A friendship written in marble. Fourty years of “twinning” between the Etterbeek Municipality and the Commune of Forte dei Marmi in Italy are now celebrated in the square Forte dei Marmi in Etterbeek where a big block of Carrara marble was installed at the end of the Italian week on Saturday 29th April, 2017.
The names of the bourgmestre of Etterbeek Vincent de Wolf and of the mayor of Forte dei Marmi Umberto Buratti were engraved on the marble with the dates of this long friendship between the two municipalities. De Wolf and Buratti were both there to unveil the marble monument with the two symbols of their respective cities: the Arc du Cinquantenaire for Etterbeek and the port of Forte dei Marmi from where the Carrara marbles are still shipped all over the world. It is the marble that Michelangelo Buonarroti used for his masterpieces such as the Moses and the Pieta’.
In this piece of marble donated to Etterbeek by Forte dei Marmi the “renewed” friendship between the two municipalities is represented by two hands linked together. Forever.
Renewed is the right word: the twinning was launched in 1977 but for the last 35 years nobody really seemed to be interested. Then the idea came to revive this friendship also for the benefit of the young people of the two entities. Buratti came to Brussels to meet de Wolf and the friendship was relaunched. Also on a personal level.
Why Forte dei Marmi? Because Queen Paola of Belgium was born there and a friend of the royal family at the time had the idea of twinning Etterbeek with Forte dei Marmi where the Belgian Royal family spent several summers “at home”. Ask the children of queen Paola and former king Albert and they will tell you that this place had very pleasant memories for them.
The present that the Mayor of Forte dei Marmi brought to the bourgmestre of Etterbeek the first time they met 3 years ago? But the christening certificate of Queen Paola, of course!
Since then schools have been visiting both places and organised exhibitions of photographs of their “Communes” in each other’s schools and people of both countries have been involved in cultural events. More people have been studying French in Italy and more Belgians have asked to learn Italian in order to be able to have a better interaction with the people from Tuscany, the region where Forte dei Marmi is situated. This is what they call now “cultural diplomacy”.
This is what I prefer to call “friendship”. But the Italian week was not only dedicated to the twinning of the two Communes.
The opening event was a debate in the Council Room of the Council of Etterbeek on the “Role of Italy in the European Union” with four important speakers: the Italian ambassador Elena Basile, the member of the European Parliament Mercedes Bresso and two journalists: Andrea Bonanni, columnist of the newspaper “La Repubblica” and Enrico Brivio, former correspondent of Il Sole 24 ore from Brussels and now a member of the spokespersons team of Jean Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission.
The new Italian Ambassador, H.E. Elena Basile, who had arrived in Brussels only a few days before, was very pleased to have the opportunity to address the Italians in Etterbeek and participated to the debate by explaining what in her view has been the role of Italy in Europe. Around 150 people attended, many Belgians, many from other Eu countries but many also from Italy since this was the first time that their municipality had decided to honour their community.
The Italian ambassador went on to explain that Italy had always supported the EU and that it is willing to continue doing so even if the economic and financial difficultires have put this willingness to a test. We are now in a period of transition in the EU and projects of further integration have still to be finalised in the field of banking, migration and defence, she said. But the important point, she concluded, is to make people understand what is the European value added for their lives.
Mercedes Bresso, a member of the European Parliament for the S&D group, insisted on the importance of a fair competition whereas the columnist of “La Repubblica” Andrea Bonanni explained how public opinion in Italy has shifted from a great love for European ideas to a considerable skepticism now that the country has experienced economic difficulties. “At the very beginning of the economic integration process – he recalled – we Italians even paid a tax for Europe” because Italy wanted to be in the first line on the road to federalism. However, he observed, “in spite of today’s difficulties, the great majority of Italians still have a great enthousiasm for Europe”. Enrico Brivio mentioned the great role of Italy in the migration issue: Italy, he said, should be given the Nobel Prize for Peace for all the human lives saved by Italians in the Mediterranean sea! Another important role of Italy, Brivio recalled, is also its defence of food security, a project launched by former EU Commission president Romano Prodi. And concluded that in his view “Italy is now stronger thanks to Europe but also Europe is stronger thanks to Italy”.
The second day of this “Italian jamboree” in Etterbeek was celebrated in the Council hall of the Etterbeek Maison Communale with a big “party” to which several European regions participated, especially Abruzzo, Veneto, Val d’Aosta and Toscana. The food was strictly Italian and it looked as people really enjoyed it together with the very festive musical atmosphere between popular songs and classical arias sung by the soprano Aurelie Castin and a musical complex formed by a father and two of his children, one playing the violin and the other the cello.
Then there was the cultural evening at the Press Club where almost 100 people came to listen to the Choir of the Etterbeek Academy of Music and watch the film of Bruno Mariani on his life as a child of an Italian miner who came from Abruzzi to work in Belgian mines. The presentation I did of his film but also of the important role of Italians in the history of Belgium as traders, bankers, artists etc. since the Middle Ages – but also as workers in the Belgian coal mines and steel works more recently – concluded the evening.
Friday 28th April was again festive, an aperitif in the Cinquantenaire Shopping Centre with lots of old friends meeting or finding new ones. This is when the Mayor of Forte dei Marmi arrived from Italy together with the President of the Communal Council Simone Tonini to spend the week-end with the friends in Etterbeek.
The conclusion of the week was an open air concert (thanks God no rain, a little cold but a splendid sunset!) of the Italian group “The Nobody” of Calogero Puma (he too the son of an Italian miner from Sicily! ). They sang songs of the past but also of the present with great musical verve and “sentimento”. The presence in the “esplanade” of ingenious “Api” mototrucks disguised as “foodtrucks” proposing Italian pasta with various kinds of sauces was the right way to end the festivities of Etterbeek for the Italians living here.
The unveiling of the marble monument was the very last official gesture which sealed a renewed friendship. Let’s hope this time it will last.