Francesco Senese, Naples

Your life in a few lines

I was born in Naples in 1988 and I continue to live in Fuorigrotta (this district reaches out to Bagnoli and the Phlegraean Fields and is located between the hilly district of Vomero and the one in the plain of Soccavo).

I am a lawyer and I deal with bankruptcy law and corporate internationalization. I have always been involved in associationism and politics, even today that I now work full time.

I graduate in law with a thesis on constitutional law on the President of the Council of Ministers. My thesis is linked to my “public” life path that began in 2001 first with the last piece of the Popular Party (the epilogue of what remained of the leftmost Democrazia Cristiana party), then in the Margherita (the party of Francesco Rutelli, ex Verdi and mayor of Rome, of Catholic inspiration) and finally in the PD (Partito Democratico, where the Margherita ends to merge) always engaged both on the theme of international politics and on the first Catholic associationism, now also secular – I created an association called Friends of Solidarity for a long time engaged in training and awareness-raising on legality and human rights in schools.

How did you end up with that kind of study and political activity in a reality like the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean (PAM) of which you are a NATO representative and liaison officer for other institutions?

Because in the sphere of my political activity, a few years ago – in 2009 if I’m not mistaken – I organized an initiative on the role of the Mediterranean and the South of Italy. Then the phenomenon of migration was already visible but it exploded only later with the Arab Spring. It was then I got in contact with the Parliamentary Assembly of the Mediterranean. It is an international organization (as the United Nations, of which it is a Permanent Observer) that unites the parliaments of 33 Mediterranean countries.

After that contact, I begins an exchange of ideas with PAM secretary Ambassador Sergio Piazza, a Neapolitan like me among others, after which, about a year and a half ago in one of our daily chats he tells me that the Malta office has physically collapsed therefore some offices moved to Bucharest.

I then launched the proposal to bring the headquarters to Naples. We started working on it, he is enthusiastic as a Neapolitan but I gave him valid elements to support this candidacy. 

Naples is at the center of the Mediterranean, its society shows a certain cultural openness in contrast with the rest of the country, it is an hour by train from Rome (where there are all the crucial headquarters for our job like embassies, FAO and all the other International institutions) as well as much less expensive. Here is the NATO Command …

Naples wins the candidacy and from next September 1000 square meters will be available and on order (thanks to an agreement with Campania Region) in via Terracina, my neighborhood!

An excellent location (with that building I also have an emotional bond: I hosted there my first public initiative), given that it is also the seat of other participating companies and institutions, including the Commissariat for the Universiade.

Like any Parliamentary Assembly, such as that of NATO, the function differs from the governmental one for two reasons.

The first – the advantageous one – is that it favors dialogue: we are one of the few institutions if not the only one in which to sit at the same table are Westerners, Israelis, Palestinians, Turks, North Africa MPs… all with equal dignity and with the possibility to speak even in a very frank manner. If two foreign ministers have to say something is difficult, if two MPs (even on behalf of those two ministers) have to say it is easier.

The second: it adopts a series of resolutions that commit the member states to reach a series of framework objectives and agreements that, voted by the respective parliaments, become in effect all international treaties.

He deals with three major sectors: international politics and defense, human rights, economic development. Naples will be a bit of a center also thanks to partnerships with universities where research projects will also be activated. Lots of work and a long way to go!

Have you been a lawyer since you’ve been so busy with PAM?

As usual, I multiply the hours of my day! I continue to be a lawyer, I continue with my associational and political activity.

As a lawyer, do you only deal with the private sphere or even human rights?

I continue to work with companies and internationalization of business. It also marries with the objective of the Second PAM Commission: economic development. If I can put in the Mediterranean economic realities I combine two birds with one stone. I work a lot with the United States, for example.

When we first met, you were about to leave for Turkey. Are you back, do you want to tell us more? Moreover the mayor we expected to win won in the recent municipal elections of Istanbul, the one whose first victorious election was canceled …

Exact. However, I was not in Istanbul, I was first in Ankara for the conference on migration and terrorism organized by PAM where the objectives of addressing have focused on considering migration as a phenomenon to be managed rather than suffered.

