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Warm, sincere and substantive meetings in Apennines

President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, attends Italy and Vatican on working visit
The current working visit of the President to Italy has been one of significance, judging by the spirit of initial meetings, held upon the arrival of the Belarusian leader at Rome’s Ciampino Airport. He received a warm welcome, alongside assurances of mutual interest in co-operation.

President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko meets President of Italy Sergio Mattarella

Mr. Lukashenko met the President of the Italian Republic, Sergio Mattarella, at the Quirinal Palace, in Rome, in a room reserved for special occasions, as the Italian President admitted. Their conversation was preceded by a solemn welcome ceremony, involving guards of honour: a mark of respect and showing the status of the event.

Italy has acted as a bridge in Belarus-EU dialogue, even during times of acute political contradiction, keeping its ties of mutual understanding. We are connected by $2bn trade turnover and Italy regularly welcomes Belarusian children for recuperative visits, doing so with unselfish intent. Italians are involved in various charity projects — from repairing children’s camps to offering educational courses to children in state care. 

Rome is obliged to co-ordinate its actions with Brussels regarding official positions, such as allied commitments by EU member states (Italy cannot be an exception). Having experience of various integration structures, we view this philosophically. We see additional opportunities for wider inter-state discussion, and respect Italy’s firm position in promoting its national interests against the background of pan-European problems: the inflow of refugees, to purely economic issues. The position of Rome across all these issues is clear, straight and honest, as is that of Minsk. Probably, this draws us closer, allowing us to read between the lines when we hear Rome’s intentions.

As far as bilateral collaboration is concerned, areas have been clearly defined. This February, the first session of the Belarusian-Italian Intergovernmental Commission on Economic Co-operation took place, as did a joint business forum, with businessmen successfully finding points of coincidence. Meanwhile, in a strategic context, the President has offered our Italian partners a scheme of 2-3 major projects, which (under the personal attention of our heads of state) will become the basis for promoting other initiatives.

Much testifies to the fact that initiatives will undoubtedly follow in the nearest time. The Italian business rather actively invests into our economy and 204 companies with Italian capital work in Belarus. Last year, the inflow of investments slightly fell because of objective global factors. Nevertheless, the Italian economy is demonstrating enough stability and under all difficulty of the situation the country continues to expand exports. Italy is able to counteract crisis and we can propose it comfortable conditions for business injections with high efficiency. This was mentioned by Mr. Lukashenko from the first minutes of his staying on the Italian land, and this thought was further continued during meetings and negotiations and was welcomed by our partners.

Belarus and Italy have discussed in Rome an opportunity to set up a business council and the proposal to form such a structure was voiced by the President of Belarus, Alexander Lukashenko, during his talks with the President of Italy, Sergio Mattarella. According to the Belarusian leader, such council could help remove many issues in interaction of business structures. In his turn, the President of Italy supported this idea, noting that it would be a perfect instrument to promote interaction in the sphere of business and to solve various issues.

Italy’s experience in the establishment of small and medium-sized enterprises in various spheres, including IT, agro-industrial complex, production and processing of agricultural produce, is of special interest to Belarus. It was noted that a solid foundation for inter-state interaction should be created on the basis of these enterprises.

Belarusian Head of State and Pope of Rome exchange gifts

Once an opportunity was discussed to set up an Italian industrial park in Brest. The two sides have agreed that it’s necessary to return to the development of this project and create all conditions for its implementation. There’s an evident interest of the Italian side in its successful realisation, taking into account Belarus’ membership of the Eurasian Economic Union. Actually, the whole European market will be open for Italian goods, manufactured on the Belarusian territory.

The heads of state were also speaking about interaction in social sphere, with Mr. Lukashenko thanking Mr. Mattarella for the Italian side’s assistance in recuperation of Belarusian children. In its turn, Italy is grateful to Belarus for constructive interaction in the sphere of child adoption.

The presidents have also tackled acute issues of international agenda, including the situation in Ukraine. “Minsk is a land which promises hope for the settlement of this conflict,” noted the President of Italy.

