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Italy's Vegan Commune Where Animals And Humans Are Equals

In the hills south of Rome, another kind of "liberation community" is preparing for a very different future.

Antonella Inicorbaf, surrounded by ValleVegan "non-humans"
Antonella Inicorbaf, surrounded by ValleVegan "non-humans"
Erica Manniello and Manuela Murgia

ROCCO SANTO STEFANO — The little slice of countryside utopia southeast of Rome isn't easy to find. You must first look for the smorzo — which, to anyone outside Italy's central Lazio region, is the shop that sells building materials. From there, you take a dirt road halfway between the towns of Rocca Santo Stefano and Bellegra where you find ValleVegan, tucked in an expanse of fields and rolling hills.

"Between the humans and non-humans, there are around 200 of us," says Piero Liberati, who has been involved with this "liberation" community since its founding eight years ago.

To be specific, the humans include him, Antonella Inicorbaf and another two or three people who aren't here all the time, preferring instead to travel around Europe on bikes or act in Rome theater shows. They are all involved in activism too, such as anti-poaching and anti-slaughter campaigns.

The "non-humans" here are dogs, cats, sheep, goats, pigs, geese, turtles, rabbits — about 14 of each species, who have been rescued from farms, pet shops or laboratories and now live free in the countryside.

For those who don't know, vegans are people who practice radical vegetarianism. They swear off not only meat and fish, but also derivative animal products such as cheese, dairy, honey or eggs.

"Not only are they saving living things from being exploited, but also making a lifestyle choice that doesn't include them in feeding or other purposes," Liberati says.

They're also anti-speciesist here, convinced that no species is superior to another, which means they're very careful not to objectify animals. "We try not to treat them as objects, which is what some animal rights activists do — conveying too much love, and often frustration on them too," he adds.

When vegans build a home

In the middle of meadows is a small colored house. It could have been just a trailer or prefab, but "after much discussion and some luck" — and thanks to the use of recovered materials — Liberati and the others renovated an entire house surrounded by six acres of land. It's a Spartan place with no TV or heating because "you can do without the superfluous." There's no owner either. "On paper, ValleVegan is a foundation, so we decided it shouldn't belong to anyone in particular," Liberati says.

They already have several projects in the pipeline. "We would like to create a beautiful orchard, a vegetable garden and perhaps some kennels for the dogs to be kept free, make us more independent," he says. Also, because the costs are so high, food and medicine are always welcome, as are volunteers willing to help out.

"We would like anyone who wants to join us to fully embrace the project," Liberati says. "We're not in a position to help someone in just one way. We want to grow together and build this place together. The hope is that there will be more projects like ours in Italy and the rest of Europe."

Locals were initially hesitant about the project, but ValleVegan residents have come to establish good relationships with their neighbors. Some locals have even changed their eating habits, becoming vegetarians or vegans. Liberati and Inicorbaf even help three elderly ladies who live in the next valley with their daily chores. "They made a lifestyle choice similar to ours, returning to the countryside," says Inicorbaf, who also teaches dance.

"Freedom is living according to consistent principles, respect and knowledge, understanding what your goals are and getting up in the morning with a smile," Liberati says, explaining that his main concern is being able to keep the rescued animals free.

Every day they are more convinced and aware of the choices they have made, but they don't fear the uncertainties of the future. "I'd be much more afraid of a normal life," Inicorbaf says. "In these difficult times, our choice could also be, who knows, revolution."

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Queen Elizabeth II with UK PM Boris Johnson at a reception at Windsor Castle yesterday

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Hej!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where chaos hits Syria, Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro is accused of crimes against humanity and a social media giant plans to rebrand itself. For Spanish daily La Razon, reporter Paco Rodríguez takes us to the devastated town of Belchite, where visitors are reporting paranormal phenomenons.

[*Danish]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Syrian violence erupts: Army shelling on residential areas of the rebel-held region of northwestern Syria killed 13 people, with school children among the victims. The attack occurred shortly after a bombing killed at least 14 military personnel in Damascus. In central Syria, a blast inside an ammunition depot kills five soldiers.

• Renewed Ethiopia air raids on capital of embattled Tigray region: Ethiopian federal government forces have launched its second air strike this week on the capital of the northern Tigray. The air raids mark a sharp escalation in the near-year-old conflict between the government forces and the Tigrayan People's Liberation Front (TPLF) that killed thousands and displaced over 2 million people.

