus Howe, who once described himself as having come from Trinidad on a ‘civilising mission’, to teach Britons to live in a harmonious and diverse society. Fresh out of university in the early 1970s and fired up by student and anti-apartheid protest, I drew inspiration from these black activists and the struggles they spearheaded, fused with the rebel music of reggae and 2-Tone music. Continue reading “Familiar strangers: the black radicals who civilised Britain”

John Berger: ‘I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough’

John Berger: ‘I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough’

Reading a lot of the stuff written in the British press about John Berger following his death two days ago, I have barely been able to recognise the writer that I have known and loved from reading –  a writer whose bibliography, according to Wikipedia, comprises ten novels, four plays, three collections of poetry and 33 other books, an unclassifiable blend of ruminations on art, politics and the simple joys and beauty of everyday life. The writer I am familiar with was certainly not the ‘bludgeoningly opinionated man’ of the Independent’s write up, nor the person depicted in the Guardian’s shoddy and mean-spirited obituary.

Berger was certainly one who had very definite views, but who always, it seems to me, advanced them as propositions to be debated, rather than assertions to be simply accepted (for example, the last words of his celebrated TV series Ways of Seeing are ‘to be continued – by the viewer’). He never seemed to demand our agreement as his reader or listener, merely our engagement. Continue reading “John Berger: ‘I can imagine a place where to be phosphate of calcium is enough’”

Fire at Sea: life goes on while a human catastrophe unfolds at sea

<em>Fire at Sea</em>: life goes on while a human catastrophe unfolds at sea

Last week was Refugee Week, though you wouldn’t have known it in a country now obsessed with borders and controls and frighteningly comfortable with demonising outsiders. I only learnt about it from the estimable Passing Time blog. The day after the appalling referendum result we sat down to watch Fire at Sea, Gianfranco Rosi’s strange but compelling documentary which observes the impact of the refugee crisis on the island of Lampedusa with a calm and unembroidered stare. Continue reading Fire at Sea: life goes on while a human catastrophe unfolds at sea”

Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos

Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos

A warning from the United Nations special representative for international migration and two photo essays by photographers covering the refugee crisis on Lesbos alert to the scale and tragic nature of a disaster unprecedented in its size and scope. Continue reading “Like a war zone … ‘A cemetery of souls’ on Lesbos”

Winter is coming: the new crisis for refugees in Europe

Winter is coming: the new crisis for refugees in Europe

Yesterday we gathered together a few sacks of winter clothing – heavy sweaters, thick trousers, waterproof gear, that sort of thing – and stuffed a donation into an envelope.  There’s a van leaving Liverpool this weekend, bound for Greece, driven by volunteers from Mersey Aid. That heavy sweater I no longer wear because the climate change winters here are always warm may end up on the back of someone like me – a teacher from Homs, or a medic from Damascus. So little we can do as individuals.

Today the Guardian website features a comprehensive and deeply worrying overview of the refugee crisis. In Winter is coming: the new crisis for refugees in Europe, Guardian journalists report on the deepening humanitarian crisis that is unfolding along the refugee trail from the war-torn Middle East as winter sets in – from the Greek island of Lesbos to the Macedonian border and beyond. Continue reading “Winter is coming: the new crisis for refugees in Europe”

Lampedusa: ‘Fucking hell. Why are people kind?’

<em>Lampedusa</em>: ‘Fucking hell. Why are people kind?’

‘This will never stop,’ writes playwright Anders Lustgarten in the  introduction to his critically-acclaimed drama Lampedusa which, unflinchingly and without a trace of sentimentality, deals with the refugee crisis in the Mediterranean. I saw it last night at Liverpool’s Unity Theatre, co-producer of the play with the Soho Theatre, where it was first performed. Continue reading Lampedusa: ‘Fucking hell. Why are people kind?’”

This must be what it was like when German Jews were refugees

This must be what it was like when German Jews were refugees

This must be what it was like in the 1930s when Jews fleeing Nazi Germany created a major refugee crisis to which the response of Britain, the USA and other potential safe haven countries was a collective shoulder shrug of indifference – or outright hostility. This summer we have witnessed an unfolding crisis on a scale unprecedented since the Second World War, as desperate people risk their lives fleeing the civil war in Syria and the murderous advance of ISIS. With some noble exceptions, the prevailing response, especially here in the UK, has been once again to demonise fellow human beings. Continue reading “This must be what it was like when German Jews were refugees”

