meeting - August 22nd


On the Shores
of “Mare nostrum”


A conversation between Senator Andreotti and representatives
of countries of the Middle East and North Africa. Economic cooperation
and inter-religious dialogue. “Europe does not want to be a fortress”




The Middle East and the Mediterranean are two constants in the international scope that has always characterized the Meeting. This is certainly not because of a taste for the exotic as an end in itself, nor because of an ambition to set up a sort of parallel diplomacy, but rather–as the President of the Companionship of Works, Giorgio Vittadini, recalled in his introduction to one of the main highlights of the annual gathering in Rimini–because of an ideal loyalty to that part of the planet which has marked the Meeting from its very first year and has made it a bridge for peace and dialogue between East and West, North and South.
The good news we wanted to hear from the Middle East did not arrive, mainly because of the essential failure of the Camp David talks, “but it would be very wrong to think of this work as useless,” warned Senator Giulio Andreotti, from the beginning an inspirer of a Mediterranean European perspective open to the Middle East for Italian foreign policy. “Approaches to difficult solutions are almost never fast, especially if on the negotiating table the stakes are as high as the destiny of Jerusalem. Jesus wept for Jerusalem, and perhaps He weeps still, seeing his city still so far away from a solution, but we must continue to have faith in the work of diplomacy.”


Thirty-seven wounds

Bassam Abu Sharif, special adviser to Arafat, made an appeal that was as authoritative as it was fraught with the drama that comes from a personal experience that has made him a protagonist of the peace process and the victim of an attempt on his life: “I bear in my body thirty-seven wounds because I defended the freedom of the Holy Land and followed and persevered on the path of Jesus Christ. They did not succeed in dissuading Christ from his path, not even when they crucified Him, and they will not succeed in turning us away from our path to set the Holy Land free and to instill peace and tolerance there. Men are born free and equal, no soldier or machine gun has the right to reduce another man to slavery.” Bassam Abu Sharif emphasized that stability in the Middle East is not only a local problem, but constitutes a matter of strategic importance for the whole world and particularly for the European Union. Arafat’s adviser made an appeal to the Union in particular for the convocation of an international conference to allow the peace process to move out of the shoals in which it is mired and not to remain completely subordinated to U.S. foreign policy. This request was seconded by UN Ambassador Staffan De Mistura, who said that Europe can not only push the various parts of the negotiations both morally and politically, but also “offer an economic package” to sustain the rebirth of the entire area.


Africa, farewell?

The other great object of neglect that the Meeting wanted to bring back into the limelight of public opinion is the African side of the Mediterranean, which is particularly close to Italy not only geographically, but also because it is one of the main sources of immigration, both legal and illegal. Andreotti’s long-sighted realism extended the invitation to consider these migrations not as a transitory phenomenon that can be handled with slogans. He emphatically repeated a phrase from the earliest documents produced by the European Community: “We do not want to be a fortress.” Today, in Fortress Europe, there are many who offer as a remedy for Africa’s ills only demographic policies to control population growth, an unnatural solution and one that loses sight of the real goal, that of creating opportunities for development which at the same time can stem the migratory tide. But in the meantime, Africa continues its slow, relentless agony, made up of hunger, poverty, AIDS, and local wars, which every day have dozens of victims but only occasionally break through the wall of silence to end up on the pages of newspapers. For this reason it is important that there be places like the Meeting, where these topics never go out of fashion, and for this Andreotti expressed gratitude to the Church “for the hundreds of religious who have made those distant lands known to entire generations through the precious work of missions.”


Augustine the Algerian

The drama and hopes of the Dark Continent reverberated in the remarks of Mohammad Kettani, delegate of King Mohammed VI of Morocco, and Noureddine Boukrouh, Algerian minister of small and medium-sized business and small and medium-sized industry. Kettani spoke “provocatively” in Arabic in front of an audience of 12,000 people who listened in respectful silence, recalling that south of the Mediterranean this is the language used by 250 million inhabitants of 22 countries. He said that economic and political cooperation between the two sides of the sea and dialogue between Christianity and Islam are the resources on which the young sovereign of his country wants to base his actions after having received the scepter of power from the great Hassan II. Bouteflika, one of the protagonists of the Meeting 1999, recalled the need to go beyond the viewpoint in which “everyone see his own reason for being in the non-being of others. It is as though it were not possible for an idea, a nation, or a culture to fulfill itself except at others’ expense, considered a priori as antitheses to refute or enemies to be suppressed.” These are overtones of innovation that testify to the chance to write new pages in the story of the relationship between Europe and the Mediterranean and between Islam and the contemporary world. And they may also be at the base of the announcement that echoed through the Meeting of the great international conference dedicated to St. Augustine, to be held in Algeria in 2001.