Atlantide is a social centre in the Santo Stefano neighbourhood in the heart of Bologna’s old town. More precisely, it is situated in the cassero, an historic building which forms part of the city’s medieval gates. Atlantide was occupied in 1997 and for over 15 years it has been home to a number of LGBT, feminist and punk music collectives. The collectives self-manage the space on a voluntary basis and without public funds.
For almost a year, the social centre has been under threat of eviction. The city council, which owns the building, used a formal public competition to allocate the space to two associations. Atlantide, however, decided not to respect this decision. Entries in these public competitions are evaluated by a commission of representatives from the political parties. Given the parties’ strong prejudices and overall conservatism (SEL aside), more radical groups are most unlikely to be successful. This systematic exclusion from access to meeting space of a significant component of Bologna’s population can affect groups’ very existence. Atlantide activists strongly contest the right of the city council to decide which groups are allowed to exist and which are not.
Until recently the choice to stay had brought no repercussions. However, on 2 April, Atlantide received a formal order to leave the building within 15 days, otherwise the public authorities would evict the occupants using the police. The law used to justify the eviction is article 823 of the Civil Code, part of the law generally applied to properties confiscated from organised criminal organisations such as the Mafia.
Since the formal eviction order was served, Atlantide has organised a number of actions. On 7 April, activists arranged a picket in front of the city hall during which the eviction order was symbolically ‘returned to sender’. On the 11th, there was a march through the city centre. The demonstration attracted hundreds of participants, both ordinary people and movement activists, showing the wide support Atlantide has in Bologna. The public reaction of PD mayor, Virginio Merola, to the demonstration was a curt and rather authoritarian, ‘The decision has already been taken’.
This statement shows very clearly the inability of local political elites to understand the great value of social centres and, more broadly, of diversity. Over the past few years, Bologna’s centre-left city council has put civic participation at the top of the political agenda. Social centres are key actors in promoting local participation, using different and unorthodox methods. Short-sightedly, the political elites do not recognise these as different paths to civic participation. And so, repressing these spaces and activities is seen as an act of simple public order which does not need much explanation.