By Rabih Kalas
Special to The Times Kuwait
After a highly successful tenure of over four years, Italian Ambassador H.E. Carlo Baldocci is leaving Kuwait with a sense of pride in having strengthened bilateral relations between Italy and Kuwait, and with fondest memories of deep friendships fostered during his stay in this country. In a parting interview with Arabic daily Al Jarida, the ambassador spoke openly about his feelings for this country and its people.
He began by stating, “My wife Cristiana and I leave with feelings of extreme gratitude towards Kuwait. I don’t think about these feelings as nostalgia, which inevitably there are and will be, because Kuwait is not a closed page; we will carry memories of this place and its people with us which we will always treasure.”
Describing the first few months after arriving in Kuwait as defining his feelings for this country and its people, the ambassador said, “I arrived a few months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I will never forget, and the Italian people will never forget, the generous support of the Kuwaiti Government at the beginning of the crisis, when Italy was one of the first countries in the world affected by this terrible contagion. In those early days of the pandemic it was difficult to perceive not only the causes but also the actual extent of this global catastrophe.
“And I thank the support of the many Kuwaitis who sought me out at the time to express closeness, often through material support, towards my country, as well as a lot of solidarity and affection. This was an extraordinary test of friendship for me. Because friends, real ones, are there for you in times of need without you even asking and Kuwait and the Kuwaitis have proven to be great friends of my country and of the Italian people on this occasion.
“Following the pandemic, in 2021, we celebrated 60 years of Italian recognition of Kuwait with numerous events, in particular through publications and exhibitions. In addition, we have held concerts, and seasons of Italian music that were interrupted only during the pandemic, which allowed us to bring Milan’s famous La Scala to Kuwait, the Accademia Chigiana with extraordinary young Italian performers, the music of Ennio Morricone and much more. All of this, together with a strong Italian economic and commercial presence.”
Elaborating on the economic relations between the two countries, Ambassador Baldocci noted, “Economic relations have grown significantly. In 2022, Italy was Kuwait’s foremost European trading partner, exceeding two billion euros in exports, thus doubling the figures of both 2019 and 2020. Kuwaiti exports also increased to Italy by an extraordinary percentage in the same period. We have a bright future ahead of us in the economic realm and plenty of scope to improve further.”
Attributing bilateral economic growth to increasing awareness and friendship between Italy and Kuwait, the envoy added, “I consider the strengthening of economic relations as inevitable to the level of knowledge and friendship between our two countries. When I arrived in Kuwait we were issuing 35 visas a day. From January 1st of this year, we have issued 28,000 visas to Italy from Kuwait. The more Italians and Kuwaitis have the opportunity to get to know and appreciate each other, the more common interests they develop, including those of a business nature.
“I also feel it was very important to give due recognition to special people who contributed to illuminating the common path and mutual knowledge between our two countries. Let me just name one of those whom I had the opportunity to decorate. I am proud to have been able to deliver, upon designation of the President of the Italian Republic, the insignia and diploma of the Order of the Star of Italy to Sheikha Dr. Rasha Al Homoud Al Jaber Al Sabah.
“A truly extraordinary person, she studied in Italy and later wrote important texts on some of the greatest Italian writers. Her remarkable knowledge of Italian culture and her human energy have combined to influence many Kuwaiti students to learn more about Italy. It is by celebrating such high profile personalities that friendship between our two countries and its people are consolidated and developed.”
Turning to political relations between the two countries, the Italian ambassador noted that bilateral political and diplomatic relations received a further impetus during the visit to Italy in July by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Salem Abdullah Al Jaber Al Sabah. “During his visit to Rome, His Excellency the Foreign Minister met with and held discussions with the Vice President of the Council and Italian Foreign Minister, Hon. Antonio Tajani, and with the Hon. Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni.
“Several significant agreements were signed on the occasion, including one on starting a structured Strategic Dialogue; another on updating our cultural cooperation program; and a third for a new collaboration between the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development (KFAED) and the Italian Cassa Depositi e Prestiti (CDP) for joint initiatives on development cooperation.
“Political relations between our two countries are also excellent. Italy and Kuwait have a natural tendency for dialogue; for historical, geographical and cultural reasons they have a common vocation to both B’s, as I define them, ‘bridge builders’ The ability of our two countries to engage in dialogue, to mediate, while holding true to the principles in which we believe, has been a constant in our foreign policies and has always provided important contributions to regional and international security and détente.”
The ambassador also emphasized the strong collaboration that he had with his Kuwaiti counterpart in Rome, “I worked well with my counterparts in Rome during the years of my mandate. It is always important to discuss in order to guide, possibly by mutual agreement, towards achieving the best result for both countries. For example, with my current colleague, Nasser Al Qahtani, we are in constant contact and from the first day we met in Kuwait we said to each other that we would work together in agreement as if we were part of a single team.”
He concluded by noting, “I leave behind a network of relationships whose weave is even more dense in all sectors. It is not thanks to me, but to the familiarity of relations between Italy and Kuwait; the people-to-people relationship that I have tried to encourage in recent years has allowed us to achieve many important results. Excellent relationships.”
Ambassador Baldocci who leaves Kuwait with his wife Cristiana and their daughter in a few days time had this piece of advice for his successor, “Find time, every now and then, to walk around the beautiful Mubarakia Souq, and stop to eat fish and meat in one of the numerous good restaurants inside.”