The Salt of the Earth: Sebastião Salgado’s own way of seeing

<em>The Salt of the Earth</em>: Sebastião Salgado’s own way of seeing

The photography of humanity.
Gabriel García Márquez

There’s a moment two-thirds the way through watching Salt of the Earth, Wim Wenders’ stunning new documentary about the work of Sebastiao Salgado, when you feel crushed by the same existential despair felt by the photographer in 1995 when, after years photographing famine, war and genocide in Africa and Europe, he witnessed atrocious scenes in Rwanda and the Congo that left him shaken to the core, despairing of any hope for humanity. Continue reading The Salt of the Earth: Sebastião Salgado’s own way of seeing”

Angela Merkel denounces those who ‘have prejudice, a chilliness, even hatred in their hearts’

Angela Merkel denounces those who ‘have prejudice, a chilliness, even hatred in their hearts’

In the UK, with UKIP in the ascendant stoking up its anti-immigration message, we hear both Labour and Conservative politicians, running scared of a section of the electorate, tacking daily towards UKIP’s positions. But what if our politicians were brave enough to take on the racists and the narrow-minded?  That’s what the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has done in her new year address to the nation. Continue reading “Angela Merkel denounces those who ‘have prejudice, a chilliness, even hatred in their hearts’”

Watching migrants drown: ‘there are lines which, if crossed, make us immoral’

Watching migrants drown: ‘there are lines which, if crossed, make us immoral’

Martin Rowson 29.10.14

Martin Rowson in today’s Guardian

A few days ago I posted a piece about the photo of desperate migrants perched on top of the border fence that surrounds the Spanish enclave of Melilla on the north African coast.  Now we learn that the British government has supported, and the EU justice and home affairs council has adopted a policy of leaving migrants to drown.

For the past year the Italian navy, with EU financial and logistical support, has operated a search-and-rescue operation called Mare Nostrum for migrants in danger of drowning in the Mediterranean which has saved the lives of an estimated 150,000 refugees. It is to be replaced with a much more limited EU ‘border protection’ operation codenamed Triton which will not conduct search-and-rescue missions. The justification given by both the UK government and the EU for this inhumane decision is that Mare Nostrum exercised a ‘pulling factor’, encouraging economic migrants to set sail for Europe.

Amnesty International’s UK director, Kate Allen, said today that history would judge the decision as unforgivable:

This is a very dark day for the moral standing of the UK. When the hour came, the UK turned its back on despairing people and left them to drown. The vague prospect of rescue has never been the incentive. War, poverty and persecution are what make desperate people take terrible risks.

Migrants are impelled by a potent combination of desperation and aspiration, global inequalities in work and freedom, and the insecurity created by war and persecution across north Africa and the Middle East. The poor and oppressed will always move in search of work and freedom in a world so unequal.

Refugee boat on the coast of Lampedusa

Refugee boat off the coast of the Italian island of Lampedusa

This morning’s Guardian editorial pulls no punches:

The British government’s refusal to support search and rescue missions to save refugees in the Mediterranean is an outrageous and immoral act. It suggests a government so alarmed by Ukip that it has lost all sense of proportion. The Italian-funded Mare Nostrum exercise, mobilised after 300 refugees drowned off Lampedusa a year ago, has saved thousands of lives.  […] What a grotesque betrayal of the founding principles of the EU, an organisation built on the promise of peace, prosperity and asylum for the desperate. What an indictment of timid politicians.

On the letters page, the artist Anish Kapoor asks, ‘Have we lost our sense of common humanity? Are we to isolate ourselves to such an extent that we are unable or unwilling to reach out to our fellow human beings? These people find themselves in such dire difficulties that they see no choice but to take to the high seas and risk their lives in vessels that are woefully inadequate. Let us not forget that our government acts in our name and that each of us is implicated in this act of barbaric selfishness.’

Yesterday Nicholas Winton, the British man who saved 669 Jewish children from the Nazi concentration camps by arranging trains to take the children out of occupied Czechoslovakia to be fostered in Britain, was awarded the Czech Republic’s highest state honour. How does the morality of the decision to end support for Mare Nostrum differ from that of European countries that turned their backs on the Jews in 1939?  That was the year when WH Auden wrote ‘Refugee Blues’, from which I’ve taken these extracts:

Some are living in mansions, some are living in holes:
Yet there’s no place for us, my dear, yet there’s no place for us.

Once we had a country and we thought it fair,
Look in the atlas and you’ll find it there:
We cannot go there now, my dear, we cannot go there now.


