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Belarus President's visit to Italy and the Vatican: review

The main political event of the week is President Lukashenko's visit to Italy and the Vatican. Seven years ago, there took place the first similar visit. God is eternal, while the Lord's Anointed change. Other people were on the papal throne and in political power in Italy. Therefore, the present day is a good way to confirm and reboot the relations given the rapidly changing situation in the world and in Rome. Our special correspondent Alexandra Kulakova reports from Rome.

Alexandra Kulakova, correspondent:
Minsk and Rome are 2,000 kilometers apart - so distant, and possibly so close. What unites Belarus and Italy? First of all, when it comes to the state symbols, it is colors: red, green and white. Italy has vertical lines, while Belarus horizontal lines plus an ornament. But is it only a single state policy that unites our countries? Perhaps we have other things in common.

For Italians, white on the canvas is a symbol of faith, while in Belarus it symbolizes spiritual purity. Red means the victory of Belarusians in different battles, while for Italians it means love. But green on the flags of Italy and Belarus is hope. This week, hopes appeared for the birth of a new stage in relations between Belarus and Italy.

The Belarusian President’s plane landed at the military base of the Ciampino airport. Alexander Lukashenko was welcomed by officials from Rome and the Vatican as well as by the diplomatic corps. The ceremony at the ramp took a few minutes. After that, the Belarusian President held a short conversation with the Minister Plenipotentiary of the Diplomatic Protocol Service of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Italy. The head of state offered Italian businesses to more actively invest in Belarus.

Alexander Lukashenko, President of Belarus:
We can revive our agreements on the establishment of an industrial zone in the Brest region. When I go to other states I always suggest that we start from some small projects. Two or three projects under my responsibility. I will monitor their development. If you like it, please feel free to offer more.

Then the motorcade with the Belarusian President went to Quirinal Palace where the talks were held between the two presidents.

Alexandra Kulakova, correspondent:
It is a palace with a complicated name - Quirinal. For Italians it means the same as the Kremlin for Russians or the Independence Palace to Belarusians. This is the highest point in Rome, which offers a wonderful view of the city. Here is the residence of Italian president Sergio Mattarella, in which he hosts meetings at the highest level.  

By the way, the heads of state communicated in the room of the Italian president. Sergio Mattarella admitted that this room is designed for special occasions.

Sergio Mattarrela has served as Italian president more than a year. This is the first meeting of the Belarusian and Italian leaders. 

The conversation, which lasted over one hour, touched on the international situation, politics, cooperation between the two countries in economy and trade and investment potential. The two presidents also noted the possible establishment of a Belarus-Italy business council.

Vladimir Makei, Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Belarus:
We have preserved a sufficiently high level of trade and economic cooperation. And today the sides talked about how to give a new impetus to the trade and economic cooperation. We agreed to establish a business council between the two countries in order to make it easier for businessmen and chambers of commerce to have direct contacts with each other.

Given great interest Italian companies show towards Belarus (in particular to projects in the field of IT, agriculture, manufacturing and processing of agricultural products) the two nations can build a solid foundation for interstate cooperation based on these fields.

Alexander Guryanov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to the Republic of Italy:
The official visit of the Belarus head of state to Italy is an opportunity to update our plans and give a new impetus to our cooperation. By the way, there were no serious complications or stops in the relations between Belarus and Italy. That is, we have a normal understanding at the political level. Yes, we are working within the framework of external influence. Both Italy and Belarus have a positive attitude to achieving the new results in the cooperation.

The trade turnover between our countries reached a peak in 2014 - more than $2 billion. Experts think it can be doubled. There are over 200 items the countries trade in. These are primarily potash fertilizers and pipes, but there are some quite unusual goods: being a trend-setter and the center of the world's fashion design, Italy still imports Belarusian leather and furniture. 