I really couldn’t follow the elections, but Istanbul is a city different from the others: it wants to relate to the EU, with NATO, with the whole world and not only with the Russian Federation-Syria-Uzbekistan-Kazakhstan band. It is very European for culture.

The presence of Erdogan is very strong throughout the country – wherever there are his giant posters. Ataturk’s secularism is now erased, even in restaurants there is a strong Islamization, they do not need alcohol (not even at our official dinner!), Although of course you can ask for it in hotel restaurants.

We were at the Mausoleum of Ataturk, where we had the privilege of depositing a wreath in memory of a statesman to whom they owe everything, even now that he has clearly moved into second place behind Erdogan’s “cult”.

Istanbul has been returned to the mayor who had already won once and is probably a first change of pace. From here to say that Erdogan’s power will be undermined seems to me exaggerated. But that Istanbul can become a beacon for a more globalized world seems to me more plausible.

Turkey has received many funds from European states to combat migration …

Turkey prides itself on being a country that, compared to Syrian immigrants – they also have marginal Afghan and Pakistani migrations, but the Syrian is the largest – has a system that works and that integrates the new arrivals.

It is necessary to understand – and allow me to be diplomatic – how true it is, I take what they tell me for good but then obviously I reserve myself the right to do all the in-depth analysis of the case.

After Ankara we were in Gaziantep (a city and a region, first Armenian, in Southern Anatolia), about 40 km from the Syrian border and then, the next day, in the Syrian refugee camp of Nizip which was the major experience of the trip. Where you touch a phenomenon that usually you are told or seen on TV …

The child who dies on the beach bounced on all media touches you, God forbid! But when you see a five-year-old boy, as happened to me at the camp, who doesn’t talk because they bombed the house and ran away suffering another trauma… I can show you photos of children in the camp – the director asked us not to distribute them to the press because they host many political refugees and then they would be in danger – where you would see in their eyes the harshness of what they experienced. Some of them arrived there just a few months old but others arrived already at four / five years and therefore have a clear memory. There are also many teachers who fled because of repressions by the Syrian government: they want to learn Turkish and also tell what they have experienced in Turkey.

Any hope to relocate them to Syria in the near future?

These are the refugees who stay in the camps longer and try to create a future for themselves in Turkey, on daytime they work in neighboring cities and on nighttime they return back in. They would like to return, of course, but coming back now is not possible and would not make sense. To make you understand what we are talking about, I show you some of these children (he shows me images of schools in the camp, where there are children of all ages who have contrite faces; there are also schools for adults). They are predominantly Muslim, there is also a Koran school.

There are many children from 0 to 7, many of mid-range and very few elderly people who obviously would not have survived the journey.

With this child (he shows me the photo of the child who has lost his voice and words) our Israeli delegates have committed themselves to find hospitality and medical care in their country for him and the whole family.

I do not know how efficient the camp is or how has beeb prepared for our visit, the fact is that the father of this child told us that after the Israeli offer, those of the camp called him to confer. So I wouldn’t know how it will end.

That area of ​​Turkey is more Asian and Muslim, unlike Istanbul.I

Which are the books with you right now? Or the ones did you consider as fundamental?

We have to distinguish: the ones I’m reading right now are grouped in a purchased stack and for which I hope to find time on summer days. I am an omnivorous reader: space from essays to the novel to poems, etc.

I read a lot of American literature with Foster among my favorites. And lots of South American and Caribbean literature. I love Sepulveda, Marquez, Eduardo Galeano, Allende. Recently I read a beautiful book by a Caribbean author, the Fourth Century by Edouard Glissant that traces the history of slavery with the almost poetic words of a grandfather who speaks to his nephew.

I read many classics, now for example I have To Kill a Mockingbird (by Harper Lee) which touches on a theme unfortunately very present, racism. And then Fuoco su Napoli (by Ruggero Cappuccio)  a novel set here.

In short, I usually have at least two books on the bedside table and one in my bag for when I move.

Now, the books I consider as fundamental: above all Petit Prince because I believe it is a story that goes beyond the novel itself. Then Hannah Hurnard’s Hind’s Feet on High Places which also touches the religious sphere and the path to God: it has helped me a lot.

