Chapter 3: The Battle for Europe

5. Denis de Rougemont and Personalism
We all must resolve the knot concerning the definition of our identity by asking questions such as who am I, who are my friends, in which language or dialect do I think, which is my culture? etc. Everyone belongs to a greater or lesser number of groups or circles. Denis de Rougemont defined his personalised federalism with these words: “I am Protestant, writer, French, of Swiss nationality, my country is Neuchatel, and I am still many more things”. When nationalism and often liberalism too, or socialism, which can then lead to nationalism, reduce the person to a single dimension, they impoverish him. Ethnicity can be one of a person’s dimensions while it creates human and cultural solidarity. But, as a kind of specificity it can become a myth or a symbol for nourishing aggressive instincts, especially when it becomes the final justification of power.
I listened to Denis de Rougemont’s speech hour after hour on this subject. It was he who had compiled the cultural declaration at the Hague Congress in 1948, from which the European Movement was born, and which was attended by almost every federalist and pro-Europe group seeking a way to create European Unity. As an author of a book titled L’Amour et l’Occident (Love in the Western World), he added his name to those greatest writers of the 20th century French literature and with his writings he always did battle for a Europe founded on Regions and on a philosophy founded on personalism.
Behind Denis de Rougemont’s thought one could catch a glimpse of how a great liberat­ing idea such as individualism could lead to the spread of ill-omened seeds, and when made absolute as in the case of nationalism that too often reduces man to a one dimensional being.
Very often, when speaking of the possibility of the progress of civilisation general refer­ences are made to the possibilities of improving human qualities such as comprehension, altruism, generosity, compassion, love, respect and so on. Maybe heaving a sigh by way of admitting that we are still only talking today of utopia. The problem is finding a feasible way: in fact a philosophy that is born in the human heart and mind, and that makes this progress possible.
While individualism brought with it the possibility of opening the way to finding and constructing freedom for everyone, it is clear that it also stimulated and created conflicts of every kind, when two claims to freedom collide instead of coming together. This happens above all when the other or others are seen as being different and maybe even immovable opponents.
But who are the others in the human race today? For the most part they are distant or very distant cousins with whom we share a small, perhaps a very small genetic and cultural inheritance. In fact they are not “others”: they are in part “us”. Of course dominant traits exist in each one of us, and everyone can be defined above all as Italian, Slovenian, American or German and so on, according to one’s own history and the history of one’s own family. Yet a small, maybe a minute part of us, sometimes denied, even unconsciously, is the same part of others. When we deny it or even fight it we impoverish our personality and our richness, our interior baggage, our very being.
Personalism is the starting point for a qualitative leap forward for civilisation and the basis for political and social federalism, applying a brake to the possible distortions of individualism.
And all this occurs, not through an abstract act of good will, but through the recognition of the value of the different, as a component of our own being.
It has taken several years, however, to understand the depth of Denis de Rougemont’s thought.
6. Italian and Federalist
My homeland is Trieste. Among the city’s hills there are Celtic ruins, in the old city there are Roman remains, the cathedral door rests on two pillars that come from ancient Roman buildings. In 1382 Trieste forged a pact with the then small Austrian march, which for five centuries, apart from a twelve year period, allowed it to avoid being conquered by powerful Venetians. Until the XVII century Trieste remained a small city of two or three thousand inhabitants who spoke a variant of the language or dialect of Latin origin which is found in a part of the Grisons in Switzerland among the Ladins in the alpine valleys between Austria and Italy. It is also found in Friuli. It was Austria at the time of the Empress Maria Teresa (she who had held Mozart on her lap) that made Trieste the great maritime and commercial centre of Europe. At the end of the XIX century the city had a population of around 300,000 inhabitants and boasted having Europe’s second port after Marseilles.
Following emigration from the North, East, West and South the dialect was modified and took on German, Greek and French words. At school I had friends with Albanian, Slovenian, Croat and even Swiss sounding names. My family came from Venice following the wretch­edness that had befallen the almost one thousand year old Republic after its destruction at the hands of Napoleon (whom deep down I have never forgiven for this act).
Many of those who arrived in the city of Trieste soon became Italian, in that almost federalist monarchy of the Habsburgs who for over five centuries had had plenty of time to completely germanise Trieste. And yet that had not happened. In Trieste the middle class naturally spoke German, but also, and above all, Italian. It was a sign of social cultural success, accepted and sometimes encouraged by the Austria of the time. Trieste’s great Italian writer Italo Svevo’s real name was Ettore Schmitz. When Venice became Italian in the course of the XIX century, the people of Trieste were still fighting for greater democracy within the Empire. And Daniele Manin called them “traitors.”
Only from the XX century did nationalism catch on. In Trieste it created a paradoxical situation in a historic period that favoured the idea of the nation-state, many of Trieste’s citizens considered themselves to be not “Italian” enough. In search of an identity of which many of them were not always certain. The city soon became a starting point for many fascist activities. During the Second World War the only extermination camp in Italy was in an old rice factory in the city. And it was at this time that the split with the Slovenian minority became deeper. This group had been integrated into Trieste for centuries, and in fact had an important Trieste literature in their own language. See the case of Boris Pahor.
It is easy to understand how I have often considered certain nationalistic attitudes as demagogic expressions that regularly end up diminishing the cultural values of the nation in question. In extreme cases we can find the tragedies of the last century. Germany without Hitler, Italy without Mussolini, Russia without Stalin, and closer to home Yugoslavia without Milosevic would have saved more than a few disasters. This then is why I, a Triestine, maintain that the best way of being Italian is to be a European federalist. And if I do some good things I will be appreciated everywhere as the Italian that I am.  And every so often I like to feel a little Swiss, American, French, German, English, Slav and so on, according to the circumstances: it is like catching a glimpse of bridges and feeling you can cross them.
In November 1959 I left for Milan for my first “real” job. Doing what one likes is a luxury, but one has to first survive and enter into the undertaking that allows us to satisfy our primordial needs. Later there will be enough time, if we have the desire and the predisposition to grant ourselves what I call luxury. Transferring my activities in Trieste was not easy: They told me I could continue to work during the weekend, returning often to my city of origin. This situation lasted a little more than a year, until the time I took up employmeny in a European enterprise from Basle in Switzerland in 1961 taking advantage of my chemical industry workbase.

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