The counsul banged the table and said,
‘If you’ve got no passport you’re officially dead’:
But we are still alive, my dear, but we are still alive.


Walked through a wood, saw the birds in the trees;
They had no politicians and sang at their ease:
They weren’t the human race, my dear, they weren’t the human race.

Dreamed I saw a building with a thousand floors,
A thousand windows and a thousand doors;
Not one of them was ours, my dear, not one of them was ours.

As Alex Andreou observes in ‘Random acts of kindness can make the world a better place‘ this is all about ‘lack of kindness and meanness of spirit’. He continues:

There are lines which, if crossed, make us immoral as a country. This is one of them, especially considering our involvement in the conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa which fuel the surge in refugees. It leaves our allies with a choice to either make up the shortfall or let people drown in their waters. People – men, women and children – not migrants or refugees; not numbers. Families like mine and yours, fleeing in precisely the same way we would if we lived in a war zone.

We bewail the loss of our values, whether we call them civilised, British, western or Christian. We turn to a minority of migrants and blame them for ostensibly diluting them. But it is simply not true. The reason we are losing our values is that we are failing to nourish them, cherish them and hold on to them. It is a collective meanness of spirit.

The reason we are becoming less and less like the Britain we recognise is not the presence of Polish plumbers; it is the putting up of spikes to shoo away the homeless instead of offering them a cup of tea. The reason this is no longer a civilised country is not the presence of a smattering of mosques; it is the decision to let people drown in the sea to save a measly amount which will not make even the smallest dent in our budget. The reason we are turning uncivilised, un-British, unchristian, un-western – however you define it – is the lack of tangible kindness. We are simply turning into the worst version of ourselves.

Rocella near Riace abandoned sailing ship Kurds ashore 1999

Rocella near Riace abandoned sailing ship Kurds ashore 1999

In December last year I wrote about Riace, a poor village in Calabria that has welcomed migrants with open arms.  For more than a decade, since two hundred Kurds scrambled ashore from their sinking boat on the nearby coas,t the villagers have opened their doors to migrants in a dramatic reversal of usual attitudes towards immigrants.  The left-wing mayor encouraged the Kurds to settle in his village replacing the people who had left and reversing his village’s decline.  Since then, more ‘people who come from the sea’, as locals put it, have been encouraged to settle in the village.

Yesterday on the Today programme an Eritrean migrant,Daniel Habtey, who is now a British citizen, described his ‘horrendous’ journey to Italy on a tiny boat.  He fled Eritrea with his wife and family ten years ago because the regime persecuted Christians and now lives and works as a Pastor in Huddersfield.

The dead from the Lampedusa tragedy

The dead from the Lampedusa tragedy

It’s barely a year since more than 300 African migrants drowned when their boat caught fire and sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa.  Delalorm Sesi Semabia responded to the disaster by writing this poem:

We have laughed before
On the morning when we were born.
I was not there but they told me I laughed.
With careless glee, taking all the world in my gums.
And these ones
I heard them laugh
That early morning when the midwife brought them here
Telling tales of shot mamas and arrested papas
Certainly never to return.
I did not see them but I heard them laugh
Laugh at the world, laugh at all our world
Which would not laugh back.

Why do you ask us to laugh now
Here, at the brink of this water
Coming and going, calling us?
Why do you ask us to laugh
With a burnt village behind us
And drowned brothers before us,
On our way to Lampedusa?
What is humorous about paddling over the place
Where your brother’s carcass lies
Grinning up above at you
On your way to freedom,
And Lampedusa, death.
Wherein is the humour of overtaking your brother?

We sail away, our heads full of dreams
Dreams that come to us only by daylight
For where we stand,
We cannot sleep at night
And try as we do,
We have forgotten how to laugh.

The fence: between a world of need and a world of excess

The fence: between  a  world  of  need  and  a  world of excess

José Palazón Melilla

Sometimes there is a photograph that captures in one image an essential truth.

Jose Palazon is a resident of the tiny Spanish enclave of Melilla, a nick in the Mediterranean coastline of Morocco. The enclave is surrounded by a tall fence, built and guarded with the help of European Union money to try to prevent African migrants from reaching Spanish territory. Palazon runs an organization called Prodein, which attempts to help immigrants who enter the enclave illegally.  On Wednesday this week he took the photo above as more than 200 migrants attempted to cross the massive border fence.

