Štefan, thank you very much for having agreed to this interview with the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.
Thank you for this proposal.
What were the origins of Memorial Italia? Why was it established exactly in Italy?
Memorial Italia was founded in 2004. Since then, we have been working at different topics – such as human rights in the past and present Russia, historical remembrance and different memories of the history of the 20th century. Hence, the association is trying to preserve and to valorise all kinds of documents correlated to the difficult past that we had in the 20th century. The association did many different projects last year, and it is also really proud to be a member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.
Which projects exactly have been implemented by Memorial Italia? I am especially interested in the topic of the war prisoners in the former USSR.
In the last thirteen years, a lot of projects have been done with a purpose to create a connection between Italy and Russia, and we obviously speak about the past, the Soviet past. I can say something about the current projects. In October, there will be a big conference about the hundred years of the revolution devoted to two topics – a historical approach with historians from Italy and Russia and a cultural one, when we will try to understand the role of intelligentsia during and after the revolution. Obviously, if we think about the connection between Italy and Russia, we can mention some topics, the topic of prisoners of war, mainly of the World War II. Also the topic of Italians that for some reasons had to deal with the GULAG system. In this case, the purpose is to collect memories, videos, diaries, photos, pictures, and autobiographies in order to share these memories with the broad public.
I understand that you have been intensively cooperating with Memorial International…
Yes, Memorial Italia is a member of the Board of Memorial International, and one of the purposes is also to spread in Italy the knowledge of importance of the work that Memorial has done in Russia, and also to make this work available to the Italian public.
One of your projects, which was done in cooperation with a number of partners from Europe and supported by the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum is the “Different Wars” Exhibition. This exhibition can be seen in Brussels these days. Last winter, it was also shown in Milan. What are your perceptions from that time? What is the value of this project for you?
The idea that stands behind the “Different Wars” Exhibition is really important, ie to share, to compare approaches in different countries. If we think about the difficult relations just now, for example, between the EU and Russia, it plays a fundamental role. In Milan, people were really interested in the exposition with teachers and students forming the majority of the visitors. For them, it was really fascinating to have the possibility to see how the same topics are approached in somehow or totally different way in our countries, because you can see the same topic that you have in your textbook and simultaneously the same topic presented in another way. Or there were cases of something missing out in a textbook from another country. It is really important for both teachers and students to have this opportunity to deal with history and the past in such a comparative way.
Speaking about the EU-Russia relations, which challenges do you see in this regard from the point of view of the historical memory but not only? What are the main challenges?
It is quite clear that at the political level, the relations are complicated, and obviously it influences also the level of civil society. But the role of civil society is more and more important in a moment, when you have difficult relations, because the civil society is the subject that can try to maintain some connections, some bridges between the EU and Russia to reinforce them or at least to avoid that these connections are discontinued. The past is always at the centre of political conflicts, because, in my opinion, dealing with the past is in this or that way connected to politics, to public policies. The situation is challenging, but it is also really important to work at these topics right now, when the relations are so difficult.
If you think of the topics, which have not been covered by the Forum yet, but you think that they are important to cover, what would be those topics?
There is a lot of work that has to be done in the EU and in Russia about the role of the youth, young people. What I mean is that the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum has done a great job with “Europe Lab”, an event connected with young professionals. It is really important to continue this way, to reinforce connections between the youth, the EU and Russia, and maybe also to give them a possibility in a moment of a huge crisis like this one to think in a more positive way, to reflect on projects that can be done together and on things that bring us together and not divide us.
What would you like to wish to the Forum’s member organisations?
I hope that Forum will still develop during the next years, involve more and more organisations. Coming from Italy, I can say that situation also in the European Union is quite different from country to country. So, it is important that different countries are involved, and different subjects come here giving new approaches and new topics. I also hope that the public sphere, the political sphere will understand the importance of the role of civil society and will give the civil society the possibility to develop these projects.
The interview was recorded by the Secretariat of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum on 22 September 2017 in Berlin, Germany.