Italian museum chief asks Merkel for asylum
An Italian museum director told AFP he is asking for asylum in Germany, saying he is fed up with mafia threats and a government that is failing to protect Italy's rich cultural heritage.
"I wrote a letter to German Chancellor Angela Merkel," said Antonio Manfredi, director of the Contemporary Art Museum (CAM) in Casoria, an impoverished and crime-heavy town close to Naples in southern Italy.
"I'm serious. It's not some kind of performance art. If she gives me asylum, I'm going to pack up my bags and move to Germany with my staff and the museum's entire collection of 1,000 works," said Manfredi, who is also a sculptor.
"Germany has been one of the few countries that hasn't cut its culture budget. It gives a lot of money to research unlike here," he said.
To make his point, he has even planted a German flag outside the museum.
A native of Casoria, Manfredi returned to his hometown after a career abroad including in China and the United States and set up the museum in 2005.
"I wanted to start something in this dead town," he said.
But as soon as he started doing exhibitions on the local Camorra crime syndicate and on the problems of integration of immigrants, Manfredi said he has received death threats and his museum has been vandalised.
"There are dark forces at work here that want things to remain static. It's not necessarily a mafia guy turning up with a gun, it's more subtle than that but if you're from around here you get the message loud and clear," he said.
Manfredi said that apart from some initial start-up money he has also received no funds from the state and has given up hope of getting any after some recent highly-publicised accidents at the ancient site of Pompeii.
Most of the museum's funds are his own money and from private sponsors, while artists who come and visit sometimes donate their works.
"If a government allows Pompeii to fall then what hope does my museum have... There's an enormous problem with culture in Italy," Manfredi said.
Italy's government has slashed culture budgets in recent months, provoking a wave of protests and strikes and forcing museums to the brink of bankruptcy.
© 2011 AFP