Alexander Guryanov, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Republic of Belarus to the Republic of Italy:
We have always traded with Italy very actively. Italy is very much interested in supplies to Belarus and the Eurasian Economic Union markets through Belarus. Belarus buys many goods in Italy that we call investment imports. Italy is one of the largest processors of leather. You know their famous footwear and leather clothing. Italian companies took part in the establishment in Belarus of a number of facilities that make it possible to process leather on Belarusian soil. Italy actively shares with us their designs. This applies to furniture too. Not all Italian furniture is produced in Italy, despite the fact that the whole world knows and enjoys classic Italian furniture, and IKEA is there too. We also supply our products to IKEA. Therefore, some pieces of furniture come to the Italian market through international companies. Part of what we produce suits Italians in terms of price. It is all defined by the market. Italians are very open people in this regard and the market is very open too. They produce a lot of their own products but also import much.

Alexandra Kulakova, correspondent:
Belarusians and Italians got interested in each other's products many centuries ago. And we know it from history. For example, Belarusian Mikola Husouski wrote his famous "Song about the Bison" here in Rome. This is the portrait of another prominent figure of Belarus - Francysk Skaryna - which still adorns one of the walls of the University of Padua. Skaryna graduated from this university in the 16th century and received a degree of Doctor of Medicine.

Another outstanding personality of Belarus - Euphrosyne of Polotsk - was remembered today. Meeting with the Pope in the Apostolic Vatican Palace the Belarus President gave him a copy of the Cross of the Belarusian enlightener, made using a unique technique of wood carving. 

Accompanied by members of the official delegations and honorary welcoming persons they passed through the halls of the Apostolic Palace to the Papal Library. Here the Belarus head of state met with the Pope one on one.

Alexander Lukashenko:
It went very well. It could not be better! We are close with him ideologically, we have the same principles and views on the world order, development and principles that I pursue as the President. It so happened that they are completely consistent with the principles supported by Pope Francis. And on this basis, we had a very sincere, warm and decent conversation. I suggested that it was time to come to Belarus and, together with our Patriarch, to meet our residents. I'm sure that meeting will gather more than one million people wishing to see this handshake not in the distant Cuba airport but on this land, located in the center of Europe, and, thank God, not affected by those disasters (he too emphasized it) that occurred in the former Soviet republics and Eastern European republics of the former Soviet Union. Therefore, everything is in the hands of God. If he so wishes, then the top hierarchs of the Catholic and Orthodox churches will meet in Belarus. I think that they will invite there representatives of the Muslim world, Jews and other denominations. The reason may be different, but the most sacred occasion, as suggested by many of our clergy, is to pay tribute to those who died in the First and the Second World War.

After an audience with the Pope Alexander Lukashenko met with Vatican Secretary of State, who is the second person in the Holy See.

Vatican City is a treasure trove of art. Sistine Chapel with beautiful frescoes of Michelangelo: it is here where the Pope is elected. St. Peter's Basilica is the second largest Christian church in the world. And, of course, the Vatican Museum, which stores the most famous paintings by Raphael. Several days ago, an exhibition of Belarusian icons opened here. On May 21, it was visited by Alexander Lukashenko.

This exhibition has already been called one of the most important events of the Year of Culture of Belarus. It offers 33 unique icons from the 17th century to the present day. These images are valuable for both Catholics and Orthodox.

Alexander Lukashenko also told media about the motives of his visit to Italy and the Vatican.

Alexander Lukashenko:
Italy has always supported us in the most difficult times. Italy and the Vatican (I thank them for that) have done a lot to help us restore normal relations with the European Union. We devoted some time to this topic, especially with the President of Italy. Therefore, it was one of the reasons to this blessed and sacred land. I had to thank these people - as well as many others - for understanding of what is happening in Belarus and the normalization of these relations. The prospects are very good. Today there are proposals and desire to return to the projects we once agreed, for instance, a technological park in the Brest region. We allocated 300 hectares of land and we can give them 100 hectares more for businesses. And what is interesting for Belarus is Italy's unique experience in the development of small and medium-sized enterprises. More than 90% of their economy rests on this. This is what we need today. Therefore, we had a long conversation. And I'm sure that it ended on a positive note, with good prospects.  

Belarus President's visit to Italy and the Vatican: review