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Governo Italiano

Speech of the Hon. Minister at the Presentation of the “Italy, Cultures, the Mediterranean” Programme



Speech of the Hon. Minister at the Presentation of the “Italy, Cultures, the Mediterranean” Programme

(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)

Palermo, 23 October 2017

Minister Khemaies Jhinaoui,

Mayor Leoluca Orlando,

Authorities, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen,

In the course of these two days Palermo is at the very centre of the debate on security and cooperation in Europe, in the Mediterranean and in the world.

With 57 participating States from Europe, Asia and North America, the OSCE is the world’s largest regional security organization. OSCE comprises an area that goes from Vancouver to Vladivostok and includes over one billion people.

The OSCE Mediterranean Conference, that I will be chairing in a few hours’ time will be attended by more than 30 Representatives of Governments (Ministers, Deputy-Ministers, Undersecretaries) and almost 300 delegates. The goal of this Conference in Sicily is to step up the dialogue with the Countries of the Southern shores of the Mediterranean on priority challenges that are common to all sides: from the fight against terrorism to the migration crisis.

When we decided to organize the OSCE Conference here in Palermo, we realized we had an extraordinary opportunity for combining the discussion on security with a proposal for a cultural program in the Mediterranean. Especially considering that Palermo will be the “Italian Capital of Culture” in 2018.

And in this we are driven by a firm belief: there can be no stability, security and peace without shared values and without respect for the culture of our neighbours.

In this respect, Palermo has a symbolic role to play, and being a Sicilian I am saying this with great pride. Over the centuries Palermo was enriched by all the great Mediterranean cultures: from the Phoenicians to the Jews, from the Greeks to the Romans, from the Arabs to the Normans, from the French to the Spaniards. This town has absorbed and built into its own the cultures of the different peoples with which it came into contact.

These stratified  stories can be seen also in the architecture of the wonderful historic centre of Palermo, inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List.

It is this “Spirit of Palermo”, the syncretism between the different cultures of the Mediterranean, that makes Sicilian society an open one, open to dialogue and inclined towards the understanding of the other. This spirit inspires our strategy in the Mediterranean.    

And so we decided to present here in Palermo an ambitious cultural program – “Italy, Cultures, the Mediterranean” - because we believe, over and above rhetoric, that the two sides of the Mediterranean are geographically close but still too distant at the level of mutual understanding and ability to make the most of the huge potential of a closer cooperation.

We are convinced that investing in culture is of fundamental importance to bridge the dangerous divide that has opened up in the Mediterranean and where fanaticism, violent extremism, terrorism and populism have proliferated.  If we do not counter this divide with a good dose of shared values, we run the risk of creating an abyss in the Mediterranean which in the end will swallow up civil coexistence, rights and freedom.

In this strategy we deem that Tunisia is our privileged and essential interlocutor. After all, the full harmony between Sicily and Tunisia is not at all surprising, also because they have shared more than a thousand years of history together: from the centuries of the Phoenician civilization, to the Romans, up to the Arab period of Sicily and to the more recent stories of immigration and integration of Tunisians in Sicily and of Sicilians in Tunisia.   The very site where this Norman Palace now stands was fortified with heavy stone walls by the Phoenicians.   

Today Tunisia is an extraordinary example of how a far-sighted and brave leadership has saved a Country that was on the brink of the fathomless abyss of civil war, steering it back onto the course of reforms of historic importance. It gave proof of this by adopting measures that are deeply imbued with historic value, like lifting the ban on Muslim women marrying non-Muslims. This is a decision that we hailed very positively and for which I would like to publicly commend President Essebsi, through Minister Jhinaoui who is attending this conference. Tunisian democracy is a gem of the Mediterranean. A gem that we need to protect and preserve together. Italy stands shoulder to shoulder with the Tunisian Government and supports it in its reform momentum which is essential in order to counter extremists.

I would like to draw your attention to this: fundamentalists of all religions and latitudes have in common the obsessive rejection of diversity. They often do not accept  relationships of equal dignity with women who in their view are to be segregated, marginalized and discriminated. But if we do not remember that women account for half of society; if we do not accept diversity; if we do not respect those who are more vulnerable, we are rejecting also the preconditions for peace, stability and development.    

In order to avoid this very concrete risk, fuelled in Europe by the demagogic rhetoric of populists and xenophobes, we need to invest in culture and in young people. This is what we want to do with the “Italy, Cultures, the Mediterranean” Programme that we are presenting today.

