Rome — Minsk. A two-way road
[b]Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s visit to Minsk has been one of the brightest events of the political season. Undoubtedly, it should be viewed in the context of current dialogue between Belarus and the EU[/b]The first meeting between Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Lukashenko took place back in May 2003 in St. Petersburg. This year saw a famous meeting at Chigi Palace in Rome, which houses the Italian Council of Ministers. At that time, instead of their planned one-hour talk, they chatted for over three hours, with Mr. Berlusconi asking for a packet of investment proposals. He also promised to visit Minsk to continue their conversation and promote definite mutually beneficial projects. The Italian Prime Minister is known as an energetic politician and as a successful entrepreneur, who always keeps his word. The meeting between Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Lukashenko in Minsk has proven mutual interest in co-operation.
The first meeting between Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Lukashenko took place back in May 2003 in St. Petersburg. This year saw a famous meeting at Chigi Palace in Rome, which houses the Italian Council of Ministers. At that time, instead of their planned one-hour talk, they chatted for over three hours, with Mr. Berlusconi asking for a packet of investment proposals. He also promised to visit Minsk to continue their conversation and promote definite mutually beneficial projects. The Italian Prime Minister is known as an energetic politician and as a successful entrepreneur, who always keeps his word. The meeting between Mr. Berlusconi and Mr. Lukashenko in Minsk has proven mutual interest in co-operation.
Italy is a special partner for Belarus, being one of the first countries to have actively developed economic ties with us, unaffected by the political disagreements observed recently between Belarus and Europe. Italian business is traditionally active in new markets, sensibly believing that economic collaboration is the basis for developing interaction in all spheres. As a rule, this yields fruit. Today, joint Belarusian-Italian enterprises are successfully promoting their products to European markets and beyond. These include such brands as ‘Bielita’, ‘Ergon Est’, ‘Gimil’, ‘Dinamo Program’ and ‘Unibox’, which are famous and have gained recognition worldwide.
Around 100 companies with Italian capital are currently operating in the republic, while about 30 enterprises with Belarusian investments are working in Italy. Our major exports are metallurgy goods, oil products, potash fertilisers, leather and synthetic fibres. Products with high added value account for the most part, such as laser, ultra-sound and electron-ray engineering tools. Additionally, Italy is a trend-setter in clothes design and manufacture, importing Belarusian knitwear — a sign of its high quality. Modern engineering tools and equipment, as well as medicines and medical techniques are among our major imports.
In 2008, Italy strengthened its position among the top 10 major trade partners of Belarus. Last year, bilateral turnover rose by almost 50 percent, to reach $1.2bn.
This year, Belarus and Italy have seen dialogue intensify. Italy’s leading insurance company — SACE — has already expressed readiness to work with Belarus on beneficial terms. All Italian enterprises rely on this insurance group in their collaboration with foreign partners. Now, the company is working to ensure Belarus is among the most important investment directions. The meeting between the Belarusian President and Finmeccanica Concern was also a landmark event in the country’s business life. High-tech projects should become promising areas of liaison between Belarus and this giant, including manufacture of navigation systems, satellite communication and major machine-building projects.
Italy is a wonderful state. Visiting the Apennines, you can’t help but fall in love with its beauty. Italian cuisine, carefully protected craft traditions and the sincerity of its ordinary people are attractive. International collaboration usually relies on mutual interest and pragmatism. However, as far as Belarus and Italy are concerned, something else plays a greater role. Belarusian-Italian ties have always been characterised by democracy and aspiration towards understanding, overcoming artificial barriers.
Children from Chernobyl affected regions have been recuperating in Italy for many years, with host families showing genuine human solidarity and kindness. Many have modest incomes yet are ready to save throughout the year to enable them to bring a Belarusian child into their home for several summer weeks. Anyone who has seen parting scenes at Italian airports will realise the depth of simple human feelings — more precious than any politics. Humanitarian associations are active throughout Italy, operating a ‘solidarity network’. Recuperation programmes enjoy support from the Italian central and local authorities, with around 300 charities in Italy specifically working to help those affected by Chernobyl.
According to various estimates, up to three million Italians are involved in such work. Since 1991, around 350,000 young Belarusians have recuperated in Italy at least once; trips to Italy are a regular occurrence until children are of adult age. Sociologists believe that these circumstances make Italy a particular favourite among Western European states for Belarusians, encouraging relations. It is quite understandable, as we value the love and care shown. Such characteristics form a good basis for fully-fledged, reliable and mutually beneficial co-operation between our two nations.
By Vladimir Ulakhovich, Director of BSU’s Centre for International Studies