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In memory of Prof. Franco Rizzi, UNIMED Founder

On February 15th, 2017, prof. Franco Rizzi, Secretary General and founder of UNIMED passed away prematurely.
His commitment to a Mediterranean region of peace and dialogue continues to guide our work and our action. His teaching remains valid today not only for the reasons that led him to create a reality like UNIMED from nothing, but also for having dictated its future contours. We re-publish one of his writings, published in 2016, on the occasion of UNIMED’s 25 years celebration.

We have, me and the many young and not so young collaborators of UNIMED, the burden and the honor to carry on this intuition that after many years still maintains all its liveliness and strength. Thanks to the commitment of all members, UNIMED continues to grow in associates, projects, collaborators, institutional partnerships.
This year marks the thirty years of UNIMED. We will celebrate this important anniversary of our associative life with various activities and we will have the opportunity to remember Franco on several occasions.
From time to time we stop and look back in remembering the thousand battles faced together with Franco. But extraordinarily we realize that he is always in front of us, around the Mediterranean, that lies “our common destiny”.

Marcello Scalisi, UNIMED Director


When the Berlin wall fell in 1989, I was teaching at the University
of Rome “La Sapienza” and I was chief of the International Relations.
I had begun dealing with Erasmus projects, and subsequently, President
George Tecce gave me the highest delegation of the University
International Relations and the chair of a commission composed of representatives
from all the University faculties. Professor Tecce was a dean
who used to spend a lot of time at university. He always knew everything
and had a first-rate political insight. I used to meet him, almost
every day, around 2.30 PM for a coffee and to chat about various issues
of my work as a delegate. I remember that we defined the fall of
the Berlin Wall as an exceptional event, and it was on that occasion
that I said this event would have had its long-term effects on universities
too. The end of the blocks would call into question many issues,
both in Politics and in our societies, and I was sure that universities
would have not simply stand and watch. In particular, the universities
from Eastern and Mediterranean countries would have been extremely
affected by these important changes. For this reason, I proposed to
work on the establishment of a network of Euro-Mediterranean universities,
that could be able to meet the challenges and develop all the
innovative aspects in the cultural, political and social fields. The rector’s
reaction was really positive. I started my work, reaching out to the President
of the University of Barcelona, Prof. Josep Brical, the President
of the Athens University, Prof. Michael Stathopoulos, and the President
of the Mohammed V University of Rabat, Prof. Abdellatif Ben Abdeljil.
All of them were really welcoming, and encouraged my work on the
establishment of this network, which formally took place in 1991. The
“University of Mediterranean” was born and at present it counts more
than 90 Universities from 21 countries from both shores of the Mediterranean
Sea. In those years only few universities had an International Relations
Office and they essentially dealt with bilateral relations, while
they had already started the publication of EU programs based on
multilateral relations. From the outset, UNIMED mission was to support
the internationalization of universities based on a multilateral cooperation
approach. After 25 years our mission is still progressing, it
is continuously advancing, but many universities show some difficulties
in accepting this approach. In my opinion, this situation is also due to
a static vision that often characterizes universities’ governance and
policy, since they believe their tasks is only the educational mission
and providing researchers with a career opportunity. We cannot deny
that these are two important aspects, but certainly limited vis-a-vis the
role of universities. Indeed, their role is much more important than
we could think. In this framework, the UNIMED mission is fundamental
because it aims to connect all the universities, to share their
know-how and make it available to fulfil the various needs of the regions.
This is the logic of EU projects and the logic of UNIMED projects
too. An example could better clarify what I mean: thanks to the
financial support of the Fondazione di Sardegna, UNIMED manages
100 grants for students coming from Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. After
having been selected by their universities, these students are now enrolled
in the Sardinian universities of Cagliari and Sassari and their
grants will last for 3 years. This youngsters (the majority of them are
women) have already successfully attended their first year, both in
terms of scores and integration, and they have also contributed, even
if only partially, to the economy of the Island. Of course this project is
a “best practice”, a model that is useful for the European Institutions,
and it could suggest some ideas on how to think about the migration
issue to the UE. Now, I would like to focus on another project, eMEDia,
that UNIMED is carrying out with the Universities of Sousse, Sfax,
La Manouba (IPSI), Barcelona, IULM of Milan, Tampere and the
Tunisian Higher Education Ministry. The political and cultural value of
this project is easy to understand. Revolution in Tunisia brought to light
many problems, including those related to the freedom of the press, as
well as the need to modernize the education system, and the media
sector that had been under the control of the regime of Ben Ali had.
Students who one day were to become journalists, had to learn how to
write articles that were suited to the government and the leader’s actions,
according to the dictatorship’s logic. There are many other similar
examples; however, what is important is to raise the value of the logic
behind the action of UNIMED, which can be summarized in its
ability to be always ready to help the universities, without belonging
to any of them. UNIMED is an association that has built bridges and
dialogues among the countries of the two shores of the Mediterranean,
over the last 25 years. UNIMED had to overcome many difficulties, as
everyone can imagine, but always with the fighting spirit of those who
know they are working for a good cause. In the Mediterranean there
were and still there are violent fractures, but also significant convergences.
We have witnessed the slow and inexorable degradation of the
Israeli-Palestinian issue, the wars that have sown death, we have looked
at this sea without being able to rejoice at its view due to a lump in the
throat that took us at the thought of the deaths of thousands of men,
women and children looking for a new life in Europe, yes Europe,
generous with good intentions, but sparing with hospitality. But we also
have witnessed the mobilization of generations of ordinary people,
of the civil society that stubbornly continued to work to bridge the
two sides of Mediterranean, against those who want to divide them at
any costs. Men and women of good will, who work for peace and mutual
understanding. Mediterranean is not only the hostage of terrorism
and of a pseudo-Caliphate. UNIMED has always been inspired
by this logic, pushing the universities, through an intensive project
work to tackle these issues in direct contact with the people’s needs. A
large network, tomorrow perhaps wider, that I love to define “a university
without walls” where knowledge and research are shared to
the benefit of men and women. In this great university, thanks to the
medias, we should imagine the Education of young people. They
should be able to navigate and move like fish from Tunis to Beirut, from
Bari to Barcelona, young students who move from Paris to Amman
from Tampere to Marrakech. So, the European Union should provide
greater financial support to the Erasmus program, and in general to mobility programs.

Nowadays, Politics has attested the strategic role of culture in fighting
against racism, terrorism, xenophobia, but at the same time governments
cut funds to universities. I think today we should answer to
this important question: where is the Mediterranean going? The recently
founded UNIMED think tank shall try to find a solution to this
important matter, thanks to the work and analysis of young researchers
working with other senior professor and professional in different fields
of our network. This think tank carries out researches and analysis on
the major problems concerning the Mediterranean, mainly political,
cultural and economic issues. But, of course, the UNIMED think tank
cannot meet all the Mediterranean challenges alone. We should develop
a big project linking all professionals gathered to talk about that:
from professionals to businessmen, from artists to politicians, from students
to women. As I told before, it is a need in order to give visibility
to those who work for this Sea, aware that Mediterranean is our destiny.

Professor Franco Rizzi, UNIMED Founder, 25 years of UNIMED

in UNIMED. VENTICINQUE ANNI DI IMPEGNO PER IL MEDITERRANEO, a cura di F. De Giorgi, M. Di Donato, Castelvecchi Editore, Roma 2016

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