We are all Mediterranean, a history of identity and stereotypes

In 2009 the Italian general public discovered, almost suddenly, that it was considered by other members of the European Union as a state in perpetual crisis, unable to comply with the agreements and economically inefficient. no a Partner alike, but a ballast to get rid of it, as evidenced by the tone of many articles of the time. In this sentence Italy was not alone, but accompanied by other countries: Greece, Spain and Portugal, called together with the acronyms PORCIS. If we add its institutional difficulties and the subsequent explosion of the migration crisis that destabilized the entire EU, deteriorating its fundamental constructions (with the partial suspension of one of its foundations, free movement), it is not surprising then than Southern Europe and the Mediterranean. they are considered the epicenter of the problem, if not the main and perhaps the only cause of European difficulties. However, this is not a de facto truth, but an ideological one that creates an ethical and moral contrast between two realities perceived as really different: a reliable, productive and orderly continental Europe, and a chaotic, unproductive and, it goes without sayingabsolutely unreliable.

The PIGS label itself is not neutral, but has a clear negative and discriminatory value towards those countries, which have repeatedly responded to its use. The choice of PIGS was not accidental or dictated solely for economic reasons. In fact, by identifying the soft belly of Europe with the southern states (all with obvious difficulties but not necessarily more severe than some Central European countries), intended to highlight its diversity of the rest -virtuous- of the Union. Southern countries were told how pigs, that is, morally reprehensible, voluntary and aware of the economic crisis for its typically Mediterranean unreliability. But what is the Mediterranean identity and how is it defined? And then, when did this geographical area become synonymous with underdevelopment, economic fragility and insolvency, that is, a problem? Were they the financial and migration crises, or did they just highlight an already existing narrative?

How big is the sea

To answer, one must ask what is, geographically and ideally, the Mediterranean, to understand what is meant by Mediterranean civilization, if it is correct to talk about it and, ultimately, what characterizes it. First, precisely defining the borders of the Mediterranean area is not as simple as it might seem. If for many this should be limited to the countries that geographically overlook it, and not all, since, for example, France often refuses to be among the Mediterranean countries, the French historian Braudel speaks instead of Magnified Mediterranean, an area much wider than the marine basin, and which includes all the land “where the olive and pine grow.” Empirical definition, but clear enough, which has the merit of locating within the Mediterranean lands such as Portugal, Atlantic Morocco, but also the Middle East and the coasts of the Red and Black Sea, all deeply interconnected with the Mediterranean. And in the 1930s, the captain of the ship Francesco Bertonelli did the same, which theorized a Enlarged Mediterranean, whose strategic-commercial borders range from the Gulf of Guinea to the west, from the Black Sea to the north, from the northern coasts of Madagascar to the Persian Gulf to the southeast.

It is clear, then, that the Mediterranean area cannot be limited either historically or geographically to the lands bordering the Great Sea, but also includes those similar neighboring regions that project their center of gravity, which recognize and recognize the Mediterranean. fundamental in the political-administrative development and as a privileged economic resource. After all, it is one of the seas with the most fish, inhabited by 7.5% of the world’s marine species. Its centrality, however, is not dateda only because of the mild climate or the fishing of its waters, but for another factor, perhaps the most important: the ease of navigation that characterizes it for much of the year, in fact, has made it more than a border. , an extraordinary vector of communication, on which peoples, ideas, religions, knowledge and riches have traveled uninterruptedly for centuries. And it is precisely thinking about the Mediterranean and the effervescence of its exchanges that Bakunin will theorize the distance to the sea as the main cause of the cultural stagnation of a people.

A sea of ​​cities

Starting from Egypt and the Middle East, a network of civilizations that compete and mix with each other in an almost infinite cycle is born and flourishes on the shores of the Great Sea. Different in language and religion, however, they tend to share many common aspects, namely, organization in the city. However, care must be taken when talking about cities in the ancient world, because they are not just housing settlements, such as villages, but places of social aggregation where political and administrative power is exercised, but also symbolic and sacred about the surrounding territory. . For almost all Mediterranean peoples, from Mesopotamia to Rome, city ​​and civilization were absolutely synonymous. Those who did not conform to this worldview were perceived as outsiders, and more often as primitives and barbarians. And these cities existed and could exist because they were connected to each other through the sea and inland through the network of rivers, a dense network of relationships that kept them connected. In fact, it is no coincidence that cities are shrinking as we move away from the coasts, away from the rivers that flow into the Mediterranean, until they disappear completely. Nor is it a coincidence that most cities continental ancient ones will appear only by Roman will, always as administrative centers of the new conquests, connected with the sea through a new communication network: the roads. It is through this artery of roads and waterways that following the diaspora the Jewish people will settle in all the lands known at the time, as it will always be thanks to these guidelines that Rome will adopt the Greek Hellenistic culture and later , Christianity will spread.

