BEIRUT: After graduating with a degree in Law, Massimo Marotti’s career plans changed. Following a conversation with his uncle, who had just returned to Italy after spending two fascinating years in Cairo as director of the cultural institute, Marotti was drawn to the opportunities that diplomacy and international relations offer, which prompted him to join the diplomatic service, an instant decision he never regretted.
What were the biggest cultural shocks upon moving from Rome to your first post in the Middle East?
I landed for the first time in Baghdad in March 1988, almost six months before the Iran-Iraq war ended. At the time, for security reasons, the flights arrived at night at Bagdad’s airport. Although the city apparently seemed not gravely affected by the devastating war, in fact, the signs of the harsh conflict were everywhere. Baghdad was hit almost on a daily basis by rockets, as a severe reminder of war and disruption. Arriving in a country at war was the biggest single shock I experienced. It lasted for six months.
There is ongoing talk that the Lebanese and Italian resemble each other, do you see this similarity? If so, in what ways?
There is a similar approach to life that Lebanese and Italians share. The importance of family, the attachment to the town or the village where someone grew, several habits, notably at the dinner table, but also in the search of a certain style in life, all of these aspects are visible in the Lebanese and the Italians. They probably belong to the same league.
Could you please tell me about the developments of Italian-Lebanese ties?
Lebanon is a primary partner for Italy and the frequent political consultations reflect the importance or the reciprocal interests of the two countries. During my mission in Beirut, the Italian President of the Republic and the President of the House of Representatives visited Lebanon, as well as the Prime Minister, twice the Foreign Minister and four times the Defense Minister. President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Saad Hariri visited Rome last year, together with the Foreign, Defense, and Interior Ministers. Exchanges are frequent among universities, companies, and chambers of commerce.
The Armed Forces of Italy and Lebanon have been cooperating for decades and the Italian training programs were expanded after the International Conference held in Rome in March 2018 in support of the LAF and ISF. The number of visas is on the increase, both for tourism and trade. Relations are intense and develop along three major axes: political, between the two states’ institutions, cultural, and economical, involving the two respective private sectors.
Since the 2006 Lebanon-Israel war, security remains central. Italy is at the core of the UNIFIL mission that contributes to peace and stability along the Blue Line. For twelve years, Italy’s Army has been dispatching its skillful military units, at a cost of more than €100 million per year, to work with the LAF and to assist the Lebanese. Furthermore, highly specialized instructors work with the LAF to accelerate the acquisitions of modern capacities.
In the cultural area, our priority is the protection of the archeological patrimony and cultural heritage. Italy has been the key partner of Lebanon in the expansion of the National Museum of Beirut that has doubled the number of its visitors after 2016.
Italy focuses mainly on the support to the defense and security institutions of Lebanon. The embassy in Lebanon works as an orchestra that never rests. The Cultural Institute has a solid tradition and the capacity to innovate. This year, we presented for the first time the Commedia dell’Arte with a Lebanese theatre director, within the first European Theatre Festival. We also cooperate to bring back the Italian classical music at the Baalbek Festival.
The second pillar of the embassy is the Agency for Aid Policy that in the past eleven years has worked everywhere in Lebanon with the Lebanese government and several municipalities. We are currently restoring the colons of the Jupiter Temple at Baalbek as well as the archeological area of Tyre. But our aid policy is multidimensional, with a particular focus on water resources and environmental protection. The Cana Boat is another example of a prime initiative funded by Italy that contributed to the development of a Lebanese research capacity for marine protection.
The Trade Agency, our third pillar, works with the Lebanese private sector and focuses on the business opportunities. The biggest challenge has been to expand the consular activities while trying to improve the quality standard of our services.
If someone were to visit Lebanon from Italy where would you take them?
It is very difficult to make a choice. It depends on the time available. When in Beirut, I always recommend a visit to the National Museum, lunch at the Sporting Club by the sea, and walking in downtown. For a longer stay, I suggest adding Byblos, Baalbek, Beit El Dine, Deir El Qamar, the Chouf National Reserve, Tyre, and Saida. We are also helping the government to put Lebanon back on the map of the cultural and religious tourism, which is an important market niche of world tourism.
What are the biggest challenges that someone in your position would face?
Like in many professions, managing the resources efficiently to achieve the most important results is the critical challenge and, at the same time, the effective measure to value the long lasting trace of our own work.
What attributes does someone need to have in order to be really successful in your position?
The scope of an ambassador is to pursue the interests of his/her country and try to improve the bilateral ties. A good ambassador needs to know how to communicate and how to listen, he/she needs intuition. He/she has to be respectful in order to be credible. He/she has to be a tireless manager to run the kaleidoscopic and complex mechanism that an embassy is.
What is your favorite hobby?
Well, I have only one hobby: reading. Nothing relaxes me more and stimulates better my thoughts than reading. A book is an antidote in the age of smartphones that we live in, under the tyranny of instant social communication. My ideal vacation is lying down by the sea with a good book.
What book has influenced you the most? And why?
I find books a source of emotions more than of influence. Perhaps, The Antifragile, by Nicolas Taleb, was the most inspiring book that I read recently. It has ideas that made me see things differently. L’Amica Geniale by Elena Ferrante was a captivating story that generates many emotions. I also admire Amin Maalouf. Le Rocher de Tanios also remains unforgettable to me.
What advice would you give to thriving young diplomats?
I would suggest to them to serve the country with dignity. They have to build carefully their reputation since the beginning of their career. They need integrity. One has to be honest to themselves and to others.
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