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Roberto Cincotta, Director Of The Italian Cultural Institute In Belgrade

Living The Italian Way

“Thanks to Dante, it is easy for us Italians to promote our culture and our country. Dante is considered the father of the Italian language, il “Sommo Poeta”, but he also represents the cultural heritage of all humanity” ~ Roberto Cincotta

The whole of Italy is this year commemorating the 700th anniversary of the death of the great Dante Alighieri, so it is only natural to talk about this “father” of the Italian language and one of the giants of world literature with Roberto Cincotta, Director of the Italian Cultural Institute in Belgrade. Numerous programs have been planned to mark this great jubilee, and – thanks to the Italian Embassy and the Italian Cultural Institute – Belgrade will host several of these events.

Last February the Italian Cultural Institute presented the book ‘From the Dark Wood to Paradise. A Journey through Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy in thirty-three languages’, with one of those languages being Serbian, while it was precisely from Belgrade in April that the exhibition ‘Hypermodern Dante. Illustrations of Dante’s work from around the world, 1983-2021’ set out on its European tour, bound for Athens, Prague, Moscow, Madrid and London.

Why did you choose Belgrade to launch this really unusual presentation of the world of the great Dante?

– I accepted our Ministry’s proposal to host this important exhibition as a sign of attention for Belgrade’s public and because, as you are saying, this exhibition confirms that Dante is always modern, indeed “hypermodern”. I was sure the audience would appreciate it, and in fact some hundred visitors came, despite restrictions on access due to the pandemic.

Celebrations marking the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death, organised by the Italian Institute of Culture, started back in February, when you presented the audio-visual book ‘From the Dark Wood to Paradise. A Journey through Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy in thirty-three languages’. What does Dante teach us?

– Dante never stops pushing us to look within ourselves. Describing the faults and merits of humankind, his drives, his reactions, his desperation, but also his aspirations, Dante shows us the right path, warns us against the traps of selfishness, greed, sins and baseness that men are capable of, but at the same time showing us the way to redemption. He first takes us to the hell, then creates a glimmer of hope through purgatory to finally reach heaven. The “Divina Commedia” appears to be a religious poem, but is actually also profoundly secular, because it shows us the pitfalls and, at the same time, the beauty of our earthly life. Dante deals with universal topics through the experience of his own life in the historical period in which he lived. That’s why Dante is modern; he’s always been modern, in every historical era.

Both the exhibition and the audio-visual book represent a fusion of Dante’s art and our times. At the same time, these projects are also exceptional examples of how today, in this time of the abundance of information, other nations are promoting their culture and country. Could you please comment?

– Thanks to Dante, it is easy for us Italians to promote our culture and our country. Dante is considered the father of the Italian language, il “Sommo Poeta”, but he also represents the cultural heritage of all humanity.

The fortune enjoyed by his work throughout the world over the centuries allows us to consider him a splendid example, while simultaneously an instrument of cultural promotion. Through Dante we can talk about Florence, Ravenna, “Dante’s lands”, an extremely attractive part of Italy, rich in monuments, architectural masterpieces, wonderful landscapes, ancient traditions of craftsmanship, agriculture, cuisine, history and fashion. It is also for these reasons that Dante is a formidable ambassador of Italian culture who makes the task of promoting our country easier for us.

Italy is one of the pillars of European and world poetry. However, on the occasion of Poetry Day you decided to present three contemporary poets, even though they are not known to our readers. Why didn’t you opt for classics; is contemporary creativity an easier way to find a common language among nations?

– Contemporary creativity can be an easier way to find a common language among nations. Three young poets were presented to the Serbian public, three Italian women who pursue their own path of poetic research. We wanted to show that even today, especially today, in the complex era in which we live, women and men cannot do without poetry. Is it not Dante who writes in the “Divina Commedia” ‘Consider your seed: you were not made to live like brutes, but to follow virtue and knowledge’? The classics are a beacon, helping us to move forward: they have traced a path and stimulate us to understand ourselves and the world around us, they continue to talk to us.

Paying attention to young contemporary poetesses means that the teaching of the classics has not been exhausted and has not been in vain. The classics (which have been, and in some ways still are, modern) are like the foundations of a marvellous building that is constantly being renovated and improved by new generations of poets.

One of the first ways to make friends, to feel similar, is to share a table, to get to know each other and find similarities and references to our own lives

On the YouTube channel produced by the Italian Institute, it is possible to watch the films Family and Gastronomy, which present the secrets of famous Italian cuisine in a very approachable way. How do private life and everyday life connect people?

– Private life and everyday life connect people because they bring us back to reality, to our personal experience and it’s precisely because we know this life well that it emphasises what makes us similar and familiar to each other. It can help us build bridges, connections, bonds, to forge solidarity. One of the first ways to make friends, to feel similar, is to share a table, to get to know each other and find similarities and references to our own lives. Once again, food brings us closer and makes us feel good. Italian cuisine is simple and tasty. It is appreciated all over the world and makes it easier to make friends and get to know Italy!

Language courses are an important activity for every foreign culture centre. How would you rate the level interest in the Italian language among Serbian citizens?

– The Italian language is the fourth most studied language in the world. Statistics tell us that the main reason foreigners study our language is because they like it. The Italian language is the expression of a refined culture that aims to live well: living the Italian way is synonymous with enjoying the good things in life. For this reason, interest in our language is also high in Serbia, as shown by the consistently high numbers of Serbian citizens who attend our language courses and the huge number of students of Italian in Serbian schools and universities.

The success and impact of your institute depends on the readiness of local institutions to cooperate with you. Compared to your colleagues stationed in the region’s other countries, is it harder or easier for you here in Belgrade?

– It is easy for us to promote our language and our culture. It is a source of pride and therefore a great challenge and commitment. Our culture is highly appreciated all over the world, and we are greeted everywhere with a lot of kindness and sympathy. In Belgrade and throughout Serbia it is even simpler and more beautiful, because we feel the good disposition towards us. All Serbian cultural institutions, both public and private, want to cooperate with us and show us affection and friendship.

Will the Italian Cultural Institute continue programmes commemorating the jubilee of the great Dante until the end of the year?

– Certainly. The Week of the Italian Language of the World, which takes place in October, has Dante Alighieri as its topic this year. We are envisaging a photographic exhibition dedicated to Dante, meetings, conferences, concerts. Follow us through our channels. You are all invited!