Italian linguist Tullio De Mauro once argued that “the destruction of language is the premise for any future destruction.”His words were quoted by Saul Meghnagi, coordinator of the UCEI Culture Committee, during the presentation of the project “Il significato delle parole” (“The meaning of words”) carried out by the UCEI with the contribution of the German Embassy to Italy. The project aims to offer “the precise definition” of four words to encourage “serious reflection in the analysis of complex events that need to be described in clear terms.” The terms chosen are “genocide”, “pogrom”, “apartheid” and “war crimes,” each one presented in a factsheet edited by Professor Marcello Flores of the University of Siena. The factsheets are available on the Scuola e Memoria website.
These are words that frequently appear in present discourse, often improperly used to refer to the situation in the Middle East. “However, the project is the result of several years of work,” Meghnagi remarked, highlighting the different steps of the work carried out with the coordination of Raffaella Di Castro and Odelia Liberanome. First, the training course “Prevenire il pregiudizio, educare alla convivenza” (“Preventing prejudice, teaching coexistence”), followed by further in-depth analyses on “Natura e genesi del pregiudizio” (“Nature and genesis of prejudice”) and “L’ebreo inventato” (“The made-up Jew”) on antisemitism. Knowing the meaning of words and using them correctly is essential “to avoid trivializations, preconceived line-ups, misinterpretation of facts, especially tragic ones linked to conflicts that need to be understood in their roots, evolution and possible overcoming,” emphasized Meghnagi. For this reason, as we get close to the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, “it seemed useful to provide a precise and unequivocal definition of the words that are often used to describe what happened, and to reflect on the present as well.”
Translated by Annadora Zuanel and revised by Martina Bandini, students from the Advanced School for Interpreters and Translators of the University of Trieste, trainees in the newsroom of the Union of the Italian Jewish Communities – Pagine Ebraiche.