The birth of Europe

The implosion of the Western Roman Empire due to the barbarian invasions of the 5th century, however, this structure will change, at least with regard to Western Europe: if in fact in the eastern Mediterranean the network of cultural and economic exchanges is not interrupted, in fact it seems that flourishes again after the Arab Invasions of the VII-VIII century, the West undergoes a process of deep ruralization. The civilization of the city imported from Rome to much of the continent would be drastically withdrawn, with the partial exception of Italy, thus pushing it inexorably to the periphery of the civilized world, at this time still centered in the enlarged Mediterranean. However, it is precisely in this time of marginalization where the idea of a continental European identityshared, albeit with all differences, to all the peoples of the continent and the first nucleus of which, which has been identified by many as the true heart European, is recognizable in the empire of Charlemagne: France, Germany and central-northern Italy. Although these two identities oppose each other in some way, many geographical areas — such as southern France, Spain, or northern Italy — will feel (and will be perceived by others) now more like one, now in the ‘other. .

This new identity continental it is the basis of what we today improperly call West, but at this time he still has no judgment of merit. For the next eight to nine centuries, the Mediterranean will always be the ideal heart of civilization: it is where the most prosperous empires and the richest cities are located, it is where the main economic and cultural exchanges take place. The rest of the continent benefits from it when it manages to fit into this intense traffic system, and Italian cities are immeasurably enriched by hingeing between these two worlds. But from the sixteenth century the situation changed. The rise of Ottoman hegemony and the expansion of the Protestant Reformation reinforced the sense of Detachment and Central European diversity Towards the Mediterranean: Christian Vs. Muslim world, Mediterranean Catholics vs. Protestants. If we also add to this the progressive displacement of the center of economic and political gravity towards the Atlantic Ocean as a result of the great geographical discoveries, it is easy to see how from the cradle of civilization the Mediterranean is slowly perceived as a borderas the periphery of the “civilized world.”

If still in 1610 Maria de Medici, newly crowned queen of France, can complain about the royal palace of the Louvresaying that he would not let us live or his servants, a century later the relationship turned completely upside down, the Mediterranean is no longer the cradle of civilization, but an underdeveloped area, the countries of the South are decadent, often chaotic and dirty, as many travelers of the 1700s and 1800s will notice several times, especially with the advent of industrialization. Stereotypes about the inhabitants are asserted: intelligent, lovers of the good life, irascible, passionate, proud, characteristics that, at first glance, would seem neutral, but that actually express a judgment of superiority towards them: the civilized man is strict, phlegmatic as the English of the time would say, that is to say, able to filter his instinctive part through his own reason, consequently the Mediterraneanwho cannot do so, are primitive, half-men, unreliable because they are unreasonable, and who live among the glorious Greek and Roman ruins without understanding them, without being able to inherit them, given that civilization, technology, wealth. and progress I am now in the North.

From stereotype to racist formulation the passage is then short, and in fact in the nineteenth century thinkers like Ripley and Gobineau they theorized the Mediterranean race as inferior, precisely because of its character of mixture and continuous exchange favored by the navigability of the Great Sea. This is an ideology that then supported, encouraged and justified colonialism – especially French – in North Africa. Although the opening of the Suez Canal has relocated the Mediterranean as one of the main vectors of economic exchange, its perception still today does not differ much from the peripheral image of Western civilization acquired in the eighteenth century. Indeed, the assertion in the last 30 years of the doctrine of Great Middle East promoted by the US and NATO, which in antagonism to the so-called Islamic terrorist radicalism recognizes a single area of ​​intervention ranging from Morocco to Central Asia, has only increased the idea that the Mediterranean area it was a border, not a shopping area. Nor did the European Union succeed in intervening until after it had pushed the Euro-Mediterranean partnership and ten years after theUnion for the Mediterranean by French impulse (originally intended to lead to the creation of a common market and the stability of the region), he basically washed his hands, preferring to turn his attention to the east of the continent.

[di Jacopo Marcello Del Majno]

Leave a Comment