Mirko Tomassoni is a disability activist and politician from San Marino. He was former Captain Regent, which is a position which is equivalent to Head of State. He is a member of the Party of the Socialists and Democrats.
In November, I spoke with Mirko Tomassoni after he and his party were once again elected into government, to talk about disability and independent living in San Marino and the progress that is being made there.
Tomassoni will be in government for the next five years and sees these next five years as an opportunity to achieve goals and results in relation to disability effectively. Being in government also allows for the possibility to be elected Captain Regent- Head of State. As Mirko explained to me, this is an ancient tradition in San Marino and the names and surnames of every Captain Regent can be traced back to 1243 ad.
In San Marino, Mirko is a member of a number of committees, including the committee that is responsible for looking at the implementation and monitoring of the UN CRPD, based on Article 33, in different countries. One year ago, they began working on a framework on disability that will implement what is outlined in the CRPD . This framework needs to be voted on by the Parliament in San Marino and Tomassoni hopes that this will take place in the next six months.
Tomassoni began by telling me how he had first gotten into politics. Fourteen years ago when Tomassoni was working as a police officer, he had an accident after which he became a wheelchair user. As a result of this he founded a small organisation, Attivia- Mente, to improve awareness of disability among all people. He wanted to change public opinion of people with disabilities and show that there are opportunities all over the world for all people. Next year is the tenth anniversary of the organisation and they have approximately 400 people who pay membership every year. The majority of the funding for the organisation comes from private individuals. Recently, they put together a survey with the aim of understanding the perception of the population of San Marino in relation to disability and sent out surveys to over 5,000 people. So far they have received 250 replies, and the results of the survey look to be interesting.
After setting up this organisation, Mirko decided that this was not enough. He thought he might try politics which might make his efforts more effective.
The first time that he ran for election was in 2006. He was elected but not only that, he was chosen to be Captain Regent for six months. During this period many barriers were broken down. Tomassoni focused on making San Marino more accessible with many public offices, theatres and public buildings being modified and made more accessible. It was also in this period that San Marino ratified the UN CRPD.
Tomassoni believes that being a Member of Parliament and being a person with disability raises awareness of disability for all people. In order to see more results he argues that the total will of the government is necessary and as he notes that you need to spend money to see improvements. This is difficult, especially in this period. As he explained to me, this is the first time that San Marino are faced with an economic crisis. There was a good standard of living in San Marino and historically relations with Italy have been good. At present, there is a high rate of unemployment in San Marino as the public budget that was once there is no longer available.
This in turn has an effect on the lives of people with disabilities in San Marino. In the past people with disabilities in San Marino were given very good pensions by the state. Tomassoni points out that this is the politics of the past as the Government did not think of investing money into Independent Living or focus on the autonomy of one’s own life. As he explained, after giving people money, politicians will think no further than this. He believes that this is wrong as it does not permit the start of any other ideas or approaches such as Independent Living or Community based Living.
With the economic climate of today, the amount of money that people with disabilities receive from the state is no longer guaranteed. Mirko sees that his peers and fellow people with disabilities are not as active as he believes they could be. Mirko wants to target this and show that people with disabilities have a lot to offer and contribute to society. He says that things in San Marino are beginning to change with people seeing the possibilities that exist outside of San Marino’s borders. This year there was a participant from San Marino in the Paralympic Games in London when two years ago many people in San Marino had never heard of the Paralympic Games before. There have also been changes in other sectors in San Marino.
Currently in San Marino there are approximately 5 or 6 disability organisations which at present all work towards their own goals. Tomassoni would like these disability organisations to cooperate more, to talk more and to understand each other more which would make them more effective. He believes in making the movement as strong as possible. If each small organisation goes its own road it makes them weaker. Tomassoni wants all people with disabilities to be independent, to take decisions for themselves and not have anyone make decisions for them.
Next week, Tomassoni will travel with Giuseppina Massara to Brussels for the International Day of Persons with Disabilities and the 3rd European Parliament of Persons with Disabilities. As San Marino is not a member of the European Union, they will be going as an observers. However, as Tomassoni notes it is important to be a part of the European Disability Forum, to keep in touch and cooperate with them. It is important to share experience in this context, and to share experiences with other small countries of the European Union for example Cyprus and Luxembourg. He believes that once the movement is more unified, it is more powerful and this is important when talking with decision makers at European Level.
In September 2013, Mirko Tomassoni will be one of the speakers at the Strasbourg Freedom Drive. In 2009, he was participating in a hand bike marathon and one of the items on the itinerary was the Strasbourg Freedom Drive. There he met the Executive Director of ENIL, Jamie Bolling. From then on he became involved with ENIL and has participated in a Workshop on hate crime against People with Disabilities in Dublin, Ireland and we are delighted that he will now be speaking at the Strasbourg Freedom Drive next year.
Tomassoni has one clear message, he “would like most people in the future to know that the world of disability is positive for the world”.
For more information on Attiva Mente please click here