By Masha TOMAK
The Day, Kiev, Tuesday, 25 September 2007
The Academic Board of Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University has awarded the title of Doctor Honoris Causa to Nicola Franco Balloni, director of the Italian Institute of Culture in Ukraine, for his many years of outstanding research and teaching as well as his personal contribution to the strengthening of cultural links between our two nations. The Day was one of the first to congratulate Dr. Balloni on this solemn occasion and ask him about the new cultural development projects that the Italian Institute of Culture is planning.
When did you start your activities in Ukraine and what are the priorities of your institute?
“I was appointed attache for culture, education, and research at the Italian Embassy in Ukraine in 1992. We organized Italian language courses, film shows, exhibits, and concerts. In 1998 the Italian Institute of Culture in Ukraine was founded as an official mission of the Foreign Ministry of Italy. This was done with the personal assistance of the then President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro, who was very surprised during his visit to Ukraine that such a large country did not have an Italian cultural center.
“Today, cultural relations between Ukraine and Italy are more dynamic than they were in the 1990s. Naturally, we also contributed to this. Other nations regard my country as the cradle of European civilization, the birthplace of the Renaissance, opera, and masterpieces of architecture and fine art. With due respect for the classics, we are also trying to promote contemporary Italy, including its fashion, design, cuisine, and cutting-edge technologies. As for our priorities, they are primarily the quality of the projects that we undertake. For example, thanks to our efforts, Kyiv was able to hear the legendary Paganini violin played by the prominent Ukrainian musician Bohodar Kotorovych. Ukrainians will soon be able to hear this rare instrument in Odesa, maybe during the post-restoration opening of the Opera House.
“Ukrainians and Italians are European peoples. We have so much in common, even our character and mentality. You know, sometimes it seems to me that Ukrainians and Italians were born of the same mother.”
In partnership with the Bohdan and Varvara Khanenko Museum of Arts, your institute held an exhibit of ancient Roman sculptures from Italian museums, entitled Pueritia/Childhood. What are the most high-profile projects that the institute has undertaken since its inception?
“The Khanenko Museum of Arts is one of our regular partners. We launch all kinds of joint projects every year. Kyivites will recall the interesting exhibits of Venetian glass and majolica (from the Renaissance to the present), and an Italian fashion show that presented designs by Versace, Ferre, Ferragamo, Valentino, and others.
“We are cooperating fruitfully with the National Opera of Ukraine. Since 2003 we have jointly staged such Italian and European operas as Turandot (2003), Gioconda (2004), Faust (2005), Manon Lescaut (2006), and Macbeth (2007). We also held the Ave Verdi Festival. Since the entire world is going to celebrate the 150th birth anniversary of Giacomo Puccini in 2008, we are planning to hold a Puccini festival. For the first time two years ago Kyiv welcomed the late tenor Luciano Pavarotti. It was at our invitation that the superb movie stars Sophia Loren and Gina Lollobrigida visited Ukraine. The outstanding film directors Mario Monicelli and Ettore Scola were guests of honor at the Molodist Film Festival. We are actively cooperating with the National Philharmonic of Ukraine, particularly on the project Golden Pages of Italian Music.
“Another very important sphere is book publishing. Together with the Institute of Literature (National Academy of Sciences of Ukraine) and Folio Publishers, we launched the Library of Italian Literature. Ten books of Italian classics in Ukrainian translation have already come out. Petrarch’s masterpiece Canzoniere, which has never been published before now in Ukrainian, will come out in October. New translations of Luigi Pirandello and Italo Calvino are also going to be published this year.”
You took part in organizing a conference and producing the book The Death of Earth: The Holodomor in Ukraine in 1932-1933. Why did you choose to support this project?
“The Holodomor is a major tragedy of the Ukrainian people, Europe, and the entire civilized world in the 20th century. The main thing is that it should always be remembered and be a lesson for everybody, so that no other holodomors (ethnic, cultural, linguistic, physical) will ever happen again.
“Working in Kyiv, I have always considered it my duty to Ukraine and my predecessors to publish in Ukrainian the documents gathered by Andrea Graziosi, professor of Naples and Harvard universities, which include eyewitness accounts by Italian diplomats who were working in Ukraine during the 1930s (for example, the Kharkiv consul’s letters to Italy’s fascist government, in which he described what was going on in Ukraine). The book Letters from Kharkiv will come out in November to mark the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor.”
How long have you been collaborating with Kyiv National Taras Shevchenko University?
“This university was the very first institution that I began to cooperate with when I arrived in Ukraine. Together with the rector at the time we introduced courses of Italian language. Italian had not been studied on a university level in Ukraine before this. I taught Italian language and literature at this university for many years, and now we have opened the Center of Italian Studies.”
What are some of the institute’s latest creative projects?
“There are many plans and they are quite ambitious. For example, we are applying for the Genoese fortress in Sudak to be recognized as a UNESCO world heritage site. The application procedure is complicated and requires a lot of documents. We are planning to restore the canvases of outstanding Italian painters now stored at the Khanenko Museum of Arts and Odesa’s Museum of Western Art.
“We will hold the Days of Italian Fashion in October. Residents of Kyiv who visit the exhibit ‘Half a Century of Italian Fashion — The History of Style: Made in Italy for Men and Women’ will see unique items that well-known designers created for such celebrities as Ava Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, Jacqueline Kennedy, Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale, and Pierce Brosnan. There will also be a gala show and a workshop on the history of Italian fashion. The guests of honor will be Guillermo Mariotto (creative director of the Gattinoni Fashion House) and Stefano Dominella (president of Alta Roma, a seasonal haute couture show in Rome).”
What is your opinion of current Ukrainian-Italian relations? What do you think should be corrected here?
“The cultural links between our countries are on a high level. I would like there to be less red tape and more funding from both state- run and private businesses. Tobacco and liquor companies frequently offer their cooperation, but I do not think it’s a good idea to advertise their products because this is unethical in my view. I am calling on art patrons and sponsors to help culture because you cannot achieve much with sheer enthusiasm.
“Ukraine should position itself more actively in the world. Unfortunately, Ukrainian culture and art are not as popular as they deserve to be. Ukraine has a colossal cultural potential.”