A date with history: The Bologna Summit:  Part 1

By Petros Tesfagiorgis

The history of Eritrean struggle and its populist nature:

The Bologna Summit 2013 is in recognition and appreciation of the enormous contribution the Eritrean Diaspora made to the struggle for independence. By implication, and by the same token, it recognizes the incredible sacrifices the civilians in Asmara and other parts of Eritrea made.  – (They were responsible for smuggling sugar, floor, medicines and other basic needs to ELF and EPLF – as well as passing valuable information of enemy activities ). Hundreds were caught in the process and got shot or kept in prison for years. The notorious torture chamber of Miriam Gimbi prison is the most talked about. The work under the nose of the enemy is life threatening and risky that  the activists have to organise in a group of not more than 7 people in order  to minimize capture as they carry out the amazing jobs.  After independence the freed prisoners were refused to form an association and they are robbed the opportunity to tell and celebrate their own history. by PFDJ

All these civilian   activities rendered the Eritrean Struggle populist. And it is defined as such as reflected in the books of historians, sociologists, journalists, politicians, film makers, researchers etc. Its dynamics captured properly could be an inspiration to the young generation facing today’s formidable challenge presented to the people of Eritrea by PFDJ. To day’s opposition are fragmented and disunited
On behalf of the fighting generation and myself I thank EYCS for calling a date with history in Bologna making the work of the Diaspora during the long years of struggle visible at the time when the Eritrean struggle is undermined and the heroic work of men and women, the civilians, trivialized by some arm chair revolutionary writers from their comfort zone in the West.

The Bologna Congress/Festival

Ex-Ambassador of the Government of Eritrea to the United Kingdom and Ireland and a graduate from the Soviet Union, Mr. Afeworki Abraha   has this to say, "The initiators of congresses in Europe were Eritreans students mostly from the Soviet Union and Germany.”  There was also a significant input from Eritreans in Italy. One of them was a successful business man Tewolde Vacaro who played an important role in the   attempt to rehabilitate the shattered economy and society of Eritrea after independence.

Afeworki who himself was participant in those years said “The first congress took place in 1970 in Munich –"West Germany. After that the congress was held in different cities such as Nuremberg in 1971, Munich 1972, Pavia – Italy 1973, Bologna 1974. 1972 was very significant because the congress adopted the name “Eritrean for Liberation in Europe (EFLE). Similar to that “Eritreans for Liberation in North America” was formed in America.   In 1975 it was again Bologna where it is going to be the permanent venue.  In that moment in time the EPLF representatives from the field on one hand and Osman Saleh Sabbe, the ingenious fund raiser, and head of foreign relations of the EPLF on the other came to the meeting to win the hearts and minds of Eritreans. Saleh Sabe wanted them to be part of EPLF so that he can work closely with them but EPLF field wanted them to carry on as independent patriotic movement. The ageing Aboy Woldeab Woldemariam the great patriot was also there. Eventually when Sabe got split from the EPLF the mass association became conspiratorially part of it. Soon enough the EPLF undermined the congress by replacing it by festivals and fun fare.  Since then it was called the “Bologna” festival.

In spite of that the Eritrean for liberation in Europe played a pivotal role in promoting and supporting the just cause of the Eritrean struggle.

Right from its inception the objective of Bologna Congress was to build a strong revolutionary organisation as a vehicle to win political and material support from the international community and provide essential man power and funds to the EPLF.  The annual congresses were meant to asses and evaluate achievements and shortages and come out with a work plan and strategies to be put to practice. It was time also to elect leaders.

The achievements were remarkable as many political parties in Europe, Canada, and USA Australia rendered their support to the Eritrean struggle.  For example in 1981 the executive Committee of the English Labour party - the highest body of the party- passed a resolution to support the right of self-determination of Eritrea. This has taken place after many meetings between the labour party and the leaders of the mass association UK branch.

This resolution had opened the door to get substantial financial and material help worldwide particularly international NGOs like Oxfam. Christian Aid etc. War on Want was already supporting Eritrean Relief Association (ERA-UK) since 1979 and its General Secretary – Mary Dines - had visited Liberated Keren in 1977 before the strategic withdrawal when the Soviet Union involved on the side of the Ethiopian Military Dictatorship. (Photo:”Release Mandela March in London” in solidarity with the people of South Africa (Azania).  Its international obligation as part of the global movement against the right to self-determination of oppressed people, feudalism and colonialism)

The most outstanding feature of the then “Eritrean for Liberation in Europe is the case of Eastern Europe students on Scholarship. They go straight to the field when they finish their studies. Most but not all of the hospitals, garages, workshops and factories were headed by them. Many students from the Middle East, USA, and Ethiopia and from other places also joined the front and served as well.

In 1985 after his return from his visit in the field Prof. Abdurrahman Babu, the African leading statesman and ex-cabinet minster of Tanzania under President Julius Nyrere wrote an article in “Africa Event”   London based weekly journal.
titled “ Eritrea: its present is the  remote future of others”

I quote, “Where in Africa today would you see doctors, engineers, mechanics, and technicians all of world standards, inspired enough to flock back home enthusiastically from foreign universities and institutions of learning to serve their country –without pay.”

Bologna was Eritrea’s Cultural Pride and joy:  It is very significant in the history of Eritrea:

When I say the festival undermined the congress I don’t mean that it should not take place. Music of resistance, poetry and drama helps people to embrace a new kind of dedication and commitment based on the highest ideals of freedom, peace and respect for human rights. When all these values are expressed in melodious musical terms people can easily relate to then and internalize them as part of them.  The songs of Tewolde Reda, Yemane Baria, Alamin Abdel letif, Osman Abdelrihim, Abraham Afeworki, the spiritual song of Helen Berhane and the fascinating poem of the late Dr. Reesom Haile – with his popular poem “Alewuna, Alewana” are just few to mention. Through music people can experience a profound inspiration to fight against injustice. At the same time Bologna was the biggest rendezvous for dispersed Eritreans in Diaspora to meet with relatives, school mates, friends to discuss, to get to known each other, to dance, to enjoy laughing, and to have relations between men and women and end up in marriages and build happy families of their own.

To be continued on Part 2

Having said so, it was not all a success story “Eritreans for Liberation in Europe and in North America by surrendering their independence to EPLF had made a serious strategic mistake from which the new fighting generation have to learn from if they opt to build a democratic society in Eritrea.  The Bologna veterans as well as the National Union of Eritrean Students and Youth, the National Union of Eritrean Women and the Federation of Eritrean Trade Unions became powerless and voiceless as they watch helplessly when after independence President Isaias Afworki built unopposed a dictatorship empire.  In fact they were turned into instruments of repression for PFDJ.  It is a crippling legacy to the young generation as we witnessed their confidence to make change eroded beyond recognition as fear reigned.

Dr. Harnet Bokresion wrote an article titled, “National Self Belief and Bologna 2013”   at Asmarino.com dated August 20, 2013 to put to rest such trends.  Harenet emerged as a confident activist for democratic change along with her generations riding a wave of hope, change and renewal from the ashes of dictatorship.  This is a piece from her article that tries to inculcate self-confidence among the youth. This is a factor that raises the low level of consciousness of the Eritrean people.

I quote “The critical feature that is anchored in “self-belief” is an internalized faith in your own abilities to reach your higher goal regardless of external circumstances. Once this positive energy is set into motion, once it spreads through a person, a group, a mass of people ... or through a nation... unbelievable inner strength and resources are unlocked turning hopeless and depressing situation into stories of triumph.”