During my entire life, I have nourished my inspiration through Italy. I have learnt the language at an early age. Italy’s literature has always overwhelmed me (to cite Primo and Carlo Levi among others); her poetry does not leave my side (from Dante to Leopardi); her theatre is unsurpassable (Goldoni and Pirandello); her sculptures founded this artform, (from the Romans to Cattelan via Bernini); her architecture (with Vasari, and Renzo Piano); her philosophy (citing only Gramsci and de Agamben); her music is universal (from Scarlatti to Berio); her paintings with a thousand names, (from Giotto to Boetti); opera would be nothing without Verdi, Puccini Bellini and so many others. Her cooking is essential to the world (did you know that the world consumes 30 billion items that are called “pizzas” on a yearly basis). And her cinema (with a thousand names to cite, including those of Visconti and de Sica)
And perhaps to go further: Italy has been, several times and under several names, at the centrepiece of the world. With Rome, of course, to which we owe so much. Rome, heiress of the Greek and Jewish traditions, and where the cradle of a third form of universality, with Christianity, was established. But also, with Venice, then Gênes which were, between the 13th and the middle of the 16th century, immense superpowers, the equivalent of New York of the twentieth century.
Today, Italy remains a universal power through its industrial output (did you know that Italy exports and innovates much more than France), through its renowned brands (fashion or food) and through so many other elements. Italy is much more than its politicians, who only occupy a small place in its pantheon.
Whether Italy likes it or not, she is more than a nation, she represents an idea; an idea so powerful that she has forgotten, for millennia, to become a nation, and that all this has flourished under the rule of a few princes or foreign powers; before embracing nationhood only a hundred and fifty years ago.
It is in this context that we must place the current dispute. It cannot be reduced to the ridiculous insults of politicians who received inadequate parenting and who are eager to maintain an uncertain popularity; it is not just a worrisome manifestation of nostalgia for the darkest period in Italian history, the fascist period. It is also an important moment, where a great universal idea tells us that Italy does not want to die and that she wants to continue to play a role in the history of the world. Starting with the history of Europe.
France is facing the same anxieties. Although France has been a nation for over a thousand years, her existence is also an idea. And nothing is more fruitful than when the idea (Italy) and the other idea (France) draw inspiration from each other. The result of this has been the production of a thousand masterpieces (what would the Renaissance be without the meeting between Leonard and King Francis I?). It can build Europe.
The best answer to the current situation is not to wrap ourselves with mutual outrage, but to reach out to each other, to establish dialogue between writers, intellectuals, artists, entrepreneurs, scientists, professors, doctors, trade unionists, political parties, non-profits, so that, a new idea that stems from our two idea-nations can finally be born, the idea-Europe, for which we possess the wherewithal to move forward together.
It is already in the making. And even when an Italian minister commits a very rude act by coming to France to engage with people who want to foment a coup, he has said, though unwillingly, that the debate is no longer at the national level, but rather at the European level. And that it is necessary to make this Europe, which the world owes so much to, live. Her death could only come by way of suicide.
Let us launch a great Franco-Italian debate, and then a European debate. Beyond the future electoral standoffs, it will help us regain our pride in our identity, and restore our confidence in the future.