Yesterday, at the Garden of the Righteous Worldwide in Milan, the annual assembly with Gariwo’s ambassadors and collaborators took place. As usual, the assembly focused on Gariwo’s work in the past year and on its future aims and objectives. Gariwo’s work, which builds on a strong educational mission through the figures of the Righteous, is increasingly concerned with the theme of genocide prevention.
The assembly started with the opening remarks of Gariwo’s staff. Martina Landi, Gariwo’s editor-in-chief, focused on the steps taken by Gariwo to enrich its educational mission: “one of the most important activities this year was the convention with CDEC (Fondazione Centro di Documentazione Ebraica Contemporanea): our collaboration aims at promoting research on the figures of Righteous, organizing conferences and seminars for teachers, and working on educational projects with schools, promoting the fight against anti-Semitism and the diffusion of positive exemplars among the youngest”. “This collaboration – Landi said – will impact a lot on Gariwo’s educational sector”. Landi also mentioned a new educational project in Gariwo, made in collaboration with Spostiamo Mari e Monti, an association based in Turin and a long-standing partner of Gariwo. The project is based on exchange projects and the formation of university teachers who work with high-school students in a didactic initiative leading to the opening of new gardens in schools.
Manuela Rippo, responsible for Gariwo’s gardens, described the many ongoing garden projects in Italy and across the world, including the future openings of some gardens in Stockholm, Marseille, Argentina, Kurdistan Ventotene, and San Patrignano. Rippo also mentioned the requalification of the Garden of the Righteous in Neve Shalom, the ongoing collaboration with the garden of Warsaw, and the future naming of the street leading to Italian Foreign Ministry as “Viale dei Giusti” (Righteous Street). “The commitment of ambassadors – Rippo said – was key to all this: there is an ongoing network, which we like to see as a cultural movement based on active citizenship, responsibility, and human rights”.
Francesco Cataluccio, writer, Gariwo’s collaborator since years, and now its new editorial manager, presented the comprehensive Encyclopedia of the Righteous, on which Gariwo is currently working in Italian and will be soon published in English. The Encyclopedia of the Righteous builds on materials that Gariwo has been putting together in the past years: it is a digital encyclopedia, which means it can be seen as an endless work in progress, open to the contribution of everyone. “Our primary aim – Cataluccio said – is educational, and we want readers to see the Righteous’s stories as real narrations, leading them to empathize with these figures”. The choice of including a Righteous, Cataluccio added, always stems from a discussion involving different people and brought us to discover some lesser-known and fascinating stories.
Gabriele Nissim, Gariwo’s president, closed the opening remarks with an overview of Gariwo’s activity and great aims for the future. First, Nissim discussed Gariwo’s choice of extending the notion of Righteous beyond the Shoah, and said: “Today, we need to do a further step: we need to tighten the knot between the figures of Righteous and the theme of genocide prevention. The figures of Righteous must show society that genocide can be prevented and avoided through individual choices and responsibility”. Nissim also highlighted the link between Gariwo and the figure of Rafael Lemkin, the Polish Jew who coined the notion of genocide and stressed the importance of intentionality and individual responsibility in genocides. Lemkin, Nissim said, convinced all countries in the world to sign the UN 1948 Convention for the Prevention the Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. For this reason, Gariwo proposed to the Italian Parliament to improve Italy’s commitment to the prevention of all mass atrocities, which the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide welcomed.
The assembly saw warm and active participation from Gariwo’s ambassadors, who contributed to the event with reflections and ideas. Milena Santerini, university professor at the Cattolica University in Milan and national coordinator for the fight against anti-Semitism since 2020, praised Gariwo’s exceptional work and said: “Gariwo’s mission is something that illuminates the way to our society and provides us with an exemplar of what it means to live as citizens, as a universal community: the Righteous do not divide, they help unite and exemplify a society that is not polarized”. Annalia Guglielmi, Gariwo’s contributor and expert in East Europe’s history, highlighted that “each totalitarian regime starts by canceling the memory of the Righteous. This is what is happening in Poland, where the figures of Solidarność are being banned: hence, the Righteous provide us with a very important angle to reflect on today’s world”.
