Francesca Bellino · Italy

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Beyond the border

I am very happy to be here to discuss with other writers a topic that has always been contentious and is still topical today: that is the border, which, for many reasons, is linked to the recent and horrible massacre in Paris.

Being born in Italy, I have always been free to travel the world without limitation and I have always taken advantage of the opportunity to travel in Europe, in the Arab world, but also in the United States and Latin America. My discovery of the border then was filtered through literature and journalism, and especially from the experience of others.

The author who more than any other took me beyond borders was Ryszard Kapuściński, a Polish reporter known for his coverage of the wars of independence in Africa. I was lucky enough to meet and interview him shortly before his death in 2007.

I have had experience of crossing many borders not only by reading his books, but especially by meeting him in person. I experienced empathy for his story of humanity conditioned by a strong and early desire to “cross the Polish border”, to taste the wonder of differences and move away from the West atypical, where he was born, a place not really liberal.

As a child, Kapuściński was curious to leave the small village of Pinsk where he was born. His dream was the simple act of crossing the threshold of his homeland and look the other way. This instinct led him to be one of the most famous war correspondents in the world.

Many things have changed since Kapuściński worked as a reporter. Borders have also changed because borders change according to changes in the world, but one thing remains of his teaching: the need to know the world and understand the Other – today more than ever.

The need to know the world and understand the other was also the first inspiration for my novel Sul corno del rinoceronte (On the Horn of the Rhinoceros), a story set between Italy and Tunisia, between Rome and Kairouan, that tells a story about friendship between an Italian woman and a Tunisian woman. The relationship that develops between the two women becomes central to the affirmation of the identity of both characters and for the knowledge of their respective cultures.

We reflect ourselves in the Other like in a mirror and this helps us to know ourselves first. Yet it also helps us to reach out to others with more generosity and empathy. The two protagonists, Mary and Meriem, with great effort and each in her own way, experience immersion in the culture of the Other.

Like Mary and Meriem, we are now required to live in our intercultural world and try to understand the changes that are taking place around us.

The Other becomes a border to be crossed and to enter in the world of plurality that we now live in.

Crossing borders is, therefore, guaranteed by knowledge, not only intellectually, but also emotionally in a way that only a close relationship with the Other, of friendship or love, can give you. Mary and Myriam thus cross each other’s borders.

In my novel the topics are many. The topics range from the search for freedom in that of love, from revolution to dictatorship, from cultural shock to immigration. The recent history of Tunisia is also at the centre of the story, but today I want to focus my speech especially on the issue of the right to travel.

Meriem, the Tunisian protagonist, arrived in Italy twice, once legally and once illegally, but in both cases nothing can stop her desire to leave.

The right to travel, the movement from one country to another, for sentimental reasons, for study, for work, for pleasure, should not be denied to anyone, despite the need to barricade themselves arising after the terrorist attacks. The right to travel is a right, like the right to escape.

I’d like to see that, in the debate about immigration, the humanitarian rhetoric be substituted with a humanist approach.

I wish there was not only the demand to affirm the duty of hospitality, but also the will to defend the principle of the right to travel and enjoy educational and enriching experiences like anyone else: be they rich or poor, white or black, man or woman.

The right to move beyond borders should be part of the freedom of the person.

If the world is global, the right to cross borders should at least be on the same footing as the right of the free market. There should therefore be created a jus migrandi status, a protected status for migrants.

When our borders become insurmountable barriers not only is the right to migrate denied, but the very role of the border is undermined. The border is supposed to regulate and filter travel, but never to deny it.

My experience as a journalist, a writer, a traveller and a woman leads me to say that languages ​​are also often borders. However, the greatest border is indifference.

Pope Francesco spoke about this topic during his visit to Lampedusa in 2013. “In this world of globalization we have fallen into the globalization of indifference“, he said.

I would like to thank you again for your attention and for welcoming me here in Tunisia. I want to conclude by remembering some words that Kapuściński said to me: “Today different cultures are near at hand for everyone. We are cornered: I think that it is impossible to feel cut off in the world any longer. The way for us to live together is to try to understand each other“.