In the months following his election in 2007, president of France Nicolas Sarkozy is well busy pushing towards the implementation of one of the proposals that defined his electoral campaign: the Mediterranean Union. Although advertised as a new project, free from the dooms of the dormant Barcelona Process, Sarkozy’s dream of a France-led union of the Mediterranean will eventually have to converge within partnership plans already initiated by the EU in the region. Following a year of tense internal negotiation between European nations, the Barcelona Process: Union for the Mediterranean is finally launched in Paris on the 13th of July 2008. The Europe-conceived project sees the participation of representatives from 43 nations, all of the EU member states along with the non-European countries neighbouring the Mediterranean Sea. The strongest opponent to the project is Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi, who reads it as an attempt by European powers to undermine Arab and African countries’ unity and independence. The first rotating co-presidency of the UfM is held by Sarkozy with yet-to-be-overthrown president of Egypt Hosni Mubarak.

 

Whilst still defending the Mediterranean Union’s original project, Sarkozy embarks in a promotion tour that touches some of the countries he plans to engage in his vision. In the Moroccan city of Tangier, the president of France delivers a speech in which he underlines not only the socio-political and economical motivations of his unifying endeavour, but also the intrinsic sentiment and, one would say, moral verve.  He states:

 

‘I wanted to issue to all the Mediterranean peoples the urgent, solemn appeal to unite around the finest and greatest of human ideals (…) It is Mediterraneans who will decide whether or not the civilizations and religions will wage the most terrible of wars. Mediterraneans who will decide whether or not the North and South are going to clash, Mediterraneans who will decide whether or not terrorism and fundamentalism will succeed in imposing on the world their violence and intolerance. It’s here that everything will be won or everything lost. (…) By turning its back on the Mediterranean, Europe would cut itself off not only from its intellectual, moral and spiritual sources, but also from its future’ [1].

 

This call to fellow Mediterranean compatriots takes on an even more emphatic tone in a following passage, in which the French politician gives a more precise name to his geopolitical aspirations, referring to the Mediterranean Union as ‘linchpin of Eurafrica, the great dream capable of enthusing the world’.

 

Thirteen years on, in a post Arab Spring world, in a post 3rd of October 2013 [2] Europe, Sarkozy’s speech still can inspire some reflection, as it seems to contain the full glossary of contemporary cultural Mediterraneanism, in its apparatus of approximations, essentialist beliefs and adjusted symmetries. All directly or indirectly serving the European hegemonic project, which continues renewing itself in post-colonial times.  Sarkozy’s Mediterranean is not a mappable territory, but rather a sense-space in which the construction of identitarian affects have to take place, in order for them to serve political scopes. This Mediterranean, not a sea nor a collection of lands, but rather an accumulation of suggested characteristics, is what Edward W. Said would call an imagined geography. The French politician adopts a fabricated imagination of the Mediterranean to force a political vision –which responds to the particular interests of one nation-state– into an over-historical, almost eschatological, frame of thought. The Mediterranean Union is the road to Eurafrican Promised Land. Mediterranean is here the invention of fictional/functional commonality –which would allow for smoother domination of one among many, as primus inter pares (a first among equals). Indeed, although some sort of unity in diversity is recurrently praised as one of the Mediterranean’s central characteristics also in non-European latitudes, the genesis of such utterance is unequivocally directional, as it responds to North to South perspectives and departs from a sharply possessive standpoint. In other words, a discourse about Mediterranean natural multiplicity is often times, if not always, the result of a Euro-Mediterranean internal conversation. Thus, a Frenchman like Sarkozy can feel fully confident in using the inclusive/exclusive plural ‘Mediterraneans’, sure of the fact that he will be amongst those deciding whom and where shall participate in this polyvalent adjectivation. Mediterraneaness, as a form of supplementary identity, is then a condition that is not naturally acquired but rather conceded, according to the unwritten rules of a ‘hierarchically ordered inclusivity’ [3].

