Exceptional figures awarded Mediterranean Culture Prize

Mario Bozzo, the President of the Fondazione Carical, speaking to the host Lorena Bianchetti. The other figures on the stage are the recipients and judges

COSENZA - On Friday, the Premio de la Cultura Mediterranea celebrated the eleventh year of its inception with an awards ceremony filled with fanfare; it was not simply a ceremony, but a performance filled with debate, live music and dancing. The premise of this evening was to honour those who have contributed to the deepening of Mediterranean culture, and stimulated dialogue on its existence and future.

 The awards were introduced by the hostess Lorena Bianchetti in game-show style, with a tremendous round of applause and short video introduction to their successes. When I asked guest of honour Padre Mussie Zerai whether his summary was sufficient in his eyes, he responded with "it’s true enough. It's hard to summarise a life's work into a couple of sentences." And yet the feats described were far beyond the realm of ordinary.

 The theme of the evening was repeated throughout the ceremony and following Gala dinner; whilst the personalities and expertise of the different recipients were far-ranging, they all cited the necessity of the written and spoken word. The symbolism was evident in all areas: the award itself was shaped as an open book, riding on a flood of waves. The message here was clear: 'le parole' are meant to be spread and translocated as far as possible. These experts had all mastered the art of the word, and it was their focus to bring this to others. In his speech at the following Gala dinner, literary critic and judge Arnaldo Colasanti described dialogue as a “spiritual exercise”, and one that we, as Mediterraneans, must respect and promote.

 The unique form of the Premio is partly in its seven section structure; the large number of categories meant that diverse and extraordinary successes were celebrated. The sections for the awards ranged from contributions to civil society, given to the academic Andrea Riccardi for his creation of the Sant’Egidio community and his time in office, to the Young Narrative award, handed to musician Niccolò Agliardi for his lyrics which have inspired many young Italians. Agliardi humbly described to me his excitement at hearing his success, as it was entirely unexpected. His passion for music and for providing a voice for youth was evident; for him, teenagers are the deepest inspiration because they have the most intense emotions. Agliardi explained that he had produced a story of fragility and rebirth in his music, and that respect for that fragilità was not only the most important aspect of his work, but also a human necessity.

 As well as Agliardi, I had the pleasure of speaking to several of the recipients and judges of the awards. Whilst their hopes were high for the future, there was a sense of urgency in improving Italy as rapidly as possible. The Padre Mussie Zerai has completed some astonishing work in improving migrant relations in the Mediterranean, for which he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2015, and yet he spoke to me about his fears that the EU is developing a stronger ‘closed door’ policy that is rejecting refugees and migrants. In the last 20 years, Italy has brought in 30,000 migrants, a fact about which he is proud, but he worries about the culture of racism and intolerance that he can still see. His solution is in stronger communication, and a clear and structured policy of integration. He dreams of a time in which refugees are able to rebuild new lives in the Mediterranean, and explained that legal safeguards such as humanitarian visas will go a long way towards giving asylum.

 In his view, the Premio was designed to encourage the next generation to continue to improve relationships within the Mediterranean, and that the celebration is a platform to create the conditions for dialogue. Thus, the Padre surmised the theme of the awards as stimulating conversation and debate on how to better the future.

 This aim was reflected in the judges’ decisions. Guido Baldassarri, a lecturer of Italian Literature at Padova University and one of the judges of the Premio, explained to me that their choices were based both on the individual's’ experience, and gut feeling. Whilst they may have had a preference in their mind, the judge had to base his decision on concrete evidence in the recipient's works. For him, Francesco Sabatini deserved the prize for Cultural Information due to the universal influence of his work on the Italian language and for his wide-ranging expertise on different cultures.

 David Meghnagi, a professor of Clinical Psychology at Roma Tre University and the judge of the Science of Man award, explained his choice of Luciano Canfora on similar lines. Meghnagi does not agree with Canfora’s research: to him, Canfora is too concerned with economics and more Marxist in his world-view. Meghnagi promulgated the idea that the most important aspects of this world are immaterial, and that the concern with the material was in some sense the scourge of modern society. Yet, the professor conceded that Canfora’s work stimulated discussion, and were pieces on which debates could be centered. Thus, the Premio was awarded for Canfora’s ability to promote dialogue.

 In sum, the themes of the ceremony were air-tight, each recipient and each judge cited the necessity of debate and conversation. Though the categories were wide-ranging and the topics diverse, the minds that sat on the stage were all acutely aware of the importance of promoting culture and values that are accepting and welcoming. The tone of the evening was one in which the audience felt that the problems of today could be solved by conversing and debating with the academics honoured on the stage.