Il 24 e 25 giugno si terrà a Strasburgo un workshop organizzato dall'artista Michelangelo Pistoletto, nell'ambito del programma Lovedifference promosso dalla sua Fondazione Cittadellarte e dalla fondazione francese Apollonia. Il titolo dell'iniziativa è "Intercultural Dialogue : utopias and situations" principalmente rivolto al Mediterraneo. Sono stato invitato a aprire la discussione con una relazione sugli aspetti politici e culturali del Mediterraneo, che trovate di seguito.
Mediterranean as paradigm or opportunity for
a post-modern and/or postcolonial policy?
Presentation at the Intercultural Dialogue : utopias and situations
Conference / debate - 25 - 26 June 2008 Strasbourg
When I was asked to join this debate on the European Cultural Parliament I first wondered whether an activist for environmental rights and social justice, and lately a member of the Italian Senate, was the right person.
Knowing the scope and intention of the people that have approached me, and their work and philosophy, Lovedifference, or “art for social change”, I was more than pleased and honored to accept this challenging offer.
Hence I thought I could try to share some considerations pertaining to my background, namely politics, without leaving aside cultural nuances. As a matter of fact, nowhere but in the Mediterreanean reclaiming a cultural space, or better a common space of different cultures, has a profound political meaning .
The Mediterranean is usually described as a frontier region. It might also be the opposite to the condition that we highlight and understand Europe’s missed opportunities.
In spite of its soft-power rhetoric based on sustainable development, promotion of democracy and human rights, and of cultural and interreligious dialogue, the European Union has not managed to advance its Mediterranean strategy in a way that could contribute to the improvement of the fundamental rights of the peoples on the other shores of the sea.
Nevertheless, many observers believe - and I agree with them - that the Euro-mediterranean region as a “meso-region” might represent an alternative space of dialogue, peace and multiethnic and pluricultural society. It goes without saying that such a vision is not based on the same assumptions of the political mainstream, that considers prosperity and justice as corollaries to the expansion of free market and free trade.
As a matter of fact the Barcelona Process has been proposed by Europe under the good intentions of supporting democratization , human rights, and sustainable development. with a view to create an area of peace and stability in the Mediterranean. However, this turned out to be a way to dissimulate the real agenda, notably that of creating a Mediterranean Free Trade Area by 2010, with the primary purpose of expanding Europe’s commercial interests.
The debate at the WTO and other trade fora shows how such an agenda may jeopardize genuine progress both social and environmental, and how liberalization of services and trade-related intellectual property right (IPR) regimes could endanger the capacity of producing culture at the grassroots level, undermining peoples’ cultural sovereignty. What the EU seemed to propose is to create a Mediterranean market for services, through the same logic that it wanted to impose to developing countries under the WTO, a logic that could affect the construction of a new public space for the advancement and promotion of commons, such as arts and culture by transforming them into market commodity.
Moreover, the shift from Euromediterranean partnership to the European Neighborhood Policy might well mean that Europe now does not consider the countries on the other shore of the Med as parts of a broader effort or a common vision, but rather as individual partners or counterparts to include or exclude according to its strategic, commercial, and security needs. The whole idea of a common political and economic space seems to have been gradually abandoned.
Broadly speaking, the dominant strategy of the EU has been that of substituting a geopolitical approach based on military might, proper of the United States with a geoeconomic approach based on free trade.
The situation does not seem to change when looking at more recent developments.
Sarkozy’s “Union Pour le Mediterranée“ project and the US-backed - and then aborted - concept of the Greater Middle East all respond to geostrategic and/or geopolitical purposes. In the case of the “Union pour le Mediterranée“ two seem to be the key purposes, one is that of maximizing the inclusion of human resources in the labor market (mostly contrasting illegal migration), and the other that of pursuing Europe’s energy security and expanding nuclear power in the Southern Mediterranean. The attainment of those two goals would, in Sarkozy’s mind, guarantee economic wealth and in turn weaken extremism, in a French version of a win-win, “gagne-gagne”. The point is that the game to play is much more complicated, and cannot be won or at least resolved only through the classical tools of geopolitics, or geostrategy.
To put it bluntly, this approach will not work, both for conceptual and political reasons. Conceptually it resembles a French “grandeur” revisited. Politically because the recent announcement of Lybia not to join Sarkozy’s proposal might represent a fatal blow to his grand plan, considering also the strong resistance of Germany, that would not like to see her position as a key European continental power bypassed in an area, the Mediterranean, where it plays no significant role.
Securitarian strategies have also been ridden with unsuccess, while turning the Mediterranean from an imaginary into a physical barrier for Fortress Europe. A fortress that has claimed as many as 10 thousands lives in the past 10 years. The lives of those migrants, economic and political refugees those that never made it to settle in, right across our backyard and for whom mobility is not a historical feature of Humankind or a key human right, but leads right to the end of their existence.
An important scholar and Mediterreanean intellectual, Croatian Pedrag Matvejevic once said “The Mediterranean is a status quo not a project”. Maybe this is because there has never been a deep understanding of what an Italian scholar and expert on Mediterranean history and politics, Pietro Barcellona, suggested: “Europe and the Mediterranean are genetically linked and need each other to provide a new thrust to concrete opportunities for union among peoples, reclaiming the authentic sense of politics”.
The “big question” therefore has to be asked on a different level.
The Mediterranean has traditionally been called Mare Nostrum, but who are we? How do we relate to its history, to its peoples, to its past and future?
What I would like to propose is to consider the Mediterranean as a “third space”, a concept dear to postcolonial scholars such as Homi Babha, where cultural interaction and hybridization can be the keystones of peaceful relations among peoples. Or better, the factors that can contribute to a true cosmopolitan citizenship, since I am convinced that projects such as the one we will be discussing today can provide a significant and innovative contribution to this major purpose.