Pietro Kuciukian, co-founder of Gariwo and Honorary Consul of Armenia to Italy, mentioned the ongoing conflict in Tigray and said: “denial brings to impunity, and impunity brings to genocides repeating themselves”. Mr Kuciukian emphasized the importance of Rafael Lemkin’s reflection of what it means to cancel a group when he coined the notion of genocide.
Bruno Marasà, former director of the Milan Office of the European Parliament and an expert in foreign policy, suggested that Gariwo takes part in the Conference on the Future of Europe. Proposed by the European Commission and the European Parliament, the Conference on the Future of Europe was announced in 2019: it consists of a number of debates and initiatives to discuss the medium- and long-term future of the EU what reforms should be made to its policies and institutions.
Antonio Ferrari, columnist at the Corriere della Sera, recalled the figure of Guelfo Zamboni, an Italian consul in Thessaloniki who saved the many Italian and Greek Jews during the persecutions and who is honoured at the Garden of the Righteous in Milan under Ferrari’s suggestion. Ferrari also mentioned the Rwanda genocide and the long-awaited excuses by French President Emmanuel Macron, saying that a culture of prevention is fundamental. About Rwanda, Françoise Kankindi, president of Bene Ruanda (sons of Rwanda), an association based in Italy, founded in 2005, and that works to promote reconciliation and the memory of the Rwandan genocide. Kankindi said that with Gariwo and Yolande Mukagasana (a survivor and witness of the Rwandan genocide), she plans to open a Garden of the Righteous in Rwanda. “Rwanda – Kankindi said – was a testing ground to prove that the “never again” promise on which the 1948 Convention built was unsuccessful: the Tutsi genocide could be avoided, and more than one million victims could be saved”.
Cristina Miedico, a cultural policy expert, mentioned the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, highlighting the importance of cultural promotion, the transmission of values, memory, and cultural heritage. With some colleagues, Miedico organized a series of encounters – to which Gabriele Nissim will also contribute – to highlight the importance of culture within the 2030 Agenda, which, in her view, is missing and could be integrated into goal 16, which promotes inclusive and peaceful societies.
Andrea Vitello, author of the forthcoming book “Il nazista che salvò gli ebrei. La storia del salvataggio degli ebrei danesi” (Le lettere, Firenze, 2021), spoke about the ongoing atrocities in Xinjiang against the Uyghur Muslim minority. “The erasure of an entire people is literally in place: what is happening with the Uyghurs recalls the memory of other and past well-known atrocities in modern history”, said Vitello. For this reason, he added, “I believe that the memory of the Righteous is essential: with genocides, there is often this narrative of unavoidability. The Righteous enable to teach genocides with the idea that they could be avoided: it is always possible to do something against injustice”.
Hafez Haidar, Lebanese writer, translator, academic, and Peace Nobel Prize candidate in 2017, also contributed to the assembly of Gariwo’s ambassadors. Haidar drew attention to what is currently happening in Lebanon, which plunged into an economic and political crisis after the explosion in August 2020 in Beirut. “Lebanon needs to come back to life on a new basis:”, Haidar said, “we need to close weapons factories, and we need to build a long-lasting democracy based on human rights, boycotting economies that provide terrorists with weapons”. Peace, Haidar said, builds on interreligious dialogue and not on strength.
Anna Foa, historian, drew on Gabriele Nissim’s words on the plurality of voices on the theme of the Righteous across the world and the disciplines. “I believe that today’s moment represents a step forward toward new efforts and challenges”, Foa said, “there is a necessity to delve into these themes without fearing the plurality of voice, or any possible division”. Annamaria Samuelli, Gariwo’s co-founder and head of Gariwo’s educational sector, concluded the assembly by focusing on Gariwo’s increasing commitment to preventing genocides. “Gariwo’s educational sector will take a concrete and enthusiastic stand on this, together with the thousands of students that we engaged with the figures of the Righteous”.