In the photo, the migrants are attempting to escape into the Club Campo de Golf de Melilla, a public golf course where games can cost up to £20. The per capita income of Melilla is 15 times more than that of the surrounding areas of Morocco and astronomically higher than many parts of sub-Saharan Africa. Thousands of African immigrants living illegally in Morocco try to enter Spain’s enclaves of Melilla and Ceuta each year, hoping to reach Europe.

Jonathan Jones writing in today’s Guardian made this analysis of Palazon’s photograph:

The obscenity of this photograph lies in the willed indifference of the golfers. They play as if they could not see the desperate danglers so close to their pampered game. They are clad in expensive, well-laundered white clothes and equipped with caddies of top-notch gear. The creases and cleanness of their apparel are obvious even at a distance and contrast glaringly with the shabby garb of the migrants. The players shine in the African sun, their unwilling audience wears clothes that grimly repel it.[…]

The enclosed garden they inhabit is an artificial paradise that luridly triumphs over nature. Out there, in that other world, nature itself looks poor and unforgiving. Wild grasses and raw earth on a sparse hillside. In here, in the paradise of the wealthy and the lucky, the grass is so synthetically fed, so monstrously cosseted that it glows with an unreal almost fluorescent lime beauty. It is like a Beverly Hills lawn transplanted to the moon. […]

It is a metaphor not just of Spain’s enclave in north Africa as an uneasy meeting place of two worlds, but of the rich and poor parts of humanity. The golf course is Europe itself, shutting out a common humanity clamouring for better lives. Your poor, your tired, your huddled masses? Wrong continent.

Spain’s Interior Ministry said 2,000 migrants have made it across Melilla’s border fence in roughly 60 attempts so far this year. Those that make it head for the city’s temporary migrant accommodation centre. They are eventually repatriated or let go. There are more dramatic photos of the Melilla fence on the International Business Times website (!?) here.

Seumus Milne commented in the Guardian earlier this month:

Given the escalating scale of global inequality, the only surprise is that migration pressures are not greater still. In the late 19th century average income in the richest countries was around five times that of the poorest. By the early years of this century, it was more than 18 times higher – in the US it is now around 25 times that of the poorest.

The champions of capitalist globalisation insisted that the power of global markets would change all that. But, if you strip out China – which has delivered the fastest growth and poverty reduction in history, albeit at high environmental and social cost, by ignoring the neoliberal Washington consensus – poverty and inequality has continued to grow between as well as within countries.

As the catechism of ‘free market’ deregulation has been imposed across the world under “free trade” and “partnership” agreements and the destructive discipline of the IMF, World Bank and WTO, capital and resources have been sucked out of the developing world and tens of millions of people have been driven into urban poverty by corporate land grabs.

That is why the number living on less than $2 a day in sub-Saharan Africa has doubled since 1981 under the sway of rich world globalisation. Africa’s boom has been in resource exploitation, not in most people’s living standards. So it is hardly surprising that migration from the global south to high and middle-income countries has more or less tripled over the past half century.

Add the impact of multiple wars over the past two decades, sponsored or fuelled by rich world countries – from Iraq and Afghanistan to Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Mali and Libya – and the pressures on Europe’s borders and off its coasts are not hard to understand.

Melilla fence

The Melilla fence

The Immigrants by Margaret Atwood

They are allowed to inherit
the sidewalks involved as palmlines, bricks
exhausted and soft, the deep
lawnsmells, orchards whorled
to the land’s contours, the inflected weather

only to be told they are too poor
to keep it up, or someone
has noticed and wants to kill them; or the towns
pass laws which declare them obsolete.

I see them coming
up from the hold smelling of vomit,
infested, emaciated, their skins grey
with travel; as they step on shore

the old countries recede, become
perfect, thumbnail castles preserved
like gallstones in a glass bottle, the
towns dwindle upon the hillsides
in a light, paperweight-clear.

They carry their carpetbags and trunks
with clothes, dishes, the family pictures;
they think they will make an order
like the old one, sow miniature orchards,
carve children and flocks out of wood

but always they are too poor, the sky
its flat, the green fruit shrivels
in the prairies sun, wood is for burning;
and if they go back, they towns

in time have crumpled, their tongues
stumble among awkward teeth, their ears
are filled the sound of breaking glass.
I wish I could forget them
and so forget myself:

my mind is a wide pink map
across which move year after year
arrows and dotted lines, further and further,
people in railway cars

their heads stuck out of the windows
at the stations. drinking milk of singing,
their features hidden with beards or shawls
day and night riding across an ocean of unknown
Land to an unknown land.