 

Sarkozy’s imagination of the Mediterranean follows a long tradition in European colonial and imperial history, and it sits among many contemporary representations of possessive projections on the middle sea. Surely, when in 2013 Italy instituted the humanitarian and military operations for the patrolling of southern Mediterranean with the highly evocative name of Operation Mare Nostrum (mare nostrum being our sea, in Latin), the significance of the terminology was not overlooked. The claim of possession of the sea was also a rhetoric expedient employed by Benito Mussolini in his imperial campaign, the resurgence of the ancient Rome name Mare Nostrum providing a ready-to-go naturalised metaphor of imperial geographical destiny [4]. But the appropriation of the Mediterranean is fully structural to the original identity building of the Italian nation too. In fact, throughout the late 19th- and early 20th- century, nationalist scientists like palaeoethnologist Luigi Pigorini and anthropologist Giuseppe Sergi set the basis of a meticulous work of archaeolisation of italianness – able to link the new-born country to ancient splendours, whilst uniting its people in a fantasy of ethnic homogeneity. Europe as well, in the same years, constructed a feeble sense of over-national identification, by looking at the Mediterranean as borderland covering the double function of cradle of (western) civilisation and closest space where the encounter with the other would take place. The fabrication of Mediterranean cohesion, in cultural Mediterraneanism, allows for the European continent to defend a form of immutable, shared destiny. Furthermore, the convergence of syncretic longing and identitarian othering creates the conditions for Mediterranean to turn into an exclusively European category, this enhancing the marginalisation of the foreign experiences of the racialised bodies inhabiting Euro-Mediterranean spaces. In the words of scholar Camilla Hawthorne, whose work takes in consideration the specific case of Italy: ‘appeals to a sort of universal, transcendental hybridity have as their main consequence the preclusion of Blackness’ [5].

 

In his Tangier speech, Sarkozy is generous enough to spell out a title for the future/destiny of Europe: Eurafrica. Accessing artist and researcher Alessandra Ferrini’s contribution to EXN Journal - On Black Mediterranean, Vital Space, you will get a detailed excursus on the history of Eurafrican desire, from its original colonial reasoning up to the latest neo-colonial manifestations. Despite the most recent dialectic on the topic, Eurafrica remains an exploitative geo-political project, whose full extent of complexity would be impossible to tackle here. But I could still use the link provided by this last macro-geographical fantasy, to try and address the question underlining this short text. How to approach the Mediterranean, as a panorama of epistemological and political possibilities, beyond the pitfalls of Eurocentric Mediterraneanism? I believe some possibilities are to be found in the Black Mediterranean frame of enquiry.

 

The term Black Mediterranean is  first employed by Italian scholar Alessandra Di Maio in her analysis of migration routes linking Africa to Europe [6], and further explored in works by researchers discussing conditions of Blackness and Afroeuropeaness in Euro-Mediterranean countries, particularly in Italy. If this adaptation of the oceanic condition described by Paul Gilroy in his writings on Black Atlantic initially operates on a more metaphorical plane, the later studies dealing with Black Mediterranean objects punctually address questions of identitarian codification, socio-political positioning, systemic racism and persistence of colonial thinking in the institutions of the Euro-Mediterranean state(s). Black Mediterranean thinking is already facilitating the emergence of counter-hegemonic discourses, which depart from a historically active scrutiny of socio-identitarian and geo-political constructs. And this could eventually remodel the Mediterranean paradigm as such: from imagined to imaginative geography. Indeed, Eurafrica/Afroeurope still could foster different outcomes if, rather than as a Eurocentric geographical project, we would read it as a landscape of diasporic experiences and knowledges. The Black Mediterranean, as both arena of analysis and theoretical framework, could provide the terrain for such onto-epistemological alternatives to flourish and endure.

MEDITERRANEAN

     IMAGINARIES

                         

                          BY CHIARA CARTUCCIA

[1] For more excerpts from the speech click here 

[2] This being the date of the 2013 Lampedusa shipwreck, which recorded a death toll of more than 360.

[3] Petri, R., “The Mediterranean Metaphor in Early Geopolitical Writings” in History, Volume 100, Issue 348 (2016) p. 688

[4] Fogu, C., “From Mare Nostrum to Mare Aliorum: Mediterranean Theory and Mediterraneism in Contemporary Italian Thought” in California Italian Studies, 1(1) (2010) p. 6

[5] Hawthorne, C., “In Search of Black Italia: Notes on Race, Belonging, and Activism in the Black Mediterranean” in Transition, Issue 123 (2017) p. 165

[6] Di Maio, A., “Il mediterraneo nero. Rotte dei migranti nel millennio globale.” [The black Mediterranean: migrant

routes in the global millennium] in La Città Cosmopolita, edited by Giulia de Spuches. Palumbo Editore, 2012, pp. 143-163