Italian School of Asmara: Interview with Senator Aldo Di Biagio

What prompts to the closure of the Italian school in Asmara?
What are the underlying issues and dynamics behind the ‘closure’ or ‘withdrawal’ of the Italian school’s license in Asmara? (Photo: Scuola Italiana di Asmara)

BY ERITREAERITREA *

Q : Senator in recent days a growing controversy has developed over the closure of the Italian Schools of Asmara characterized by unclear and sometimes contradictory positions. Can you take stock of the situation?

Senator Aldo: I have followed this serious problem with interest and attention, witnessing the transformation of a banal misunderstanding into a state affair. Too many voices very often unqualified have generated confusion in public opinion without, however, being able to clarify the exact dynamics of the events.

First of all, I consider it appropriate to highlight the difference between the terms such as “closure” and “withdrawal of the license” by explaining that the Italian authorities have “closed” the schools on their own initiative and without prior agreement with their Eritrean counterparts, while the Eritrean authorities, having acknowledged this initiative, they reacted by “withdrawing the license“.



Therefore, it is not correct to say that the Eritrean authorities have closed the Italian schools in Asmara, but at most they have limited themselves to reacting accordingly.

Having said this, it does not mean that the problem is limited to this since on the contrary it has its roots many years ago and is part of a wider inattentive attitude shown by our Ministry of Foreign Affairs in its relations with Africa in general and with Eritrea in particular.

Q : What is it about exactly, Senator?

For many years, geo-political reasons have led Italy to prefer pro-Ethiopian choices rather than cultivating diplomatic relations with Eritrea with which we share deep historical ties and this attitude has also affected the management of Italian schools that have often found themselves on the verge of closure due to our non-compliance.

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The latest case dates back to 2012, when the signing of a bilateral technical agreement seemed to have healed a long series of misunderstandings and to be able to begin a new path of collaboration and community of intent. However, even that document has remained a dead letter and it is only thanks to the goodwill of the Eritrean authorities that it has reached to the present day by overcoming many organizational difficulties.



In 2016, during a visit to Eritrea, I personally went to check the state of the management of Italian schools as well as a courtesy visit to our diplomatic headquarters. The impression I got convinced me that no progress had been made in the management of school activities and that the situation was such that negative consequences had to be expected, and I wrote everything in a detailed report which I presented on my return to the relevant supervisory bodies.

Q : Do you think there is still room for negotiation to prevent the definitive closure of the Italian schools in Asmara?

I believe that the real extent of the problem that has arisen over time with the Eritrean government is unclear to most. Italian schools are just the last piece that has highlighted in all its seriousness a diplomatic problem that must now be tackled at the highest levels. The stakes are very high and it is the credibility of the “Italian system” that is at stake.

For too long, the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs has lacked a forward-looking political leadership with a long-term strategy, and all its interventions are fragmented and often inconclusive. Only thanks to the value of our ambassadors, often abandoned to themselves, have we managed to contain a diplomatic drift that has led Italy to be considered an unreliable country.

With Prime Minister Conte’s visit to Eritrea and Ethiopia to greet the peace accords, there was hope for a radical change of attitude towards the two countries no longer divided by political obstacles, but finally united in their intent. The facts have shown that Italy has not been able to grasp the favorable moment that could have made it the front-runner of these epochal events, probably failing to evaluate its enormous implications and potential.



Q : Do you intend to take the field to encourage a possible turnaround in diplomatic relations with Eritrea?

A few years ago the Hon. Andrea RICCARDI, but above all the Hon. Lapo PISTELLI had had some happy insights about the opportunity to concretely strengthen relations with Eritrea in order to bridge the negative effects of years of neglect and inattention. Unfortunately, the political developments following these initiatives did not allow their realization.

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During a private conversation with President Isaias in Asmara during the celebrations for the jubilee of the liberation of the country to which he had been invited, I pledged to try in every way to honor what was promised by the Italian institutions and not implemented .

I still feel invested in this commitment and I intend to do everything possible in the primary interest of Italy and out of respect for Eritrea. (* Google translation)

Senator Aldo Di Biagio is a member of the Italian Senate.
Senator Aldo Di Biagio is a member of the Italian Senate. A 2018 picture of the Senator with President Isaias near Logo dam.