Then there is the Story of a Snail who Discovered the Importance of Slowness (by Sepulveda), a fairy tale for children that, like all his books, deals with themes that go beyond the fairy tale itself. This is about time, and giving yourself time to discover new things. And Cien años de soledad, a book that I appreciated most with a second reading. The first time, during my high school years, I read it with an almost forced eye. When I went to reread it, I thought instead it was a great masterpiece of world literature.

Everyone has his own Macondo, it just needs to be searched. I must tell you that South American literature helps a lot in making an introspective journey. I love Neruda, every so often I read and re-read his Poems of Love which I believe are unsurpassed.

There are so many books that have marked me at various stages of my life … Now to tell you them all it’s hard!L

The music you’ve been listening to these days?

In my Spotify playlist there is certainly a lot of Italian music from the 60s to the 80s, on this I am vintage and I think it was the most beautiful Italy from every point of view – from the musical production to the cinematographic one, from the songwriting to the pop music. From De Andrè to Baglioni, from Vianello to Guccini, so to say! 

It was the idea of a living Italy, which grew beyond the diversity of genres. Something which I deeply regret in these dark years.

Next to that, you would find Tracy Chapman, Whitney Houston and Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin and the great voices of American soul, until a good jazz selection. I listen to also a lot of classical music or to Jack Johnson, my favorite soundtrack for aperitifs by the sea. It is also the music that accompanies me for my solitary readings. For me, sometimes reading means estranging me and making a space of my own, far from the world that runs.

Where do you see yourself in ten years, always in Naples?

I see myself here because I think that all the healthy forces – and I consider myself one of them – of the city must stay to improve it because if everyone goes away, it’s too easy!

Once I was used to say ‘it takes courage to leave’, now I say ‘it takes courage to stay’.

It also takes courage to return, from my point of view …

It’s true. If I were a lawyer in Milan I would earn ten times more, I would have a totally different lifestyle but my life would not be life because, it is true, the happy hour in the Navigli can be nice, but living means walking randomly here and being surprised every day for the simplicity and wonder that I continue to discover.

Let’s go back to the trip to Turkey another second: we were under a protection system and we were escorted (and even followed, if you want) at any time. Once arrived in Naples, the car that was supposed to take us to our destinations did not show up. 

They told me: “Mr Senese, let’s do it first if I bring your suitcase and you’ll manage for it … is it a problem?”. See, I would miss this simple way of facing life.

Even for my life experience – I lost dad very early, at 22 – I can say that I could look at the world with different eyes.

And I learned that each of us should be committed to giving people a smile. If we all did it, there would be six billions smiles!

Naples is a city that smiles, even geographically – being a curve on the coast that draws a smile. And then we are a city that over the centuries has lived so much that we never break down. Those who visit us realize that we are a community that welcomes people without judgement, without arrogance. At all social levels, from the lady of the low houses placed straight on the footpath (bassi) to the Prince who lives in a seventeenth century palace. We are a city on the sea but also a city of stories and hills, of ancient spas where Greek and Romans used to come and bath. 

We are a city of everything. And so we know how to welcome naturally.

In addition to the power of smiles, have you learned anything else in life?

Yes, and on this Galeano gave me a great teaching (‘do immediately points to the moon, if it will be badly going you still will have crossed the stars’): we must never be discouraged because there will always be some hurdles in life.

Take my example: it will be the fifth time that I resume writing my book all over again and I am convinced that I can finish it by the end of the year (it is a novel made up of stories, it reminds me a little of Calvino that brings together ten novel beginnings giving the possibility to the reader to connect them). It is set in Latin America – Patagonia, the land of Fire, the two oceans that meet … I will not move there but I hope to have a home to stay from time to time, right on that Cape. It talks about many characters who find themselves there and tell their stories. The novel starts from the assumption that each of us has so many stories to tell, but it is not said that they are the last or that they are not part of a bigger story.

Francesco Senese’s story (Serena Maiorano is the author of the cover image) has been suggested to us by Sergio Cappelli, another ‘story from this world’ our pages have hosted

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