After all, he came to power after his predecessor resigned in one of the greasiest scandals to rock Italy in decades. It involved a €25 million international slush fund and a string of arrests tied to the apparently over-funded floodgates commissioned to protect the city from its problem with “acqua alta,” or high water, in the winter months.
But instead Brugnaro decided that it was more important to clean up the city’s primary schools—namely, of 49 so-called “dirty books” that touch on such issues as non-traditional families and gender.
“In their homes there can be dad one and dad two, or mom one and mom two, and any integration of such families will certainly be encouraged,” he said when he announced the book ban. “But it should be recognized that the majority of people have a mom and a dad.”
The banned books are among 1,098 new books for children that the Venice school district paid some €10,000 for in 2014. The blacklist includes titles from award-winning Italian and international children’s authors like Leo Leonni, whose book Little Blue and Little Yellow tells a fictional tale of two genderless circles that hug so hard they become green—which, in Brugnaro’s mind at least, apparently doesn’t fit the traditional family mold.
Another banned book—called What’s Dad’s Secret?—tells a tale of a divorced father whose children worry he has a terminal disease when he starts acting strange around them, only to be overjoyed to learn that instead he has simply fallen in love with his male friend, Luca.
And there’s I’m Not Like The Others by French author Janik Coat, which is about animals that are different from their traditional species, which is as much about physical and religious differences as it is about sexuality.
Brugano promises that over the summer, all the new books will be examined to make sure there aren’t more “inappropriate” titles for young readers. He does not exclude banning more books. “The citizens of Venice voted for me knowing I would do this,” Brugnaro said at a press conference last week. “That’s what a democracy is.”
Brugnaro’s book ban has come under fire from the Association of Italian Publishers, which has threatened to sue the city, as well as a number of rights groups across Italy—including Amnesty International, whose local president Antonio Marchesi wrote to the new mayor urging him not to censor books that could make some children feel more confident about their personal lives.
“What the mayor should investigate is definitely the fact that pluralism and diversity are an expression of a vision by no means ‘personalist’ as he believes, but universal, based on human rights, and as such should be guaranteed,” he wrote. “Instead his is a dangerous and intolerant approach.”
Public pressure could have an influence on the book ban. Last week, 263 Italian and foreign authors whose books are in Venice schools sent a letter to the mayor asking that their books also be removed from schools as a show of solidarity with the banned authors.
Venetian residents are also holding Flashmob-style read-ins of the books in public venues, and they have started a Facebook page called “Free our Books” where they post pictures of children reading the banned books.
A spokesperson from Brugnaro’s office told The Daily Beast that the mayor is considering reintroducing a handful of banned books that deal with physical impairments and religious differences, though he would not confirm how many of the titles, or which ones, might be in school libraries when school reconvenes in September.
Local politicians have also called for the mayor’s resignation. “The Mayor of Venice behaves like the pages of a magazine of the 1940s,” says Camilla Seibezzi, a former council member who is now a member of Italy’s Civil Rights council. “He has ignored the real crime in this city to penalize readers of books.”
On Wednesday, local bookstores joined together to hold a rally protesting the ban with the motto, “Books’ only enemy is ignorance.” Though it would seem in Venice, it is the other way around.