by Becky Luff, council member of WFM-IGP, representing the UK-based Federal Union
Every September, young federalists gather on the idyllic Italian island of Ventotene. Situated 25 miles off the Western coast of Italy, between Rome and Naples, and home to about 700 people, Ventotene plays a significant part in the history of the transnational federalist movement.
On the nearby island of Santa Stefano, 700 opponents of Mussolini were exiled between 1939 and 1943. One of these prisoners was Italian communist Altiero Spinelli, who during his imprisonment wrote the “Ventotene Manifesto” in which he outlined his vision for a federal Europe and inspired federalist movements across Europe and the world.
Following a suggestion by Altiero Spinelli himself, what became the “Altiero Spinelli” Institute of Federalist Studies began organizing annual youth seminars on the island in 1982. The seminar took two forms – an Italian seminar and an International seminar for participants from across Europe. In recent years, participants from outside of Europe have also been invited to participate.
This year, for the first year, with generous donations from the Workable World Trust and World Federalist Movement, there was an inaugural “Towards World Federalism” preseminar for participants attending the Ventotene seminar from outside of Europe.
Organized in association with One World – an Israeli global democracy and justice organisation – the aims of the seminar were to bring together non-European participants to get to know each other, and learn about the ideas of world federalism, before joining the Young European Federalist (JEF) participants for the main seminar on Ventotene. Enormous thanks must go to One World’s Directors Dena Freeman and Oded Gilad for their work in proposing, organising and running the inaugural pre-seminar.
The pre-seminar took place in a beautiful Italian villa on the outskirts of Formia (the location of the port for the boat to Ventotene). With only a day and a half for the seminar, we had a packed programme to get through. Topics included introductions to world federalism and international institutions, with focused discussions on climate change, inequality and economic justice. As well as exploring existing institutions, we
also discussed arguments for reform, as outlined in Joe Schwartzberg’s book “Transforming the United Nations System.”
With participants from India, Argentina, Ecuador, Israel, Canada, the US and Italy – one of the highlights of the seminar was to meet and share experiences of living in different places, and to bring fresh perspectives to the ideas of world federalism and global democracy. Following the intense day and a half of the pre-seminar, together we travelled to Formia to join the European participants on the boat to Ventotene.
As mentioned, the Ventotene seminar has been held for over 30 years, with the aim of gathering young federalists to think and discuss federalist ideas and proposals through lectures and working group discussions. The working group discussions were the highlight for myself and many of the world participants, as they provided the opportunities to respond to the ideas outlined in the lectures, and to learn what
federalism means to people from different political and cultural backgrounds. In a somewhat less formal approach, the customary International Night – where each participant presents food, drink and
performance from their home – also offered a delicious and entertaining cultural exchange.
Anyone who has been to Ventotene will know of the unique charm of the island. It is breathtakingly beautiful, and the local residents are incredibly friendly (especially given the invasion of 100+ young people
continuing their enjoyment of the island well into the early hours each night). This year the friendliness of the local residents was exemplified by the organization of a dinner in the town square on the final evening of the seminar for the whole island and its visitors, followed by fireworks and dancing (complete with a giant conga line led by a delighted Nonna). It was one of those exceptional events that will remain in the memories of all those who had the fortune to attend.
For many members of JEF – the Young European Federalists – the Ventotene seminar is a formative event. Tales of the beauty, friendships, and inspirational discussions are passed down the generations of activists. For world federalists, we have a lot to learn from the European federalist movement, both in terms of organising and policy development.
For European federalists, voices from outside Europe can be important in widening and challenging their perspectives. The Ventotene seminar provides such an opportunity, and should be treasured for the unique experience it offers its lucky participants.