The first real challenge would therefore be that of looking into Europe’s cultures, their colonial past and present, at how the Eurocentrical approach is permeating Europe’s politics towards its further South. If we do not “demistify” this assumption, no real cultural interaction based on mutual sharing, and common advancement can be possible.
Palestinian intellectual and postcolonial scholar Edward Said once said: “The Orient was almost a European invention, and had been since antiquity a place or romance, exotic beings, haunting memories and landscapes, remarkable experiences … The Orient is not only adjacent to Europe; it is also the place of Europe’s greatest and richest and oldest colonies, the source of its civilizations and languages, its cultural contestant, and one of its deepest and most recurring images of the Other. In addition, the Orient has helped to define Europe (or the West) as its contrasting image, idea, personality, experience. Yet none of this Orient is merely imaginative. The Orient is an integral part of European material civilization and culture.”
Postcolonialism tries to read history under the lens of the excluded, of the subaltern classes, it tries to turn the paradigm upside down. It suggests us to discover and unveal the Orient that is in us and the Europe that is in the other. Not only is this a cultural process but also a necessary assumption to build the bases for peaceful and just relations among peoples, namely of politics.
However, if we take the postcolonial approach as a fundamental tool to deconstruct and reconstruct the Mediterranean, if we analyze European policies in the Mediterranean under that lens, then we will then realize that talking about art for social change in the Mediterranean context, means confronting with those obstacles that hinder an authentic change, and promoting alternatives.
So, if the first task of a Mediterranean Cultural Parliament is to “postcolonialize” relations and cultural assumptions on both sides of the Mediterranean, the second would be that of turning the Mediterranean into a project, notably a common space for its peoples, based on mutual exchange and cross-fertilization of ideas.
In order to do so, European and Mediterranean cultural and artistic production need to look ahead, beyond the status quo, to project into the future, beyond cultivating past history.
Reading EU official documents on cultural dialogue and exchange, however, one can notice an insistence on intercultural dialogue as a means to pursue other goals, such as that of tackling the root causes of terrorism, among many. Linking all aspects of politics to security seems to be the growing trend nowadays, but should not condone for the scarce political will to target the root causes of the problems that such an approach aims at solving.
Eventually, intercultural dialogue seems to be a unilateral process, mostly anchored on what are the needs of Europe now, and not looking into the future. Or if you read the EuroMed cultural project for 2005-2010 you can notice that the first goal is that of preserving the cultural and artistic heritage. It is again a demostration of protecting the status quo not of creating a project.
The point here is not necessarily that of building a bridge between Europe and its neighbors, but to look deeply into how we are inextricably linked and parts of the same past and the same future. It goes without saying that a cultural project for the Mediterranean would be based on the re-elaboration of the concept of border and frontier into an immaterial place where hybridization and cultural and artistic metissage can flourish.
The political significance of such an exercise is well defined by French Philosopher Etienne Balibar
“In this sense the Southern Mediterranean is called to build together with Europe an interdependent whole, the cradle of new relations among “developed” and “developing” countries among cultures that are impregnated of monotheistic religious traditions. This whole will represent a privileged amplifier of European political action in global politics and a strong incentive for democratization in the Arab world. Moreover it represents a means to go beyond old patterns of opposition between East and West, that has been one of the main criteria to interpret the cultural history of Humankind”
I would to add another important element, both political and cultural, that relates more to a postmodern assumption rather than to postcolonialism. It is an issue related to the concept of State and sovereignty and how these two concepts have gradually changed in their practical implications.
Building peace and justice nowadays means also confronting ethnonationalism, a force that is strongly re-emerging in the Mediterranean - the case the ethnically-based state of Kosovo provides recent evidence. Kosovo is not a single issue, sinche I would also add the difficulty in prospecting a different solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, other than the usual formula of two states-two peoples, and namely Said’s proposal of a state for two peoples.
Ethnonationalism is a clear symptom and consequence of the crisis of a cultural and political reference model. The lack of success of the neoliberal model in providing wealth for all has pushed Mediterranean peoples into fear, suspicion, entrenchment in their ethnic and religious identities in the desperate attempt to reclaim an imaginary past to reinvent a possible future. Such a vacuum is hence filled by dynamics that may represent the end of culture and dialogue.
Let me now come to some concluding rermarks.
In my brief presentation I have tried to show how the proposal and project of an Intercultural Mediterranean Parliament can play a role that goes much beyond its specificity, to contribute to the production of a culture of peace, mutual understanding and cosmopolitan citizenship.
The Mediterranean can become Mare Nostrum only as the result of a genuine and equitable relationship between various actors, social, political and cultural and through the contamination of different experiences and discourses, of critical languages and those that aim at reconstructing some common sense.
Cultural production, support to new media, to participatory and grassroots visual and artistic production , the multiplication of networks and decentralized laboratories could represent the keystones of a renewed dialogue among younger generations.
In this sense the Intercultural Mediterranean Parliament can turn into a third space itself, where different social, political, cultural and artistic actors meet and interact.
And the idea of a Mediterranean Cultural Passport can also represent a challenge to the dominant model that allows for free circulation of goods, the marketization of ideas and cultural and artistic production, but not for the free movement of peoples, the fundamental human right to mobility.
However, I believe that, differently from the traditional concept of representative democracy, this Parliament should practice participatory democracy, playing around a paradox, that of representing those that have no representation, of those that produce culture and arts outside of official circles, of those that do it underground, in oblivion, risking their own lives. Or of those, be the migrants or second generation artists and intellectuals that embody in their same life the contradictions that the proposal we are discussing today aims at bringing to light, to propose some possible solutions.