Vittorio Sandalli, the Italian Ambassador to Indonesia, joined the Foreign Service in 1990 and has lived and worked in Zambia, Turkey, Mozambique, South Africa and Georgia before moving to Jakarta in November last year. Before that, he served in the Italian Air Force (1977-1990) and reached the rank of Captain (Air), with assignments in Rome and abroad.

How are you adapting to Indonesia and Jakarta so far?

It was a challenging and encouraging beginning for me because a few days before my arrival the Italian Head of State, Sergio Mattarella, visited Indonesia. But I cannot say that I had difficulties to adapt. Being head of mission here in Indonesia and in Jakarta in particular, you have to spend much time in the office, but also attend functions and maintain a good relationship with your contacts and different communities. So when you have to move around in Jakarta, the main problem you face here is the traffic, and you have to be accustomed to work in the car, to spend time on the phone, reading or writing emails while commuting. On the other hand, I noticed that there is a big effort from Indonesian authorities to improve the traffic situation in Jakarta. Besides, we have a similar problem in our own capital city in Rome. Other than that, I feel perfectly fine here in Indonesia and already had the chance to visit some other regions – not as many as I would like to but I hope I will have more opportunities in the future.

What are the most important aspects in the relationship between Indonesia and Italy?

Both countries are very committed to strengthen peace and stability at a global and regional level. We both share the same values and vision of international relations, not only on a bilateral level, but also in the framework of relations between Indonesia and the European Union and between Italy and ASEAN. What I would like to stress is that I noticed that we share a common goal – we have a mutual interest to mainly strengthen our economic and commercial relations. In fact, my mandate here is mainly focused on economic and commercial issues. My impression is that the potential to improve and to expand this form of cooperation is really huge.

Have you already seen progress? Would you say that there is a rising interest in terms of Italian investment in Indonesia?

Absolutely. In the last few months, I noticed that the attention to the Italian business sector has been increasing, and you have many Italian companies that intend to expand their activities in Indonesia, mainly in the sector of infrastructure and energy, particularly renewable energies. What is really encouraging is that the momentum of the economic between Italy and Indonesia is very favourable. Both the attention and the efforts are very high at the moment.

In terms of tourism, do you see a growing number of Italians travelling to Italy and vice versa?

The main destination of Italian tourists travelling to Indonesia is Bali. But what we would like to do is to expand the knowledge about Indonesia in Italy in terms of tourism, in order to diversify the potential destinations to visit in Indonesia. On the other hand, there are around 20.000 Indonesians every year who travel to Italy, mainly to visit the cultural sites in Venice, Florence, Rome and Milan. We share the same goal as Indonesia – we would like to introduce them to the many other touristic sites that can and should be visited in Italy. Thanks to the commitment of the Indonesian government, the middle class is tremendously growing, and so is the intention to go to  Europe and Italy.

What other cities or destinations in Italy would you recommend to visit?

Oh, when you talk about your own country, you are of course sentimentally linked to certain places, and there are so many I would recommend. The Dolomites, for example, or Turin, which was the cradle of the Italian industry, but it also has great cultural heritage, and the city has in the last few years discovered the potential of promoting itsels as a tourist and culture destination. Tuscany, generally, is the heart of small and medium historical towns full of arts, culture and beauty, wonderful landscapes and very rich cultural heritage. Then there is the region of Umbria, with the city of Assisi as the main destination for tourists. Assisi is a medieval city and the birthplace of Saint Francis, and Asssi regularly hosts an interreligious and interfaith dialogue. In fact, in September Italy hosted the 30th Anniversary of the interreligious dialogue which was attended by representatives of the Indonesia’s major religious organisations.The South of Italy is also a place I would recommend to visit, and there are many more, but I am going to stop here now, because otherwise I won’t find an end.

What will be your main responsibilities for the rest of the year and 2017?

It will be mainly to represent and to promote the social dimension of the Italian economy in terms of mutual benefits between our two countries. We can cooperate in many fields, but there are some sectors that are the priority of the Indonesian government and Italy can offer some high-level expertise. We spoke earlier about renewable energies, so what I would like to do is to present all the potential and the capabilities that Italy has in this particular field. There are many more, for instance, all forms of infrastructure, urban development and waste management. Other areas we can cooperate in is in health management, not only in terms of more advanced equipment but also regarding the public health system as Italy has one of the most advanced health systems in Europe. Then there is the whole sector of agriculture and fisheries. Italy has a territory that is not so different from Indonesia, mountainous and volcanic, so we can share our knowledge in that field, and also when it comes to fisheries – Italy is a maritime country, so we have some experience in terms of production, conservation and distribution. One of the main priorities of the Indonesian government is in fact to re-launch the country’s industrial capabilities, and in this field we are absolutely ready to share our expertise and knowledge. The common goal is to find solutions that have a mutual benefit. Our two economies are not in competition – they are complementary.

Do you have any personal goals for your time in Indonesia?

I wish I would have more time to get to know the Indonesian culture better and the very rich heritage of the country. I was very impressed by the fact that Indonesia still has very strong traditions and such diversity, while at the same time the young generation is so dynamic and vibrant. I don’t think it is so common in other countries, this capability to maintain traditional values and at the same time embrace intellectual innovation and change. This is something I would really like to explore further.

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge

Katrin Figge is a previous editor of NOW! Jakarta. An experienced writer and avid bookworm.