On 8 August 1956 in Marcinelle, on the outskirts of Charleroi, a fire broke out in one of the pits of the Bois du Cazier coal mine, killing 262 miners, 136 of whom were Italians coming from Abruzzo, Friuli, Apulia, Marche, Molise, Calabria and Sicily, Lombardy and Tuscany, Veneto and Campania. After having participated many times, including as President of the European Parliament, in the commemorations of Marcinelle, today I will be in Belgium as Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Italy. I want to be there, on behalf of the Italian government, to pay tribute to the memory of the Italian citizens who died 67 years ago.
Marcinelle is a tragedy that reminds us of the important role played by historical emigration in Italy, with emigrants often having to face, with great sacrifice, harsh living and working conditions abroad.
This tragedy not only left its mark on the identity of Italians and Italy, but also contributed to the start of the European integration process, through the creation of a common social consciousness and a first idea of European citizenship, inspired by the shared values of human dignity, equality and democracy. We should not forget that at Marcinelle, alongside the Italians, 95 Belgians perished. It is no coincidence that the year after the tragedy, in 1957, the European Economic Community was born in Rome. This was a decisive step towards the construction of a political Europe, the free movement of workers, and a wider and deeper unification of the continent.
Two Tornado aircraft belonging to the Italian Air Force will fly over Marcinelle to pay tribute to the dead and to all Italians around the world. I believe this to be meaningful: the programme that produced these aircraft is an excellent example of the fruits borne by the process of European integration. Yesterday in Charleroi, I met with Italian military personnel serving at the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Powers in Europe, who work every day for the security of us all, in Italy and all over the world, and I was also able to meet with businessmen and academics. This is the first time that all the different realities that make up Italy (members of parliament, the military, the world of business, education and academia) are present at Marcinelle, together and alongside the Italian government, to represent the country.
The “National Day of the Sacrifices of Italian Workers throughout the World”, celebrated every year on 8 August, must not only be a way to remember and honour the steps taken by our grandparents in Belgium and many other countries, but also a way to reflect on the new age of Italian mobility abroad. This concerns mostly young people, who move for work especially to EU countries: not only researchers, scientists and service sector workers. It is our duty to facilitate their integration in the destination countries, enabling them to express their full potential, and to ensure that those who want to return home are able to do so, enriched by their experiences abroad.
The issue of young people and the ideal continuity between historical and current emigration is of fundamental importance. We must know the history of Italian emigration and be aware of the dedication and sacrifices – sometimes extreme, as in the case of Marcinelle – that many of Italian nationals have had to make abroad, honouring our country and contributing to its economic and civil growth. The Italians in Belgium are an example of this: even after the closure of the mines and the consequent economic crisis, the Italian community in Belgium was able to integrate itself to the fullest, achieving prominent positions in various sectors of the economy. Even in countries such as Brazil, Argentina and the United States, the descendants of old emigrants stand out for their excellent integration into the local economic and social fabric, and constitute an important bridge with Italy. It is also to acknowledge their efforts that we have launched the “Roots Tourism” project, which will peak in 2024, the “Year of Italian Roots”.
Today there are more than 6.5 million Italians in the world. In order to address this new reality, I have worked since the beginning of my office to strengthen the network of Italian embassies and consulates around the world, which can now count on 129 Embassies and 83 Consular Offices, and which works every day to protect Italians, in close collaboration with the representative bodies of our communities. We offer consular services to an extremely large and constantly increasing number of users, and we are committed to taking further steps towards digitisation, providing increasingly effective services to citizens and businesses.
Italians abroad are Italy’s Ambassadors in the world. It is our duty to be at their side and to promote this extraordinary community, keeping the bond with the motherland alive and solid.