Melilla fence sea

A Melilla fence ends in the Mediterranean at the border between Morocco and the Spanish enclave

See also

A tale of two villages: it could be a wonderful life

A tale of two villages: it could be a wonderful life

In Marinaleda unemployment does not exist. It is a collective project life, life for all

The path to utopia

Politicians and media whipping up anti-immigrant hysteria. Savage welfare cuts while the super-rich live high on the hog.  Deepening inequality and zero-hours contracts.  Rapacious banks and untamed corporations. Corporate greed gouging the common weal.  In these austere times, like George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life, one can easily become discouraged.  The joyous cacophony of community life in Bedford Falls can seem like a distant dream of the silver screen.

But wait: here’s a tale of two villages.  Real places, inhabited by real people who have taken a stand against profit and materialism, racism and fear.  Two villages.


Spain has been one of the countries hit hardest by the banking crash.  At around 26%, Spain’s unemployment rate is the highest in the EU (and youth unemployment is nearly double that figure). In the wake of Spain’s property crash, hundreds of thousands of homes have been repossessed and half a million families have been evicted since 2008.

But, in Marinaleda, in impoverished Andalusia, the story is different.  Unemployment is zero, with most of the villagers working for collectively-owned enterprises (growing food, building houses, working in shops, and running sporting, leisure and other basic services).  Everyone works a 35-hour work week and earns a monthly salary of €1,128, at a time when the minimum wage in Spain is €641 per month.  Many villagers rent a house of 90 square metres with a terrace for only €15 per month – a house that they have helped construct.  Much of the land on which food crops are grown and houses are built is collectivised – once an estate owned by the aristocratic Alba family and awarded to the village by the regional government after a decade of occupations, strikes and appeals.

Sanchez Gordillo

Sanchez Gordillo, Mayor of Marinaleda

For three decades Juan Manuel Sánchez Gordillo has been Marinaleda’s mayor, after winning the mayoral election in April 1979 as a representative of the United Workers’ Collective, a communist farm workers’ organization that promotes government through popular assemblies and believes that Andalusia should be independent from Spain.  ‘I have never belonged to the communist party of the hammer and sickle, but I am a communist or communitarian’, Sánchez Gordillo has said, adding that his political beliefs were drawn from those of Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Marx, Lenin and Che.  In 2013, he drew international media attention when he and a group of the villagers entered a supermarket and seized food, which they distributed to the area’s food banks – an action justified by Sánchez Gordillo with these words:

We’re doing something new here: we’re insisting that natural resources should be at the service of people, that they have a natural right to the land, and that land is not something to be marketed. Food should not be speculated with either. It is a basic human right.

Workers at the farming cooperative in Marinaleda

Workers at the farming cooperative in Marinaleda

Marinaleda is a village which has known terrible hardship in the past.  But today the villagers grow beans, artichokes, peppers and produce high-quality olive oil. The workers themselves control each phase of the production while the land belongs to the community as a whole. There is a collectively-owned cannery, olive mill, facilities for livestock and a farm store. Gordillo says:

We have learned that it is not enough to define utopia, nor is it enough to fight against the reactionary forces. One must build it here and now, brick by brick, patiently but steadily, until we can make the old dreams a reality: that there will be bread for all, freedom among citizens, and culture; and to be able to read with respect the word ‘peace ‘. We sincerely believe that there is no future that is not built in the present.

escudo marinaleda

The village coat of arms: ‘utopia to peace’

Marinaleda, with some financial support from the Andalusian regional government, has been able to offer three things that much of Spain is desperately wanting: employment, affordable housing, and a more participatory democracy. ‘The most important thing we’ve done here is to struggle and obtain land through peaceful means, and to ensure that housing is a right, not a business, says Sánchez Gordillo. ‘And as a village we work together, discuss and collaborate together: that’s fundamental for any society, too.’

Utopia lies at the horizon.
When I draw nearer by two steps,
it retreats two steps.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it
swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia?
It is to cause us to advance.
― Eduardo Galeano

Rocella near Riace abandoned sailing ship Kurds ashore 1999

The abandoned ship from which two hundred Kurds scrambled ashore in 1999 near Riace


In another desperately poor part of Europe there is a village that has welcomed migrants with open arms.  Riace lies on a hill five miles inland from the coast of Calabria in the far south of Italy. Little more than two months ago, more than 300 African migrants drowned when their boat caught fire and sank off the Italian island of Lampedusa.  The tragedy resulted in many expressions of horror – from Italian politicians, the European Commission and the UN secretary general.  Pope Francis was appalled: ‘The word disgrace comes to mind. It is a disgrace. Let’s unite our efforts so that tragedies like this don’t happen again. Only a decisive collaboration of everyone can help and prevent them’.