Art and culture are the strongholds that defend us from the retrograde thought of fanaticism, and all too often they are under attack by the extremist ideology as occurred with the cowardly Bardo Museum attack, in which amongst those who lost their lives there were also four Italians. I am recalling this with sympathy and I thank the Director of the Bardo Museum, Moncef Ben Moussa, for being with us here today.  

Therefore, the meeting being held today is a cultural event, but it is also an eminently political one: indeed, we intend to enhance the role of culture in order to develop a Mediterranean identity that is respectful of the multifarious aspects of our societies, that promotes diversity and hence encourages security in the Mediterranean.

And we want to do this by using the instruments of language, art, cinema, music, books, design, fashion and cuisine. And then also: science, technology, archaeology, the blue economy and sustainability. There are a great many initiatives and I would like to mention only a few out of the more than 500 that have been planned.

The presence, among the speakers of today, of Alessandro Masi, the Director of the Società Dante Alighieri, confirms the importance we attach to the promotion of the Italian language in the Mediterranean Countries.    

The Day of Italian design (in early March) will include initiatives throughout the Mediterranean Countries and the Middle East.

And then we will be cooperating with the Triennale of Milan. I greet Silvana Annicchiarico, Director of the Design Museum of the Triennale who is here today.    

There will also be the Week of Italian Cuisine that will focus in particular on the Countries of the Mediterranean Area. 

There will be an emphasis also on fashion and cinema. I wish to thank Roberto Cicutto, President of the Istituto Luce and Davide Rampello,  Art Director of the Milan Fashion Week, for accepting our invitation to develop initiatives together.    

The artist, Daniela Papadia, who is also here today, will be carrying out the project “The Thread of Alliance”:  weavers of different Mediterranean nationalities will weave a tapestry, which will ideally represent the human genome.  

The Teatro Piccolo of Milan will stage the great works of art of Goldoni in cooperation with theatre companies from Tunisia, Algeria and Turkey. I wish to thank Director Sergio Escobar for having conceived the idea of this artistic project.

Some of Italy’s finest artists from the musical scene have joined the Program, Stefano Bollani and Eugenio Bennato, just to mention two of them, who will be touring the Mediterranean with their music.           

Also the Piazza Vittorio Orchestra, a symbol of integration and cooperation between artists of different nationalities and cultures will give their contribution. 

And we have not forgotten art: the MAXXI, whose Director, Bartolomeo Pietromarchi, is here, has set up an exhibition on the relationship between classical and contemporary art, and on the dialogue between the artists from the two sides of the Mediterranean. 

And then I would like to mention the “Ulysses’ Syndrome” project, by Massimo Torrigiani, that retraces the footsteps of Ulysses’ journey from Troy to Ithaca.

We are also setting up a photographic exhibition of photos by Mimmo Jodice – “The Mediterrean” – in cooperation with the MART of Rovereto. And we have designed a photographic project on the UNESCO sites of the Mediterranean that will be produced by young emerging artists.     

I would like to go on with the theme of young people because I am increasingly convinced that we should give the utmost priority to student mobility programs to and from our partner Countries of the Mediterranean.  I envision a large “Erasmus of the Mediterranean” that can offer our university students new possibilities of study and of sharing.     

We also need a Europe that can define and shape its identity by investing in the youth of the Mediterranean, in their ideas and in their interests and projects, and in their hopes. By helping young people to study, to come into contact with our different cultures and reject the fake news of populists, we will create a huge open space of justice, rights and freedom. In this way we will have inoculated into the new generations the antibodies to contrast violent extremists and terrorists. In this way we will have invested in present day and future security.    

Sicily is the best suited place for forging and giving value to this Mediterranean identity, based on young people, on culture and on the richness of diversity. And on respect for women and gender equality. In this connection I would like to thank the writers Simonetta Agnello Hornby and Maissa Bey for accepting our invitation to be here. The pages of their books often speak about the women and about the Mediterranean and of the importance of the freedom they have conquered.

This Mediterranean identity would even help strengthen European identity: a Europe that has always had its soul and destiny in the Mediterranean; a Europe that will always find the key to prosperity and security in the Mediterranean.

This is the message we are sending out today from Palermo and from Sicily. A message that in the course of 2018 will spread out all over the Mediterranean.    

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