If we are to speak of the Lampedusa tragedy, there is little to add to the hypocritical laments of the European authorities and the just denunciations of activists, organisations and immigrants. Years ago, the Costa Rican theologian of German descent, Franz Hinkelammert, summed up in two words the routine and abundant dead bodies harvested in the seas and deserts at the borders of the West: “structural genocide”.
This idea of “structural genocide” of course implies an accusation: the structures do not impose themselves on their own but need political decisions to keep them going, political decisions that could eventually also deactivate them. When a structure is incompatible at its core with the Declaration of Human Rights and the most basic human dignity, the decisions taken to keep them going acquire a necessarily grisly aura, an air of festive infantile cruelty, the form of a big nihilist yawn. I suppose that Barroso and Letta would not have liked being received in Lampedusa to the shout of “killers”. They do not feel they are “killers” and the pile of accumulated bodies at their feet probably produces in them sincere feelings of horror. But they have to swallow the insults and remorse and respond in a responsible manner to their commitment with the “structure”, which in some ways also depends on the votes of their electors.
It is certain that the measures taken by the European Union and the Italian government make our governments a sort of imaginative designers of children’s competitions, or better, frenetic television game shows. Increasing the budgets for the CIEs (immigrant detention centres), reinforcing surveillances in the Mediterranean and granting nationality to the dead, while pursuing the survivors, is in our interests and moreover is fun; it transforms the migration displacements in the most expensive game of risk in the world. Pay thousands of euros for signing up, O young adventure-seekers, and launch yourselves time and again in the sea, negotiating storms and patrols. If you touch land alive, we will send you back as in the game of Oca (the Game of the Goose) to the starting point; imprison you as in Oca or oblige you to forced secret work, as in Oca, subject to all kinds of abuse and insults. And can one not win? How does one win in this competition? Dying… If you die on our beaches, young adventure-seeker, a sweet mantle of universal pity will cover your body and you will also receive the grand prize, the dream finally fulfilled, the great ambition of your life finally satisfied: Italian nationality.
This macabre game is obviously about the “structure”. It is about, as Eduardo Romero says citing Marx, our “impassioned wish to cheapest and servile work” – a “slave driver” choice – and our scant respect of the frontiers of others: economic intervention in plundered nations, agreements with dictators and physical violations of national sovereignty. A good number of the Lampedusa victims, for example, were from Somalia, in the waters of which our European boats deposit contaminated garbage and rob tuna for our tables. We must not forget that while tens of Somalis drowned on the Italian coast, a Spanish tribunal tried some of these former fishermen of this former African nation for “piracy”.
But this idea of rewarding the dead with posthumous nationality – while punishing the living for having survived – entails a declaration of war and a racist confusion. These young adventure-seekers who believe in the freedom of movement and in the right to a better life are being told that they will only be accepted and integrated in Europe once they are dead, as bodies swollen with water, and only if they die in public view and in sufficient numbers so that they cannot be hidden under the carpet. We like you dead. Or paraphrasing an old saying: the only good immigrant, the only immigrant who can be assimilated is the dead immigrant.
At the same time, the prize of posthumous nationality is an act of racist propaganda that presupposes and induces the illusion that the Somalis, Eritreans and Syrians who capsized in Lampedusa want to be Italians. At a time when there are more Italians – and Spanish – who do not want to be Italians – or Spanish – and who abandon the pull of their country, the dead of Lampedusa, winners of this nihilist competition, light up a false desirable Italy (or Spain): tempting, rich and democratic to the kindness of which millions of people all over the world aspire.
It is a lie: they do not wish to be Italians (or Spanish). One of the journalists I most admire, the Italian Gabriele del Grande, has been for years counting and, above all, naming the victims of this “structural genocide”. Mamadou is going to die is the eloquent title of one of his books. Del Grande reminded us after the massacre of Lampedusa of some elementary data: the major part of the immigrants do not enter by sea; that many of them have tried to enter before legally; that many more leave than enter and that, in effect, the only way of stopping them is by killing them (at origin, on way or at destination). And depressing is the role of the media that treats them, the same as the politicians, as mere “objects” in a debate or an image, in a way that the “true protagonists”, the immigrants alive and the immigrants dead, do not have neither voice nor names and are not in the right. Del Grande, who has travelled and shared with them work and enjoyment, describes the insistence of so many Africans in crossing our frontiers as “the biggest civil disobedience movement against European laws” and considers that “if peace returns some day to the Mediterranean and there is free circulation, the dead of today will become the heroes of tomorrow and books will be written and films made about them and their heroism”.
They want to be neither Italians nor Spanish nor Greek. They maintain their affective links and culture with much pride, as the remittances sent back to the country of origin demonstrate (or the fact that the families save the money that would permit the youngest and bravest of their members to pay the local mafia and embark towards Europe). They do not want to be Italians, Spanish or Greek, though they would certainly like some of the rights that the Italians, Spanish and Greek are at the point of losing. They demand the right to come and go and the right to remain in their homes; to travel and not to travel; to work; to have adventures; to know other places; to love other people and their own people. They are not that different to us and, if at times they have a much more difficult life, they are also braver and more “entrepreneurial”, with more vitality, skill and less cynicism. There might me good reasons – economic and environmental – to limit the displacement but then it will have to start with goods and tourists: many more Europeans than Africans move around and at a much higher cost. And, in any case, the universal right to movement, that also implies the right not to move and the right to return, cannot be applied selectively with ethnic, racial or cultural criteria and even less imposed or prohibited by force.
Whatever the “structural” alibi, Europe will never hope to be democratic and enlightened while the denial of help, the “slave driver” selection, the financing of concentration camps and the criminalisation of the sheer survival constitute the anthropological and judicial normality of its peoples and its laws.
The Mediterranean unites the coasts and separates the inhabitants. Let us not be fooled by the tragic image of this crevice full of water and the dead or by the direction of the human flow. The north and south of the Mediterranean feels more alike every passing day. While we have the impression that they come towards us, in reality it is us who are going towards them. And very quickly too. And it would be advisable that from this side and the other we together find a solution and that we become by our own willingness a little more African before our governments begins to apply the laws relating to foreigners, as it has already started, to its own citizens. Foreigners, terrorists, poor and sick – Spain, Italy and Greece – are filling up with posthumous Spanish, that is to say, the Spanish who are virtually dead.