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Italy-Tunisia, a relationship strengthened by the Righteous

interview with H.E. The Ambassador Raimondo De Cardona

H.E. Raimondo De Cardona

H.E. Raimondo De Cardona

In our times marked by conflicts and cleavages, a great moral and political value is retained by the creation of a new Garden of the Righteous in Tunis - an initiative that was set up thanks to the cooperation between Gariwo and Italy's Minister of Foreign Affairs.

With the first trees, dedicated to Mohamed Naceur ben Abdesslem, Khaled al-Asaad, Mohamed Bouazizi, Khaled Abdul Wahab and Faraaz Hussein, we shall remember the courage of those have defended human dignity in the facr of persecutions, totalitarianism and fundamentalism of various kinds.

The choice of Tunisia as first Arab country where to let a Garden of the Righteous bloom was not made by chance: despite the economic crisis and the continuous terrorist threats, Tunisia is in facts the only country in which  the revolt of 2011 ended with the affirmation of democracy as stem against fundamentalism.
Tunis chose the pathway of civil rights and separation between politics and religion, as shown also by the recent congress of the Ennahda party, which traditionally draws inspiration from Islam.

The new Garden of the Righteous will be set up inside the Italian Embassy run by H.E. The Ambassador Raimondo De Cardona, with whom we discussed the importance of this initiative.

The Garden of the Righteous of Tunis is the first one to be set up in an Arab country. What does this mean to you?

It is surely a great satisfaction. The idea of the Garden, place of peace and memory, is a wide-spread and universal idea, of which I am infinitely grateful to Gabriele Nissim. I am also very happy about the response of Abdessatar Ben Moussa, President of the Tunisian League of Human Rights and Nobel Prize Winner, who immediately joined the initiative with enthusiasm.  Moreover I found positive responses also in wider-spread a public, and a general appreciation for the place we are about to inaugurate. This can be nothing but a great reason of pride and satisfaction for the whole of us.

By planting a tree for Khaled Abdul Wahab, for the first time in an Arab country there shall be remembered the Arabs who rescued the Jews during World War II. What is the value of such recognition?

We know very well that Tunisia is a country that made important choices five years ago: it undertook the pathway of democracy, it chose to privilege civil rights and the importance of the individual. All this of course nurtures the inclination to bring about this kind of altruism, which is typical of the Righteous' deeds.
The story of Khaled Abdul Wahab, who in Mahdia defended the Jews during the Nazi occupation, is an example of the great tradition of the Tunisians, a generous and brave people who precisely for these features of its character has managed to break the circle of totalitarianism and launch into a positive democratic experience.

As far as this precise experience is concerned, do you believe Tunisia can be considered as a model of democratic progress for the entire region?

Of course it can. Tunisians are very pride of what they have managed to do, although they tend to stress their uniqueness. We should not forget in Tunisia there coexist some peculiar favorable conditions: the quality of life of its population, its level of education, a strongly secular tradition -- that enabled democracy to take roots in a positive way. Tunisians themselves though are aware they find themselves in a region featuring very varied situations, which can hardly offer the same basic fabric able to favor the affirmation of democracy.

The inauguration of a Garden of the Righteous in Tunis also provides an occasion to celebrate the strong telationship between Italy and Tunisia…

Absolutely it does. Italy has always been very close to Tunisia, not only geographically but also ideally and as far as actions are concerned. It may suffice to think that, in March 2014, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi decided to do his first trip abroad precisely to Tunisia, marking this strong bond between Rome and Tunis. Our commitment in this country was accelerated by the start of the democratic transition at the beginning of 2011, and the creation of the Garden of the Righteous of Tunis fits almost naturally in this tradition.

The figures honored at the Garden of Tunis also include Khaled al-Asaad, Hamadi ben Abdesslem and Faraaz Hussein, protagonists of the resistance against fundamentalism. They are "Righteous people of our time". Also in the light of  the current international scenarios, who do you think are the Righteous today?

I believe the Righteous are a category of people who transcend the times they live in. They are the men and women who, prompted by an extraordinary deal of realism, decide to apply their criteria of good in a concrete way, putting themselves at risk personally, up to paying the ultimate price. This category of people, I believe, has always existed, and still nowadays it is good to remember that, although we live in a materialist era distracted by many small things, this feeling of great sacrifice for justice keeps on living in human beings,

Unfortunately the recent times were marked by dreadful episodes - in Istanbul, Baghdad, and Dhaka, where also many fellow nationals of ours died. Which message do you think can arise from the inauguration f a Garden of the Righteous, a place of memory, against fundamentalism and terrorism?

Against these phenomena there can be nothing but one answer: the response of a civilization that does not let itself be shaken, that with firm nerves and with lucidity carries on, winning over fear. It is important that responses to the events unfold in a tranquil and quiet way, without losing temper. We shall be convinced of the superiority of the values of life, beauty, democracy and humanity in the face of those of the people who sow hate and havoc.

Martina Landi, Gariwo editorial staff; translation by Carolina Figini

13 July 2016

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