When I met Paolo Foresti I called him Excellency. As indeed it was right that it was.
The fact is that we have an age - Paolo and I - that does not make us so distant from one another and I am tied to traditions, which I do not feel at all like a bulky weight, like annoying laces that limit the movement, but rather as necessary rules to travel comfortably and covered, sheltered from the protective umbrella of rules that ensure the quality of the standard of relationships and related behaviors.
In short, Paolo Foresti was for me his excellency the Ambassador, because he was the representative of my country in a foreign land, the person to whom he could turn in case of need, the safe and competent reference on which every citizen who is abroad for reasons of work, or who are going through a serious difficulty while on vacation in a distant country knows, in the last resort, that they can count. Safe harbor and safe reference.
For a journalist, however, Italian ambassadors in a foreign land are something more. They are consultants, as well as representatives of our highest institutions: they are the best and most profitable contacts that can be found outside national borders; points of reference, lighthouses on which to direct the navigation of one's judgment in information storms that often break out in crisis areas; irreplaceable guides in the confusion that always reigns in areas of conflict or simple - so to speak - political upheaval.
Just imagine what was the 90 Albania. Chaos reigned in the land of the Eagles. Tirana had recently emerged from one of the most paranoid forms of communism ever to be counted internationally - after the red dynasty of North Korea, ca va sans dire. The country had been under the play of an isolationist obsession that, with China's initial support, had made it a giant prison: Enver Hoxha had ruled the country from 1944 to 1985, killing thousands of opponents and incarcerating as many. His political madness had led him to see enemies everywhere. In the fear of being invaded by Western powers, from Tito's Yugoslavia or Brezhnev's USSR, he had transformed his country into a kind of Apache fort in the heart of the Adriatic, building eight hundred thousand bunkers for a population of just over three million inhabitants , who lived in houses without a bathroom.
When the nightmare ended, due to the domino effect caused by the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a season of political clashes and poisons opened in Albania. Italy was, of course, strongly and directly interested in the epochal changes that were engulfing the small country of the eagles. Vlora, "capital" of the south west of the country was in revolt against Tirana. The central government was unable to face the situation either militarily or politically. In Tirana socialists and conservatives fought each other with disinformatism and dossiers (fake news was born in Tirana, at that time).
The task of observing what was happening, informing our government, keeping the ranks of relations, mediating between governments, disentangling false information, avoiding pitfalls and pitfalls, watching over the security of the Italian joint force and those of the Italians living in those lands geographically close, yet so distant, was entrusted to Paolo Foresti. A huge task for just one man. Yet Paolo was able to cope with all this and the large Italian journalistic community that occasionally appeared at his residence and took advantage of it to draw on his precious analyzes and some generous contributions from the Ambassador's incomparable cuisine.
If it is true that difficulties can interrupt relationships or settle them forever, that is where my friendship with Paolo Foresti was born. Seeing him at work in a frightening context like that gave me the opportunity to appreciate his balance, calmness and competence. Try to keep quiet while Tirana is abandoned by the police and the army, while the cry "Valona Valona" rises from the outskirts of Tirana on a terrible and deserted night. A cry that announced a possible, upcoming invasion of the capital by the rebels: the first signs of a bloodbath.
The following day an incredible evacuation operation was started for Italian residents: an operation that saw the use of ships, helicopters and special units of the armed forces. Days (and nights) impossible to forget.
Among my memories of a war correspondent, those remain among the most indelible, because they taught me that crises, even the most difficult ones, always have a possible outcome, a possible solution. And that to deal with them requires experience, cold blood and culture.
Qualities that are not lacking in Paolo Foresti.
Today, many years later, I still have in my heart the regret of never having been able to tell the story of Albania that Paolo Foresti had told me and that pushed me to see and consider: a country full of beauty and possibilities, rich in history and unique landscapes. I still have the consolation of having left that place bringing with me the friendship of one of the best Italian ambassadors I have ever met.
And that today I am proud to call Paolo and that's it.
It is not at all little.
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