• Bolsonaro accused of crimes against humanity: A leaked draft government report concludes that Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro should be charged with crimes against humanity, forging documents and incitement to crime, following his handling of the country's COVID-19 pandemic. The report blames Bolsonaro's administration for more than half of Brazil's 600,000 coronavirus deaths.

• Kidnappers in Haiti demand $17 million to free a missionary group: A Haitian gang that kidnapped 17 members of a Christian aid group, including five children, demanded $1million ransom per person. Most of those being held are Americans; one is Canadian.

• Putin bows out of COP26 in Glasgow: Russian President Vladimir Putin will not fly to Glasgow to attend the COP26 climate summit. A setback for host Britain's hopes of getting support from major powers for a more radical plan to tackle climate change.

• Queen Elizabeth II cancels trip over health concerns: The 95-year-old British monarch has cancelled a visit to Northern Ireland after she was advised by her doctors to rest for the next few days. Buckingham Palace assured the queen, who attended public events yesterday, was "in good spirits."

• A new name for Facebook? According to a report by The Verge website, Mark Zuckerberg's social media giant is planning on changing the company's name next week, to reflect its focus on building the "metaverse," a virtual reality version of the internet.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"Oil price rise causes earthquake," titles Portuguese daily Jornal I as surging demand coupled with supply shortage have driven oil prices to seven-year highs at more than $80 per barrel.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

98

For the first time women judges have been appointed to Egypt's State Council, one of the country's main judicial bodies. The council's chief judge, Mohammed Hossam el-Din, welcomed the 98 new judges in a celebratory event in Cairo. Since its inception in 1946, the State Council has been exclusively male and until now actively rejected female applicants.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Spanish civil war town now a paranormal attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite outside Zaragoza. Tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town, reports Paco Rodríguez in Madrid-based daily La Razon.

🏚️ Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, more than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting in Belchite in north-eastern Spain, and the town was flattened. The fighting began on the outskirts and ended in house-to-house fighting. Almost half the town's 3,100 residents died in the struggle. The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one.

😱 Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, mustn't. For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

🎟️ Ordinary visitors have encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends. Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

We still cling to the past because back then we had security, which is the main thing that's missing in Libya today.

— Fethi al-Ahmar, an engineer living in the Libyan desert town Bani Walid, told AFP, as the country today marks the 10-year anniversary of the death of dictator Muammar Gaddafi. The leader who had reigned for 42 years over Libya was toppled in a revolt inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings and later killed by rebels. Some hope the presidential elections set in December can help the country turn the page on a decade of chaos and instability.

🇮🇷🎓  IN OTHER NEWS

Iran to offer Master's and PhD in morality enforcement

Iran will create new "master's and doctorate" programs to train state morality agents checking on people's public conduct and attire, according to several Persian-language news sources.

Mehran Samadi, a senior official of the Headquarters to Enjoin Virtues and Proscribe Vices (Amr-e be ma'ruf va nahy az monkar) said "anyone who wants to enjoin virtues must have the knowledge," the London-based broadcaster Iran International reported, citing reports from Iran.

The morality patrols, in force since the 1979 revolution, tend to focus mostly on young people and women, particularly the public appearance for the latter. Loose headscarves will send women straight to a police station, often in humiliating conditions. Five years ago, the regime announced a new force of some 7,000 additional agents checking on women's hijabs and other standards of dress and behavior.

Last week, for example, Tehran police revealed that they had "disciplined" agents who had been filmed forcefully shoving a girl into a van. Such incidents may increase under the new, conservative president, Ibrahim Raisi.

Speaking about the new academic discipline, Samadi said morals go "much further than headscarves and modesty," and those earning graduate degrees would teach agents "what the priorities are."

Iran's Islamic regime, under the guidance of Shia jurists, continuously fine tunes notions of "proper" conduct — and calibrates its own, interventionist authority. More recently the traffic police chief said women were not allowed to ride motorbikes, and "would be stopped," Prague-based Radio Farda reported.

Days before, a cleric in the holy city of Qom in central Iran insisted that people must be vaccinated by a medic of the same sex "as often as possible," and if not, there should be no pictures of mixed-sex vaccinations.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Thoughts on Facebook's new name? Zuckerverse? Tell us how the news look in your corner of the world: Drop us a note at info@worldcrunch.com!

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