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Di Maio: Success and joy built on “Soft Power” (Avvenire)

Dear Editor, I would like to share with you and your readers the joy of having brought home, after a long period of imprisonment in the hands of terrorist groups, Father Pier Luigi Maccalli and Nicola Chiacchio, whom I welcomed in Ciampino together with the Prime Minister. It was the outcome of a very complex operation, made even more difficult by the intricate regional context. The liberation of our fellow countrymen was made possible only thanks to the extraordinary work of the Aise (foreign intelligence service) and of all the competent State agencies, in particular of the women and men of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry’s Crisis Unit. The collaboration of the Malian Authorities was also important, despite the delicate transition phase that the country is currently going through, in the wake of last August’s coup d’état. In just over a year we have been able to bring home no less than seven Italians held by terrorist groups or criminal organisations. This is an undeniable success of the Italian diplomatic corps in protecting our fellow Italians abroad. A success that must make us proud and which, far from being accidental, is the result of a carefully thought-out strategy that focuses primarily on inclusiveness, dialogue, patience, sometimes resilience, in the handling of international relations. In other words, this is the highest expression of so-called “soft power”, which is the ability to persuade through certain intangible yet fundamental resources, such as culture, values, way of conduct and dialogue with others. There can be no doubts as to the fact that Father Maccalli, who has committed himself to helping the less fortunate, has contributed to building our “solid soft power”, just like all those volunteers, religious and lay persons, who dedicate their lives to helping others in difficult and dangerous contexts. On the other hand, I believe that Italy, because of its history, its geographical position, its profound spirit and its openness to the world, best embodies the ability to use soft power to achieve foreign policy goals. It is a natural gift, the outcome of a fortunate evolution. In particular, in our relations with African countries, we have developed our soft power through aid and empowerment programmes based on interpersonal relationships. Africa is the priority of our development cooperation system: it is a continent that is close to us, and I don’t mean just geographically, where we would like to further improve our presence. I am, therefore, pleased to focus on what Italy is doing for the stabilisation of the Sahel region, an area affected by enormous troubles created by the collapse of the Libyan state and aggravated by the proliferation of armed groups affiliated to the main terrorist groups. In such a difficult context, Italy is present not only through the praiseworthy work of volunteers and missionaries such as Father Maccalli, but also through an elaborate system of collaboration, based on the Government, which touches on many aspects: from development to security cooperation, from support to civil society organisations based on universal values, such as the freedom of religion, to collaboration on migration issues. In support of this commitment, in which we firmly believe, in 2017 we opened an embassy in Niger, then we did the same in Burkina Faso in 2019, and we are currently engaged in opening an embassy in Mali as well. It is a long haul, and not without risks, but we are ready to go the full length because we know that the security and stability of the Sahel is the security of our country too. And also because there are so many other Father Maccalli in the world who cannot be left alone and who, by their example, encourage us to do our utmost to build a better world.