Author and Poet Emilio De Luigi
Issayas: You mentioned that the Italians (at least the ones at the Italian hospital in Asmara) sided with the Eritrean liberation fighters? Why do you think it was so? Since you also lived in Ethiopia for many years, can you say the Italians' sentiment in Addis Abeba or Ethiopia was the same as their counterparts in Asmara/Eritrea?
Emilio: I analyzed in depth that attitude in my book. I found five reasons:
First reason: Fundamentally the Italians who went to Africa were not racists. You can detect that in one fact: the abundance of mixed families in Asmara and Addis Abeba. The ""African branch" of my family still in Ethiopia is half cast. Not too many Italian families in Addis or Asmara had no half cast members. In British colonies half cast were exceptional. Therefore in Eritrea and Addis Abeba the blood connection generated its level of solidarity.
Second reason: The Italians considered Eritrea much more "modern" than Ethiopia. When Hailè Sellassiè had the disastrous idea of annexing Eritrea, the Italians immediately sided with the Eritreans. For the Italians literally it was the case of a modern country overtaken by a less progressed one. Please note that for both the Eritreans and the Italians Ethiopia was the "colony", economically and professionally speaking. For the Eritreans, for the excellent job opportunities offered by Addis Abeba; for the Italians, for the market it represented for the products of their industries. But both Eritreans and Italians never considered Ethiopia a desirable ruler.
Third reason: the brutality of the Ethiopian repression. Menghistu massacres in Addis Abeba have been probably bigger, but in Eritrea they were far more "visible" and they were always reprisals. Italians are emotional people, with a very, very strong sense of family. The Italian factory owners lost workers they had since years, the Italian housewives had cooks and maids that came to work weeping for a lost child or husband or father. The Italian doctors in the hospital had to operate during long hours on Eritreans young and old, maimed by Ethiopian soldiers who, sometimes badly beaten in the countryside by the Eritrean fighters, took revenge in the the streets of Asmara shooting the passerby for no tangible reason. All this had an enormous impact on the Italians, making them strong allies of the Eritreans. From this came the steady help that secretly flew from the hospitals to the fields, the hiding of young Eritreans in Italian houses, the open doors policy of the Catholic and non Catholic Churches and Convents during the tremendous days of Ethiopian revenges.
Fourth reason: the Italians were proud of their participation in the Eritrean economy and the prosperity it brought to everyone, because Italians were deeply involved in the industry and agriculture. In those days, just before Menghistu sized power, Eritrea was strongly exporting 12 months a year fresh vegetables and fruits to Italy, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, the Gulf Emirates. Since years Eritrea was also exporting canned meat, egg yolk, oil seeds, beans, beer, wine, tropical fish, hides, printed materials etc.. All products of hundreds of small industries, many run by Italians. All this vanished in days, for the absurd policy of universal nationalizations practiced by Menghistu (suddenly converted to Communism), soon forcing all industries and farms to shut down for lack of management, killing tens of thousands of well paid jobs in the industry and agriculture.
Fifth reason: Italians, particularly the ones grown in Eritrea, had a good economic standing, or at least stability. They didn't want to lose all that, but it was all taken away by the nationalization. The perspective of a free Eritrea was a hope of salvaging a lifetime of dedication to the economy of Eritrea. The attitude of the Italian community in in Addis Abeba was practically the same as it was in Asmara.
Issayas: It was through Dr. Mario Daolio's (an Italian physician who lived in Asmara) contact that you were able to meet up with the EPLF. You acknowledge Dr. Mario for letting you use his real name in the book. Where is he now? When did he leave Eritrea and has he been back to Eritrea since its independence?
Emilio: Dr. Mario Daolio lives in Italy, near Venice. He was informed, as 99% of the people I mentioned in the book, of my intention of telling the story of his generous help to me. I don't know when he went to Italy. As far as I know, he never returned to Asmara.
Next, the conversation continues.