Friends in time of COVID-19

DIPLOMATIC POUCH - Giorgio Guglielmino (The Philippine Star) - April 8, 2020 - 12:00am

It is said that friends are met in times of need and this applies not only to people but also to Nations.

Since the COVID-19 epidemic spread to Italy, especially in Northern Italy in the area between Milan and Bergamo, two examples of international solidarity have favorably affected Italians.

First of all, there has been a general and profound rapprochement not only between China and Italy but – an even more significant aspect – between the Chinese people and the Italian people. China has provided medical supplies and has sent its doctors to Italy to help the difficult struggle in hospitals to save as many people as possible. But what struck everyone was seeing the Chinese community of Prato (a town near Florence where the Chinese presence is particularly numerous) shopping in supermarkets and delivering goods to the elderly Italians who had difficulty leaving their home. The Italians thanked by playing the Chinese national anthem from the balconies of their homes.

But the example of international solidarity that struck me even more was that of a small European country, one of the least wealthy and prosperous, namely Albania.

Albania – a country that has just 3 million inhabitants – overlooks a side of the Adriatic Sea while Italy is located on the opposite bank. 

Albanian Prime Minister Edi Rama a few days ago sent 30 doctors and nurses to Italy to help in the Italian medical facilities. In announcing their departure to Italy the Albanian Prime Minister recalled that Italy has always been a country close to Albania in the most difficult moments. His words were “We are not rich but we are not without memory” and he recalled “Pelican Operation” when Italy from September 1991 to December 1993 in the aftermath of the fall of the Albanian communist regime gave a fundamental contribution to the rebirth of that nation and its democracy. This was done by sending doctors, medicines, food, by building hospitals, by sending unarmed soldiers who helped thousands and thousands of families. Italy did not start the Pelican Operation for political or economic calculation, but because the Italians have a heart of gold and could not remain indifferent to the difficulties of the neighboring country.

Albania has not forgotten our gesture and now willingly has given us a proof of its gratitude.

Too often today nations move only for an opportunistic calculation. They act only if they see an especially economic gain in their actions.

I would like that the tragedy of the Corona Virus could lead to the awareness that actions can be done also simply because they seem right and correct. 

The Italian shipping companies these days are repatriating at their expense and with the support of the Italian Embassy in Manila hundreds and hundreds of Filipino seamen who were embarked on their cruise ships. Italian companies do it because it seems right to bring them home without the seamen spending a single Peso. I like this attitude and it makes me proud of being Italian !

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(Giorgio Guglielmino is the Ambassador of Italy to the Philippines)

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