In Riace, for more than a decade, the villagers have collaborated in opening their doors to migrants in a dramatic reversal of usual attitudes towards immigrants. Calabria is a poor part of Italy, where villages are dying as young people leave in search of work in the cities of the north.  So, after two hundred Kurds scrambled ashore in 1999 from their sinking boat on the coast near Riace, Domenico Lucano – another left-wing mayor – encouraged the Kurds to settle in his village replacing the people who had left and reversing his village’s decline.  Since then, more ‘people who come from the sea’, as locals put it, have been encouraged to settle in the village.

Riace donkey

Riace’s eco-traditional refuse collection

Instead of watching the sea-borne migrants get packed off to one of Italy’s grim immigrant holding centres, Lucano  offered them houses in the village that had been abandoned as the local population dwindled. After all, he said, ‘My parents always taught me to welcome strangers’.

In the last few years, following the Riace model, five small villages, have joined to offer immigrants arriving from across the sea a warm welcome along with homes in empty buildings.  In Riace this October, the Guardian reporter found two men leading two donkeys pulling carts through the narrow streets: Riace’s eco-traditional refuse collection. One of the men was Italian, a man whose ancestors built the village a thousand years ago; the other an immigrant from Ghana who, with his wife and two sons made the dangerous crossing to Lampedusa.

Before immigrants like this arrived in Riace, buildings were empty and falling into disrepair; Riace was turning into a ghost town. But the migrants from Africa rebuilt them fro their families. Their presence meant that the village school, threatened with closure, stayed open as well.

Riace school

Riace’s school was able to stay open because of the immigrants’ children

The immigrants – from Africa, the Middle East and Afghanistan – do jobs that Italians no longer want to do: they look after old people, or work in the olive groves for the olive oil cooperative. A Somali has opened a restaurant, while others work as translators or in shops and workshops. One settler makes traditional Riace pottery decorated with fine coloured stripes – suggesting that immigration, rather than diluting local culture, can help the rural way of life and craft traditions to survive.

Riace neighbours

Riace neighbours

The financial aid that asylum-seekers receive also feeds the local economy because this money is mostly spent in local shops. Since these benefits often arrive late, Riace prints its own banknotes with pictures of Martin Luther King, Che Guevara and Gandhi on them. You can buy groceries and clothes with this currency. Every so often the retailers cash in their Gandhis for real euros.  When Mayor Lucano ran for election he had a slogan: ‘The poorest people in the world will save Riace and we will save them.’

Perhaps one day the world, our world, won’t be upside down, and then any newborn human being will be welcome. Saying, ‘Welcome. Come. Come in. Enter. The entire earth will be your kingdom. Your legs will be your passport, valid forever.
– Eduardo Galeano

Riace sign village of welcome

The sign at the entrance to Riace reads ‘village of welcome’

Riace Mayor Lucano with Refugee Family.

The Mayor of Riace eats with a refugee family

These days – to return to the seasonal analogy of It’s a Wonderful Life – we all live in Pottersville.  But the example of  these two villages suggests we can live a different way, adhering to less selfish, less materialistic values, less beholden to private profit.  Some may regard extolling the example set by the villagers of Marinaleda and Riace as misguided utopianism.  But I know where I would rather live.

Il Volo (Flight)

This YouTube video is a clip from a Il Volo, documentary dedicated to Riace in 2009 by the German film director Wim Wenders (no subtitles, unfortunately). This explanation is from the Mubi website:

Wim Wenders’ film Il Volo (Flight) documents an admirable example of a welcome that began over 10 years ago in Calabria, when a group of Kurds settled down in Riace, on the Calabrian coast. The German director’s initial project, a seven-minute short from an original story by Eugenio Melloni, turned into a 32-minute hybrid of documentary and fiction after Wenders met a young Afghani refugee. Il Volo became a firsthand account, with Wenders’ off-camera narration, of immigration as a resource. ‘What was happening to these people was much more important than the fiction I was making,’ said Wenders, in Rome to present the film. Commissioned by the Calabria Region and co-produced with the local Film Commission and with support from the High Commissioner of the United Nations, the film was shot in 3D.

AFP news agency report on Riace

Follow link to open in YouTube

See also



It’s a Wonderful Life: previous posts