Italy is one of the six founding members of the European Union and it recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of the signature of the Treaties of Rome. Where? But in Rome of course, in the same magnificently painted room where the treaties were signed on the 25th of March 1956, the “Sala degli Orazi e Curiazi” in Rome’s Town Hall which is on Capitol Hill.
So why not celebrate this event also in Brussels, the capital of Europe? The Etterbeek municipality have done exactly this: they have organised a whole week of meetings, conferences and festivities to celebrate Italy through the Italians living in Brussels and especially in Etterbeek which is the Brussels Commune with the most Eu institutions on its territory.
Posters are appearing in several streets of Etterbeek announcing “Etterbeek celebra l’Italia” – Etterbeek celebrates Italy – in French and Dutch and also in Italian.
The Rue de Tongres is decorated with Italian flags and the building where the Commune has its HQ on Avenue d’Auderghem will proudly show the Belgian and Italian flags for the whole week and at night the building will be floodlit in green, white and red, the colour of the Italian flag.
The celebrations will start on Tuesday 25th at 8 pm with a conference on the “Role of Italy in the European project” in the Council meeting hall. Three speakers will debate the subject in the presence of the newly arrived Italian ambassador, H.E. Elena Basile. It is the first time that a lady ambassador is posted in Brussels and this is a very important development for many Italians living in Brussels. The ambassador will be welcomed by the Etterbeek Bourgmestre, M. Vincent de Wolf and by other “echevins”, who have sponsored the idea of the “Italian week” with great enthusiasm.
After the address form the Italian Ambassador to the Italians present and all other guests, three panellists will discuss on the role that Italy has had in the EU so far and how it can continue contributing to the success of the European project.
A columnist from La Repubblica Andrea Bonanni, who has lived for many years in Brussels, and a former correspondent from Il Sole 24 Ore, Enrico Brivio, who has also lived in Brussels for some time and is now working for the European Commission spokespersons service for Environment, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, will debate together with the Italian Member of the European Parliament Mercedes Bresso (S&D) the achievements of Italy in the European Union and its future engagements.
Over 100 people have asked to attend. After the presentations the public will be invited to participate in the debate with their questions.
And this is just the hors d’oeuvre! The following day on April 26th, there will be an Italian party in the Council hall of the Municipality with a photographic exhibition on the Rome Treaties. Photos will also be exhibited from the Italian city twinned 40 years ago with Etterbeek, Forte dei Marmi on the Tuscan coast. It is the city where the former queen of the Belgians, Paola, was born. And this is the reason for the twinning. The former Belgian Royal family used to go on holiday there in the summer. A square near Place Jourdan was named after the twinned city Forte dei Marmi but there was no follow up. Only recently the twinning idea was revived and exchanges the mayor of Forte dei Marmi came to visit Etterbeek bringing the baptism certificate of the former queen and products from the city. Exchanges of students have been arranged between Etterbeek schools and Forte dei Marmi with photographic exhibitions which will be shown also on this occasion.
The cultural evening will be on April 27th, at the Press Club Brussels Europe, to watch a film by a photographer of Italian origin, Bruno Mariani, who came to Belgium when he was only a few years old with his family to follow their father who was hired to work in Belgian coal mines in the region of Borinage. The film is a personal memory of the times when the Italians arrived in droves to work in Belgian mines after the governments of Belgium and Italy signed a protocol agreement: miners sent from Italy to excavate coal would get a work contract including family allowances and free coal for the winter. Italy would also get some coal in return (paying it at a good price) depending on the quantity extracted by the Italian miners.
Almost 200.000 people arrived in a few years after the signature of the protocol on June 23rd 1946. Italy was a defeated country, work was difficult to find for young people returning from the war and trains were ready to take them to Belgium after a thorough medical visit. The Belgians owners of the mines demanded men in good health and provided them with lodgings in whatever space could be found. Many men were housed in big spaces with bunk beds, the so-called “cantines” where they could also buy food and drinks. The cost was deducted from their salary and the remaining was sent to the families in Italy. But after a few years it was decided that it would be better for the families to come too. And this is the story that Bruno Mariani will tell.
I will introduce the film “Du charbon dans les veines” (Coal in your veins) but will also speak of the role of Italians in the history of Belgium. There is a lot to say, of course, I will try to keep it short even if I will start from medieval times. I know there would be also Julius Caesar to talk about but then…. it will be too long!
On the 28th April the Parc du Cinquantenaire and the Gallery will be the venue of yet another celebration with Italian aperitif starting from 6 pm and a concert of “The Nobody” surrounded by food trucks”(with Italian food of course!) along Rue des Tongres and Rue des Celtes.
The following day, Saturday 29th April it will be the Forte dei Marmi day when a marble panel will be unveiled at 11 am to celebrate the twinning of Etterbeek with the Italian city.
Where? But in the Forte dei Marmi Square, of course!