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The Warsaw Voice » Other » May 28, 2008
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Understanding Through the Soul
May 28, 2008   
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Anna Blefari Melazzi, Italian ambassador to Warsaw, explains to Louis Jacob why Poland and Italy have such a strong bond historically.

You have been in Poland for two years. What is your impression of the country?
There is an ancient saying in the world of diplomatic circles which runs like this: in his first year a diplomat is well aware that he has a very limited knowledge about the country he is in. In his second year, he thinks he has made progress in understanding. In the third year, he believes he understands the country completely. In the fourth year, he realizes that he has never really understood the country. I am at the stage of trying to understand Poland and the Polish people. At the same time however, I would like to stress that understanding a country with one's own intellectual capacities is entirely different than feeling the same country with one's own intuition and one's own soul. From this angle, I believe that I have developed quite a heartfelt affection for Poland. It is an absolutely fascinating country. Rich in history, culture and traditions. I consider it to be one of the pivotal countries of the EU. and bound to play an important role in the building up of a more and more united Europe. Poland, and its new generation, is pervaded by a fresh and constructive energy. This is the aspect of Poland which strikes me the most. I also admire the high level of Polish culture.

Have you seen much of the countryside?
So far I've had the opportunity to visit Cracow, Katowice, ŁódĽ, Wrocław, Bydgoszcz, Płock, Malbork, Toruń, Radomsko. There remains much for me to see. In the coming months, I hope to visit some other important cities such as Gdańsk, Poznań, Szczecin, Białystok, and some more of the other architectural and cultural jewels of Poland such as Sandomierz, Łańcut and Zamo¶ć, a city built by the well-known Italian architect Bernardo Morando and restored in the 1990s under UNESCO sponsorship, in a project by Italian architect Manfredi Nicoletti.

How do Italians feel about Polish people?
The Poles are often called the Neapolitans of the North. This was the impression I had in visiting this country for the first time in 1981. A deep affinity for religion and traditions as well as a love of beauty, culture and the arts, naturally attracts the Italian and Polish people to each other.

Despite the fact that Italy and Poland do not share a common frontier, history has brought our two countries together more intensely than one would think. Obviously, there has been a deep influence exerted in the two countries by the Roman Catholic Church. There were also deep cultural ties established throughout the centuries. Let me just mention the links between Polish and Italian universities and cultural centers in the middle ages and the Renaissance period. There is also the important fact that the two peoples fought for each other's freedom. The Polish and Italian national anthems are the only two in the world that make mutual reference to the struggles that the countries had to undergo to achieve freedom and unification of their territories. In the 19th century, Garibaldi's followers came to fight in Poland for the independence of this country. Polish people still remember the sacrifice of Francesco Nullo who rests in Olkusz. During World War I and II many Polish soldiers fought bravely and lost their lives for Italy's freedom and democracy. The Italian people will never forget their sacrifice. In the last three decades of the 20th century, the great Pope John Paul II became a common idol for both Polish and Italian people, and further strengthened the bonds between the two countries. For all the reasons I have mentioned, Polish people are most appreciated and welcome by Italians. The resident Polish community in Italy totals 70,000 people and they are very well integrated in my country. Also, Italians living in Poland feel at home.

How would you summarize Italian-Polish relations and how do you see them developing in the future?
Poland and Italy are both large and multi-faceted countries; hence their relations can not be summarized in a few sentences. From a political point of view, we share many common goals, and we have common opinions on global issues. Economic and trade relations are excellent. Italy is one of the main trading partners of Poland. Our bilateral interchange has been increasing at a rate of 20 percent in the last two years, and amounted to 15 billion euros in 2007. Italy is the sixth largest foreign investor in Poland and Italian investments amount to 4.8 billion euros. My government hopes to see an increasing number of Polish investors in Italy in the years to come. Tourism is also developing at a speedy rate. Last year almost 300,000 Italians visited Poland and 450,000 Polish tourists traveled to Italy. As I mentioned earlier, our cultural relations are quite intensive. A new and interesting trend, which has been developing lately, is the twinning of Italian and Polish cities and regions. This will be an important factor in bringing the citizens together in understanding each other's cultures. In my opinion, the two countries are bound to work closer and closer together in building a strong, united and democratic Europe.

In the political field, Italy and Poland are planning to intensify their relations by organizing annual inter-governmental summits associated with business and cultural fora. In the economic sphere, I foresee an ever-growing flow of investment and trade. I'm currently working on a "jumbo" mission, which will see 120 Italian businessmen, in the field of construction, coming to Poland next June.

What do you feel you have achieved in Poland in your two years as a diplomat here?
The last two years have witnessed an intensification of political consultations and cooperation in all fields. Quite a number of Italian government, parliamentary and local government visits took place. Prime Minister Romano Prodi and the ministers of Interior Affairs and of Regional Development visited Poland in 2007. The two countries signed a cooperation agreement to fight organized crime as well as a new scientific cooperation protocol, and ratified a new cultural agreement which has given impetus to enhanced cooperation in all fields of culture. This allowed the embassy and the Italian Institute of Culture in Warsaw to organize some big cultural events: a concert given by the Italian orchestra of the Maggio Musicale Fiorentino conducted by Zubin Mehta in the Wielki Theater, a concert given by the Ensemble Musicale Scaligero of the Teatro alla Scala in the Warsaw Philharmonic, an exhibition of Italian contemporary art, La Collezione Farnesina, at the Wilanów Palace and a large fashion show together with a historic exhibition of Italian high fashion held last March in the Palace of Culture.

What goals would you like to accomplish in your remaining time in Poland?
My goals are aimed at deepening relations between Italy and Poland in the political, economic, social and cultural areas and I will continue to work for this. In the coming months my main goal will be the preparation of the first Italian-Polish intergovernmental summit which will be headed by the prime ministers of the two countries. It is also my earnest wish to visit all parts of the country that I have not yet seen.
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