Farnesina, 2 February 2018
(The authentic text is only the one actually delivered)
President Corbino (Associazione Diplomatici),
Dear friends and dear students, It is a great pleasure for me to welcome you to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, the home of Italian diplomacy. It is quite an accomplishment to see so many young people here today showing a keen interest in diplomacy and the world that we live in. And for this I would like to congratulate Associazione Diplomatici, which has promoted this wonderful initiative after the experience we shared at the UN General Assembly in New York City last March. I was told that you will be engaged in diplomatic role-playing activities within three key-UN bodies that also represent multilateral diplomacy: 1) The Security Council, of which Italy was a member in 2017, contributing to stability and peace. Together with our partners, we have faced major challenges like the Syrian war, the instability in Libya, and the North Korean nuclear threat. Last November, I myself chaired the Council. I must be honest with you and say that although I have some experience in politics, chairing the Council was an exciting experience. 2) You will have a closer look at FAO and gain a better understanding of its most important mission to eradicate hunger and promote a sustainable agricultural model. People suffering from hunger always wonder where the next meal will come from. It is impossible for them to focus on studying or working. This is a daily reality for almost 800 million people: 1 person out of 9 is hungry. Changing their situation is possible. Since 1990, the trend has been improving: 216 million people do not suffer from hunger anymore. But we need to and still can do more.Italy hosts the most important UN hub in this field. Rome is home to the UN "food and agriculture hub" which includes the FAO, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). The fact that these UN agencies are headquartered in Rome represents a significant recognition of the leadership role our Country plays in food and nutrition security in the world. But it is also, and above all, a great responsibility we have to keep on encouraging the international community to work towards achieving the “zero hunger” goal. 3) Finally, you will become familiar with the work carried out by the UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, which is helping us to face a crisis of historic proportions: a global migration crisis. More than 65 million people in the entire world – an unprecedented number, which corresponds approximately to the Italian population – are forced to flee their homes. Of these, over 22 million are refugees and more than half are underage. I am proud to say that if the UNHCR is now working in Libya, it is also thanks to Italy, which has engaged in a diplomatic action in Libya while giving UNHCR more than 10 million euros to support its activities.
Italy has approached the migration crisis in the Mediterranean by combining solidarity and security. We have saved more than 650,000 people at sea, and also Europe’s reputation. At the same time, we have kept our Country safe by identifying and expelling those people who showed contempt for our values and freedoms. I am convinced that, in the last few years, we have proven wrong the idea that politicians and diplomats, once they exercise power, end up being cynical and forgetful of their ideals. Quite the opposite: we have always held the needs of our people above the interests of the electoral polls, the centrality of the human being prevails over indifference and the annihilation of tragedies.
The UN's role is to help people without fearing diversity. This is what Pope Francis said numerous times, and I quote: “we must never be afraid of diversity”, because “that is precisely the way to improve, to be more beautiful and enriched.”.
I would like to tell you a real story that deals with the topics you are going to discuss. It is the story of Nujeen Mustafa, a Syrian disabled girl, who when she was 16 fled Syria, war and hunger,and became a refugee. On her wheelchair, thanks to her sister’s help, she travelled 6,000 km to get from Syria to Europe, crossing eight Countries and, of course, facing the perilous crossing across the Mediterranean Sea.
When Nujeen, who besides dealing with her disability, had to face being a refugee, said that the most difficult thing for her was “living with the constant feeling of being unwelcome…knowing that everybody wanted to get rid of us, they wanted us simply to disappear because our exodus was a problem”. Yet, Nujeen didn’t lose hope, and when she was asked “how do you see yourself in 20 years?”, she answered: “My dream is becoming an astronaut; the plan B is becoming a writer”.
Her “plan B” doesn’t sound that bad to me, because Nujeen had the courage to write a beautiful book about her extraordinary journey that, in my opinion, holds some recommendations for politics, diplomacy, and life in general. In particular: That everyone of us has the power to change things, if we are able to listen to our heart. My advice, also to you, is neither to be afraid of the crises that affect the world, nor of diversity, or of your ideas, as they contribute to change and improve reality. And if that reality seems disheartening to you, let me tell you: take the future in your hands and do your best to change it. But never be indifferent.
Dreams should be pursued with enthusiasm, a sense of curiosity, and a strong desire to act. However, this motivation has to be combined with the responsibility of doing good and therefore of changing things for the better, and this is especially true for those people who exercise power and hold an international position.
Responsibility was the key word of an important international conference against anti-Semitism that we held a few days ago here at the Farnesina. Still today, our Italian and European cities risk a new surge of anti-Semitism, racism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia. They would all feed hatred, tensions and social conflicts. The wheel of fanaticism can start turning again anywhere, in any society and at any time. In Italy, exactly 80 years ago, racial laws were adopted, and the indifference of many Italians caused many Jews – our fellow compatriots – to be deported to concentration camps, from which they never returned.
In addition to the institutional responsibility of the State and of every organisation, including international ones, there is always great individual and personal responsibility. No one can look for a justification in “unfair” norms or institutions. Sometimes, conscientiously refusing to do one’s duty means just to do good. Sometimes, breaking “unfair” rules does good.
In this sense, I would like to tell you a story that could be entitled “The fake diplomat”. The story is about Giorgio Perlasca, from Como, who moved to Hungary in 1942. He did business there by representing an Italian exporter. Following the German occupation of Hungary, Perlasca was deported to a concentration camp, but he managed to escape and went back to Budapest, where he found shelter in the Spanish Embassy. Back then, the Hungarian Fascist Party rose to power and established a regime of terror. International Organizations and Embassies tried to help Jewish people by giving them “protection cards” and moving them to “protected houses”.
The situation got out of hand, and in December 1944 the Spanish Ambassador left Hungary once and for all, leaving behind the official seals of the Embassy. Perlasca decided it was time to act. He pretended to be a Spanish official, he handed out protection cards, negotiated with Hungarian authorities and personally visited prisons to release Jewish prisoners. He was able to wisely use his fake identity to expel members of the Hungarian Fascist Party out of the “protected houses”. For me, this “fake diplomat” was an outstanding diplomat and he was justly designated as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, the Shoah Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Authority.
The stories of Nujeen and Perlasca are about hatred towards diversity and the evil of indifference. But they are also, and above all, positive stories that inspire us: they tell us it is always worth it to follow our integrity, our “sense of what is right”. This is what inspired the United Nations to approve the Universal Declaration of Human Rights exactly 70 years ago, after the tragedy of World War II.
Respecting diversity, listening to your own conscience and acting responsibly is what I feel like suggesting you today, for the simulations you are about to begin of course, but also for your future in diplomacy or any other career you want to pursue. And I am sure that, in this way, you will find your place in the world. I wish you all every success!