Letter from Bergamo: Emblem of Hope for the Reconstruction of a Common Future

Letter from Bergamo: Emblem of Hope for the Reconstruction of a Common Future

An open letter by Giovanni Moro, third-year student (from the Reims campus), quarantined in his hometown in Italy
  • A balcony in Bergamo, March 28, 2020 ©Luca Ponti / ShutterstockA balcony in Bergamo, March 28, 2020 ©Luca Ponti / Shutterstock

Read below a copy of Giovanni Moro's personal testimony, written on April 19, 2020.

The fourth address of the President of the French Republic to the nation facilitated a personal reflection on the homage that Mr Macron paid to my city amid the current evolving crisis. "Yes, we will never win alone", the President declared, "because, today, in Bergamo, Madrid, Brussels, London, Beijing, New York, Algiers or Dakar, we mourn the deaths of the same virus."  In the present circumstances, I have returned to Bergamo in Northern Italy, a city inhabited by roughly a hundred thousand people, erected by the foothills of the "Alpi Orobie".  This is where I was born and where I attended high school before enrolling at Sciences Po Paris in France. In comparison to the metropolises remarked by the French President, Bergamo is a charming little town in Lombardy. Contemporarily, this province is martyred by the coronavirus pandemic, as it registers an increase of 337% of deaths in contrast to the previous year, subsequent to the outbreak of the current emergency, according to the Italian National Institute of Statistics. The mayor of Bergamo, Giorgio Gori, claims that 500,000 people may have been infected in the province, representing half of its population.

Like all those who live far from home because of their studies or their work, but suddenly find themselves living with their loved ones in this time of crisis, I think I can share the same apprehension faced with a new situation that brings about major changes within our way of living.  But what could have changed in the life of a family in such a short period of time? Everything - the virus has taught us so far. Here in Bergamo, it is taking away our sweetness, our warmth, our affections. It disrupts the daily rhythm and creates abysses. Our family, like our hometown, is all that we have: it remains our refuge, the place of communion where we must return, a fortiori, when it is needed to share the pain. Bergamo has become the European epicenter of a tragedy that plunges us into the mourning of loved ones. It saddens me to see images of rows of military convoys carrying bodies out of the city for cremation, because there are no more places available at the cemetery. It breaks my heart to know that the people we love die in the hospitals alone, without their loved ones by their side, or worse, at home, without having access to medical care.

However, the Italians bite the bullet and, by virtue of their stoic, austere soul, prepare to roll up their sleeves, taking their courage in both hands to rebuild, together, all that has been destroyed. Everybody contributes here as much as they can: there are those who save lives by working in the hospitals; and those who save lives by staying at home. "I will be reborn, you will be reborn" are the words of a song that a local musician dedicated to Bergamo, and which resonates throughout Italy, whereby a new breath of life is instilled in us. We see many banners on the balconies with words of encouragement such as  "Berghem  mola  mia",  in Lombard,  "be brave, do not give up, Bergamo". When this city - although today in the midst of suffering encroached upon its people by the pandemic -  succeeds in the fight against the virus, it will be because of its citizens' appeal to the values that characterise them.  Therefore, I would like Bergamo to be regarded as a European emblem not only for its suffering, but also for its spirit of sacrifice, resistance, and the union of wills. The people of this land of green valleys crossing the Alps are traditionally reserved, modest, and discreet. Today the city mourns in silence and secretly the death of loved ones, but Bergamo has never lost a battle. This city has never ceased to act heroically. Ever since the Unification of Italy, it was distinguished with honour by the sheer number of its inhabitants who joined Garibaldi during the Expedition of the Thousand in 1860. The walls of the fortifications of the Upper Town, the site of the “Risorgimento”, is the living testimony of the atavistic bravery of Bergamo. Inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List, they protect “Piazza Vecchia”, which was once described by architect Le Corbusier as the most beautiful square in Europe. Bergamo is a mixture of history and modernity, as a major production center of Italy, and as the heart of its football: Atalanta makes us proud to see our soccer team for the first time in the Champions League this year. Right now, in our families, in our cities, we only need this team spirit, this audacity, this collective effort to defeat the virus together. I would like us all in Europe to fight with the same spirit of Bergamasque camaraderie, through civism that attains the highest value of the sense of community. In Italy we tell ourselves "andrà  tutto  bene", that "everything will be fine": we are firmly convinced of this. We are right to believe in it because it gives us hope and courage to resist. Everything that afflicts Italy cannot erase our desire to live, which has always characterized this robust land from Bergamo to Palermo. It cannot prevent us from planning ahead: from imagining the joyful moment when we will inherit the Olympic flame from Paris 2024, to celebrate, here, in Italy, the 2026 Winter Olympic Games. When the pandemic will end, the beauty of sport will know how to unite us again, and, together, we will be faster, higher, stronger. President Macron's words are welcomed here as a manifestation of human empathy, which, in the face of destruction, gives us the courage to join forces with our fellow Europeans. These words renew the spirit of brotherhood that unites us, citizens of Europe, in our war against a common invisible enemy. They remind me of a feeling of sympathy, which I experienced firsthand during my years at Sciences Po Paris, and in the French family that welcomed me during my studies: a sense of grace, harmony, which we so desperately need at the moment. I find it comforting to think that beyond these Alps, there lives a People who displays all the compassion for the tragedy that my city and my country are experiencing, although our western neighbours suffer as much as we do. 

This compassion is the essence of our European friendship, which is founded upon two pillars: to rejoice together, but also to suffer together. President Macron's determined call for a stronger exhibition of solidarity in Europe is precious in a time of despair. A crisis, as its etymology betrays, does not only indicate the worsening of a situation, an insoluble aporia. Indeed, it has also a positive connotation: a moment of crisis must be, above all, a period of reflection and evaluation. This phase of discernment is the necessary precondition for a rebirth of a flourishing Europe bearing those human values bringing us together in these gruesome days.  

Today, in our families, in our cities, we must nurture hope, consisting, as the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella declared at the dawn of the new year, "in  the possibility of always having something to achieve". Today, in our families, in our cities, we must nurture hope, constituting - as the President of the Italian Republic Sergio Mattarella declared at the dawn of the new year - "in  the possibility of always having something to achieve". In the name of the pain exerted upon us by our common suffering, the hope envisioned by President Mattarella is that Europe will be reborn in solidarity, and that the continent will be inspired by the citizens of Italy, France and elsewhere, who are struggling to preserve harmony with the only weapon of abnegation.

President Macron evokes our European identity as a splendid opportunity for resilience, re-foundation and renovation of our project of peaceful coexistence. With this spirit, our collective engagement to defeat the pandemic will breathe new life into the process of European integration, following in the footsteps of our founding fathers, whose legacy is now more alive than ever. Bergamo is the city that opens its arms to preserve the interest of the community, because "yes", as President Macron's words echo here, "we will never win alone." Therefore, likewise at the end of the Second World War, during the pandemic, we must respond to the irresistible call for a united Europe: we must continue to imagine life together, we must not forget the tender memory of the caress of tomorrow, while being the signs of hope ourselves for the common reconstruction of the future. 

Giovanni Moro, third-year student - April 2020.

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