Ukraine, 2015. A Destroyed Library in Pisky Photo: Nolan Peterson, The Daily Signal.

Vatican Diplomacy? The Challenge to Assume Responsibilities in a Different Way from The Past

Geo-Literature that moves the world: the power of diplomacy and the fascination of books, also in the Church’s international action. Interview with diplomat Fernand Gentilini

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry
Simone Varisco

(ZENIT News – Caffe Storia / Rome, 22.11.2023).- Take John’s Gospel, Dante’s Paradiso and Manzoni’s Providence and you will get a good image of Europe, according to De Gasperi. Or take Tolkien and Dostoyevsky to understand a bit more Francis’ pontificate (and pontifical documents). But also, in Dostoyevsky’s case, to understand a certain background of Vladimir Putin’s actions, together with Gogol’s considerations and, of course, geopolitical [consideations]. It could be called geo-literature. Because , as in the Epic of Gilgamesh, the endless duel between the city of men and the forest of animals is recalled so much today along the Dniepr as in Palestine.

I talk about it all with Fernando Gentilini, a career diplomat and former Director of the European Diplomatic Service for the Western Balkans and Turkey, Special Representative of the European Union in Kosovo and for the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, NATO‘s envoy in Afghanistan. From 2018 to 2022 he was Director General for the Middle East and North Africa of the European Diplomatic Service in Brussels and at present is Chief Adviser of the European Diplomatic Academy. He collaborates in the cultural pages of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.His latest book, “I Demoni: Storie di Letteratura e Geopolitica” [Literary and Geo-Political Stories] (Baldini+Castoldi, 2023), is a kind of theory of literature as the world’s engine, the idea that books, more than geo-politics, can influence rulers’ decisions.

* * *

Question: In December of 2021, a few weeks before the war that broke out the following February, you recommended a “rereading of Gogol” to understand the clash between Russia and Ukraine. Prophetic. From what authors is the conflict fuelled today between Hamas and Israel?

 Answer: Israeli  and Palestinian authors have much to offer to understand what is happening in the Near East and the necessity of a “”Two-State” solution, to put an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, of which the war in Gaza is one more surrender. The novels of Oz, Grossman or Yehoshua, for example, explain better than the Israeli Authorities why two States are necessary. And on the Palestinian side, no one, in Ramallah or in any other place, can illustrate better the reasons of these people than Edward Said with his writings and Mohamud Darwish with his poetry and poetic prose. I dedicated a previous book, Tre Volte a Gerusalemme [“Three Times in Jerusalem”] to these authors, and many others, published by La Nave di Teseo in 2020, in which I tried to explain the conflict through literature. I wrote it in Jerusalem, where I lived and worked from 2015 to 2018, as the EU’s Special Representative for the peace process.

Question: At the end of your work “The Demons,” you write about Vladimir Putin and his ruinous decision to invade Ukraine: “Perhaps a book could have saved him. And if it’s not only applied to Putin? Can literature only help to understand better the roots of a conflict, or does it also sketch possible solutions?

 Answer: A book can save all of us, because books help us to understand the complexity and to live in profundity. Although, of course, literature is not only salvific, as the lives of some of the protagonists of this book’s stories demonstrate. In face of geo-politics, literature has the advantage to focus on existence, which, in face of the reality, offers a much broader range of possibilities. In other words, it is concerned not so much about what is happening, but about what could happen, not so much about what men do, but about what they are capable of doing. That said, this is precisely the reason why a man of State must heed literature, especially when he is faced with extraordinary events, as a conflict can be. In such cases, it is essential that he be able to sift through the entire range of possibilities that existence offers him, without conforming to the reality, as novelists do.

Question: What role does diplomacy play in a world that increasingly seems to “prefer a line to a curve,” armed opposition to mediation, in keeping with an effective expression , which you use in the book?

 Answer: Beyond the stereotypes, diplomacy is the most radical alternative to war. This must be clear to all. Diplomacy is able to be generative, open, informal, capable of empathy, able to relate to the civil society and open channels in all directions. In a word, diplomacy does not attempt so much to occupy spaces but to surmount barriers, initiate virtuous processes, find new interlocutors, seek dialogue always. And, above all, diplomacy must be able to create tables around which to file down harshness and build alliances. Because when two enemies, seated at the table, agree to dialogue, there will be fewer possibilities for them to shoot at one another or harm someone.

Question: In your book you recall how diplomat, writer and philosopher Joseph de Maistre, more than two centuries ago, identified the Roman Pontiffs “as the only real force capable of guaranteeing peace among the European nations.” However, in the recent international crises, the effectiveness of Vatican diplomacy seems limited, including in Europe. A change from the past?

 Answer: Over the last years, from Iraq to Colombia, from the Middle East to Ukraine, we have witnessed a Vatican diplomacy committed to the promotion of peace and dialogue. However, Vatican diplomacy is a moral diplomacy more than political, which draws its strength from the value of the Gospel, which, as opposed to other States, has no national interest to defend, but works in the interest of all. Hence, to measure its effectiveness would be like trying to quantify Christians’ role in the history of the world. I  believe that today the Church assumes her responsibilities in a different way from the past. We have as example the Encyclical Fratelli Tutti, a song to multilateralism in which war is defined as a “shameful surrender.” Or Laudato Si’, in which Pope Francis invites humanity to rethink itself in nature, central topic of the contemporary era. There are no better examples to describe how the prophetic and at the same time the concrete commitment of the Church can be for the good of the Family of Nations.

Question: What book would you recommend for Europe to rediscover its vocation on the international scene?

 Answer: Unfortunately, Europe isn’t a Federation. If it were, I have no doubt that it would be more capable of responding to the challenges of our time, both internal as well as external, building among other things a common foreign and defense policy worthy of that name. Hence I respond to your question by recommending two texts to you, both of which have to do with federalism, of which I speak extensively  in “The Demons”: the first is the Aeneid, permeated in a certain sense with the idea of the foetus, namely, a founding, eternal and sacred pact between old enemies; the second is “How I Tried to Become Wise,” the autobiography of Altiero Spinelli, the unheeded prophet of European Federalism.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Share this Entry


Support ZENIT

If you liked this article, support ZENIT now with a donation