Moni Ovadia – writer, actor, singer, intellectual and European. He is the focus of one of several interviews EuroNews is doing to mark the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome and the birth of the EU. A Jew originally from Bulgaria, Ovadia has lived most of his life in Italy and is the artistic director of Mittelfest, a central and eastern European theatre festival. Who better to give a trans-national, non-institutional overview of the European Union? We caught up with him in his home in Milan, where he started with a reply to one of the big questions of modern Europe.
Moni Ovadia: “To what extent does it have meaningful existence, this Europe? That’s the big question. It seems to me, the way things are now, the Erasmus programme is the most essentially European thing we have because it’s an education process. I mean young people, of a age in which they have great energy and enthusiasm, are thrown together in an academic environment. And this is a very good thing, it can even lead to the creation of new European families.
EuroNews: “Maybe the problem with the Treaty of Rome is that it’s created a Europe that is more like an economic community than anything else and so European citizens haven’t yet started to feel European.”
Moni Ovadia: “The financial, economic and commercial dimension appears to be the pivot upon which Europe turns. Naturally the economy is important… I am not so naive to think it should just be a Europe of values. But Europe is also in the process of drawing up an ideal of values and rights, which is its great heritage. And of course culture. If you don’t have a European culture you can’t even talk of Europe. However intellectual Europe already exists. I would love to see football stadiums full of young people, who, instead of the colours of their football teams have their faces painted with the colours of Europe. The blue with the yellow stars. it’s beautiful our flag. And I would love to hear our anthem sung before matches. It’s magnificent this piece by Beethoven. And I’d love to see on a giant screen during the whole match “Alle Menschen werder Bruder” – All men are brothers. That wouldn’t be a bad slogan. It’s hard to imagine a better one. Another thing, we’re on EuroNews, and I’d like to pay my compliments. We’re always criticising TV, this is a chance to praise it. EuroNews should become the television of reference in Europe. We should have a European channel. As TG1 is for Italy so EuroNews should be for Europe.”
EuroNews: “It’s good to come to Milan to talk about the 50th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, and instead of looking back at the past 50 years we’re talking about dreams of the future.”
Moni Ovadia: “I have, among my identities… because we’re going to be a Europe of plural identities…I’m very Italian, very Milanese, very Jewish, very Slavic, very European, and also a citizen of the world – I cannot not be. So, the past turns towards the past. As the Indian saying has it: “if you don’t know where you’re going turn around to see where you’ve come from. It works only if we’re building a future. It seems to me as Bergson saw it, the image of the bow. The bow is the institution, the arrow is the future, the bow string is the past. When you place the arrow you draw backwards to give it a powerful flight to the future. It only makes sense to turn to the past when you’re building the future”
EuroNews: “And do you think the cord of the Treaty of Rome can be useful to the European citizen? “
Moni Ovadia: “It’s a start. And as a start it deserves our profound respect. If we think about it, we emerged from a war in which the French, the Germans and the British massacred each other…. I would say the great wound Europe inflicted upon itself was the persecution of the Jews. Because the Jew pre-dated the modern European. He spoke several languages, he had connections all around Europe and he found a home in every part of Europe. He was the citizen who encompassed the idea of “the European”. If we visit the magnificent Jewish Museum in Europe, which is a stunning museum, created by the architect, Liebeskind, marvellous. It seems like a giant scar on the heart of Berlin. If you go up to the second floor you’ll see the Jews’ contribution to German culture. It’s as if the Nazis had torn out pieces of flesh from the heart of Germany’s body.”
EuroNews: “We talk about Jewish identity in Europe. But today we also talk about relations with the Islamic world. It seems as if it’s always talked about in terms of conflict.”
Moni Ovadia: “Islam is one of the foundations of European culture. We can’t even talk about a real Europe without taking the Islamic contribution into consideration. Even on a religious level. How many Christians are aware that the most beautiful words we can read about the Virgin Mary are found in Islam in the Surat Mariam, the Sura 22. But who knows it. Who knows that according to Islamic tradition in the universal judgement the judge of all the faithful, Muslim and otherwise, will be Jesus? We will be, we are, all brothers”.