Mirko Tommassoni (Former Captain Regent of the Republic of San Marino)

08.11.2009 - Interview conducted by Max Marioni

Mirko Tommassoni was former Captain Regent, a position equivalent to head of state, of the Republic of San Marino, and is a member of the Grand and General Council - the small republicís parliament. He was the first ever person with a disability to rise to the post of head of state, and used his time in office to promote reforms aimed at ameliorating living conditions for disabled persons in San Marino, while championing the rights of persons with disability internationally.

At the Institute for Cultural Diplomacyís World Without Walls Congress held in Berlin in November 2009, Tommassoni gave a comprehensive speech on topics ranging from the impact of globalization to the history of the Republic of San Marino. He kindly agreed to give an interview to the CD-News team, where we learnt more about the fascinating history and customs of this small country and talked about cultural diplomacy in the world.†

Letís talk about San Marino, and about its foreign policy. What are the Republic of San Marinoís foreign policy guidelines? Does being a land-locked enclave completely surrounded by Italian territory represent an obstacle to a truly independent foreign policy?

Well, naturally being, so to speak, completely surrounded by the Italian Republicís territory we must entertain good relations towards our neighbour, as they always have been in the past. Actually the official declaration on good neighbourly relations dates back to 1939, so exactly this year we celebrate its 70th anniversary. Its natural, then, that we have a privileged relationship with Italy; but it is also true that we look elsewhere. We are in Europe and we want to look towards Europe. Actually, the political party I belong to has been preparing for some months a series of conferences and workshops specifically targeting the issues relating to the European Union. We are working on a specific project for future EU membership, which will be around 10 years in the making. My political party is drawing inspiration on this from a similar project, enacted by a party from the same ideological extraction as ours, i.e. from the centre-left, that is based in Andorra. The Andorran centre-left is also developing this project of EU membership for their country; actually they are even a bit further ahead of us. The debate on Europe is prompted by the introduction of all these new ďhighĒ rules coming from the international regulatory framework. We naturally look at that channel also as a source of income; either we manage to find a method that guarantees us some kind of survival otherwise we have to look at some sort of alternative project, an alternative development scheme. It is common opinion (in San Marino) that EU membership must be sought: maybe once there used to be more scepticism surrounding the idea, but now I think public opinion is more favourable.

And how long do you think it will take?††

I think that, since the European system is concentrating at the moment on giving itself new electoral rules, new structures and new rules on auto-determination, the application for membership of so-called minor countries is given less priority, as everything would have to be re-regulated from scratch. Various Eastern European countries have been given priority in seeking membership, including two currently on a ďwaiting listĒ - Croatia and Turkey, the latter one involving a rather important and cumbersome process. The entry of all these countries interested in joining the EU presupposes a higher workload for the negotiators and EU staff who would have to shift their focus from their current project of writing a global regulatory framework for the European continent. This is my impression, but I donít think Iím wrong in saying this. Because of all the above mentioned dynamics, I presume that we will achieve full membership status only in about 10 years; but we have to start now, if we want to be ready in 10 years.

The Republic of San Marino took an unusual stance among Western European countries during the Cold War, by not joining either bloc and professing itself a Ďnon-aligned countryí. What do you think were the reasons behind this?†

(This was done) to continue along the lines of what has become our identity. San Marino has always justified its existence as a state through an identity rooted in the ideas of peace, liberty and justice, the action of positioning itself as a non-belligerent actor which could always give aid to those in most need, regardless of ideology. Furthermore, this aspect is highlighted by many events in our history. Our approach of non-interference has surely not penalized us, but rather it has given us a certain prestige on the international stage. The objection to war is amongst the first concepts written in our constitution, the Charter of Rights and Fundamental principles dating back to 1974, upon which our entire normative framework is based. The first article in our constitution illustrates clearly our principle of non belligerence.

What does the Republic of San Marino do in terms of cultural diplomacy?

Well, I actually think that San Marino could do more. Nevertheless we have a wide network of bilateral relations: we have representations in many nations with esteemed and experienced diplomats. Although I think that, in the aftermath of what I have seen here, with many young people involved etc. Which I find is a very interesting project. I think this aspect could be strengthened in San Marino. This doesnít mean that there arenít any young people who get involved and become interns in our missions overseas, in New York or Vienna rather than in Strasbourg etc. But I was talking about this with Mark Donfried last night, that it would be nice to bring these kind of initiatives to San Marino, to spread knowledge in and about our small but interesting reality. Also because San Marino is trying to rebrand itself as a place where we can create a certain kind of approach to international issues based on dialogue, cultural exchange and comprehension, without prejudices and in total openness. A couple of years ago, San Marino chaired the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, and in relation to that we hosted in San Marino a Convention on intercultural and interreligious dialogue, with delegates present from the principal monotheistic religions. It would be very interesting to continue along this path and create a similar event, with the same structure, and through which this organization could become known in our small nation. It would be very interesting.

San Marino was founded during the Middle Ages, taking the government model of the Roman Republic as a blueprint, without changing much since. Donít you think the institutional structure of the Republic might be outdated for todayís challenges?

Personally I donít think so. For example, the regency is a collective organ: two rotating captain regents elected by the parliament for a six-month term. At the time (of the founding of the Republic) giving two people full powers for a period of six months had a certain logic behind it, today the powers of the Regents has been much reduced over time. Their mandate is limited to chairing parliamentary and government sessions and heading other organs. It is more representative than anything, but we wanted to maintain the tradition. (San Marino) is the only state in the world that follows the tradition of the Roman Consules. It also reinforces our separation of powers doctrine, as both of them can exercise veto power on legislation coming from parliament. If I donít agree with my colleague on something, I can use my veto power, so itís a form of guaranteeing the separation of powers. There are other institutional procedures we use which are unique to San Marino: in particular, Iíd like to mention the Arengo petitions. They are basically petitions which can be forwarded by any citizen during the six month tenure of the regency. For a period starting from the week after the Captain Regents are sworn into power, any citizen can present an Arengo petition. As long as it reflects a collective interest, the regency is obliged to discuss it during their joint six-month tenure, so† itís a way of forcing the government to take all issues into account. Itís an old procedure (it dates back to 1906), but I think itís a way to raise participation and political awareness, and to include civil society in the decision-making process. Itís a unique procedure that doesnít exist in any other part of the world.

You have been enthusiastic about the decision to award U.S President Barack Obama with the Nobel Peace prize, due to his efforts to creating a new climate of dialogue and trust. Do you think this new climate will now contribute substantially towards a de-escalation of tension and the achievement of peace round the world? Many have criticised the decision, often describing it as too premature. Wouldnít you agree with this assessment?

Yes, there is this big ongoing debate on the decision to award him with the Nobel peace prize, i.e. that Barack Obama still has to show any results. But I think the way he portrayed himself so far, especially during the campaign trail, is based on an approach marked by listening to different peopleís issues and by attention to dialogue, even on the national level, like the healthcare reform, an important reform that is aimed towards improving the standards of living of the most needy in society. But he was also active in foreign policy, trying to find a consensus towards total nuclear disarmament at a global level. I think this approach, first of all characterised by the decision to dialogue with any state, be it an enemy or harbouring terrorism, without creating walls, is what I consider to be a good omen, which makes me hope for positive results, and this is why I think this is justified and fair. Naturally there are other people who would deserve it for their effort and Iím convinced that they equally deserve (the Nobel Prize), but the decision to award him the Nobel peace prize is right, and it makes me hope for the future.

Mr. Tommassoni, thank you so much for your time.