And Yet It is Round!

  • 2016-01-07
  • Public Seminar

Untimely thoughts on Europe, Migration, and the State

As I do every year, I have spent most of this summer on the Italian coast, in the region around the Gulf of Poets. This summer, as soon as I put my head underwater, I am struck by the beauty of the sea: the water is so blue that, at times, it turns violet; there are fish everywhere, sea urchins, sea stars, and seaweeds of such amazing sparkling colors as I have never seen in the region. People around me speak of a “tropicalization of the Mediterranean.”

But I have also never seen so many African immigrants and so much systemic racism in that region: most of the time, the locals simply ignore the immigrant presence, and, when they do not, they address them with the colloquial tu – which, in Italian, you would use only with kids; never with an adult you did not know. This is just one among the many ways of underscoring that they are perceived as belonging to an inferior type: the eternal infancy of those who are considered less than human. People call this “the Africanization of our country.” For more than a month, I swim during the day and talk to people at night, and I wonder why the diversity that they celebrate under the water has to become the ugliness they despise outside of it.

At the same time, the news constantly reminds us of the so-called “emergenza migranti” (migrant emergency). As happens every summer, when quick rubber-boat rides become easier to access, migration from the North African coast intensifies; the symbol of this phenomenon has become Lampedusa, a Sicilian island once famous for its beauty and now for its always too small and contested immigrant detention center. Today, Lampedusa is multiplying in Europe, as similar problems are being faced in other places along its borders — Ventimiglia, Calais, Kos — not to mention the Hungarian border, where 21 million euros are currently being spent on the construction of a yet another wall, this time to block migration from Serbia.