The Belarusian Head of State invited Mr. Mattarella to visit Belarus at any convenient time. The President of Italy thanked for invitation and expressed satisfaction that Belarus and Italy have managed to preserve constructive relations. As it was noted during the meeting both Belarus and Italy are keen on the development of mutually beneficial co-operation. “Belarus will always be a donor of stability and decency towards Italy and the EU in general,” underlined the Belarusian leader.

Alexander Lukashenko: We’re close ideologically and have the same principles and views on world order and development. Those principles to which I adhere as a President completely coincide with the principles of Pope Francis. We enjoyed warm conversation on this basis.

Belarusian-Italian negotiations will serve as a foundation for strengthening co-operation with the EU, believes Belarus’ Foreign Minister, Vladimir Makei. He notes, “This is the first visit since most restrictions have been removed, giving it symbolic meaning, as well as vital, applied meaning.” In his mind, Belarus is working from a position of pragmatism in developing its relations with foreign partners.

Moreover, the visit of the President of Belarus to the State of Vatican was also scheduled, as well as his meeting with the Pope of Rome Francis. Mr. Lukashenko met his predecessor, Benedict XVI, in 2009.

The meeting between Mr. Lukashenko and Pope Francis lasted for around 40 minutes, with 25 minutes the President and the Pope of Rome communicating ‘tete-a-tete’. The meeting was held in a very warm and friendly atmosphere, and the sides exchanged gifts in the presence of members of the official delegation. The Belarusian Head of State presented the Pope of Rome with a replica of St. Yevfrosiniya’s Cross, created with the help of unique wood-carving technology, as well as a carriage model, using the same technology, and a holographic icon. The President said that this icon combines history and modernity.

In his turn, the Pope of Rome presented the Belarusian President three documents, written by him, about the Gospel, the protection of nature and family. Mr. Lukashenko promised to get acquainted with them and then donate to the Presidential Library. One more gift from the Pope of Rome is an artistic depiction of the olive tree which is a symbol of peace. In this respect the Pope of Rome especially underlined Belarus’ peaceful mission. “Minsk can become a place of peace,” he said.

Mr. Lukashenko proposed the Pope of Rome to visit an exhibition of Belarusian icons which has recently opened in Vatican museums. He also invited the Pope of Rome to visit Belarus. “Come to us. You will receive lots of strength and health as in no other corner of the world,” said the President.

The Belarusian President was speaking about similarity of his views and life principles with those of the Pope of Rome. He told this in an interview to journalists after the meeting with Francis. “This was also a personal meeting, and went well. We’re close ideologically and have the same principles and views on world order and development. Those principles to which I adhere as a President completely coincide with the principles of Pope Francis. We enjoyed warm conversation on this basis,” asserted the President. 

“I told the Pope that it is time for him to come to Belarus and meet with our people together with our Patriarch. I’m convinced that there will be millions of people who would like to see this handshake not in an airport of the faraway Cuba, but on the land which is the centre of Europe and which, thanks God, is free from the cataclysms (and the Pope emphasised this too) that had shaken the post-Soviet countries and the states of Eastern Europe following the USSR collapse,” said Mr. Lukashenko.

According to him, many priests suggest paying the tribute to the memory of those killed in the First and Second World Wars as the most sacred reason for the meeting. The Head of State also noted that this event could be timed to the construction of churches or chapels of various confessions, or their ground-breaking ceremonies. Mr. Lukashenko suggested the Trostenets Memorial, where thousands of peaceful residents of various nationalities and confessions were burned during the war, as the venue to the meeting.

According to the Belarusian Head of State, during his meeting, the Pope was keen to learn about the situation in the region, especially in view of conflict in Ukraine. He tells us, “I expressed my position that the current state and situation in the east of Ukraine needs new initiatives, preferably spiritual.” Mr. Lukashenko believes that a meeting between the Pope of Rome and the Patriarch of the Russian Orthodox Church could facilitate the peace process. “In this case, I’d invite them to Belarus, alongside clergy from Europe, Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. They would sit, talk and then pray for the sake of peace, in front of millions of pilgrims,” Mr. Lukashenko comments. He believes that this would be a good initiative for the development of Minsk Agreements.

By Vasily Kharitonov

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