In 1941 at the height of the Second World War on an island in many ways similar to Lampedusa, the island of Ventotene, two leaders of the resistance movement against fascism and members of the Italian Communist Party Altiero Spinelli and Ernesto Rossi, were held captive. Their captivity in many ways resembled what thousands of North Africans, Sub-Saharan Africans and Middle Easterners live on a daily basis in one of the hundreds of identification and detention centers that populate the European coastline.
Spinelli and Rossi would write one of the most influential documents in favor of Pan-Europanism, The Ventotene Manifesto. The manifesto would be illegally smuggled on to the continent and distributed throughout the Italian resistance. The ideal of a socialist federal union of European peoples became a central idea to many resistance movements throughout the European continent, the hope and the aspirations of a war-torn generation of Europeans would be embodied within the manifesto.
While captive on the island of Ventotene, Spinelli and Rossi vowed to rid the peoples of Europe of the chains of poverty and misery, to liberate Europe from the grips of fascism, but also build a society in which “never again” would the European social and economic situation allow for the flourishing of Nazism or Fascism. Fast forward 72 years later. The remote Mediterranean island of Lampedusa is a pearl, home to what Trip Advisor acclaimed as the world most beautiful beach in 2013, it’s a corner of paradise within a sea of hell.
Since 1988, within the waters and washed-up northern shores of the Mediterranean, almost 20 000 migrants have lost their lives. Lampedusa has become infamous throughout the world as the ‘Guantanamo of Europe.’ In the past two months Lampedusa has become, even more so than it already was, the center-stage of a continual tragedy that is the European Union’s blatant disregard for human rights, their disregard for the situation of thousands of migrants that brave horrible conditions in the hope to find a better life in Europe.
On the 3rd of October of 2013, 359 bodies were recovered from the worst recorded migrant shipwreck in recent history, several other bodies were never found. A mere two months later, Lampedusa was rocked by another tragic event, this time concerning the treatment of the detainees at the identification and detention center for illegal migrants on the island.
Hidden video footage surfaced throughout the internet showing several detainees having to strip and be ‘hosed down’ by security guards. This is not the first time that Lampedusa and the European immigration boarder security under the hospice of Frontex have been openly criticized for their treatment of migrants.
Frontex was founded in 2005 as a semi-private organization with the mandate to help the several different member-state boarder security coordinate their operations, on paper. In reality, Frontex is a paramilitary organization that functions in parallel to all other European security organizations and is accountable to no one, under only nominal surveillance from European elected officials and after several scandals has shown no will in upholding any basic standard of human rights.
The creation of Frontex, the privatization and militarization of Europe’s boarders, is a clear indication of the rise of neo-liberalism within Europe. And in reaction to neo-liberalism, an almost equal rise of xenophobia and extreme right-wing groups.
The first is the neoliberal, fostered by right-wing movements within the European Union, that have pushed for the deregulation of the labour market, of the banking system and the downsizing of the social state. On the other hand this same neo-liberal movement has pushed for the destruction of all barriers to ‘free-trade.’
Frontex is the perfect metaphor of the rampant neo-liberalism that has infected Europe. Under the mantel of ‘austerity’ the European right-wing has tried to recraft the European ideal from its original purpose, embodied in the Ventotene manifesto, that of building a common European society based on protecting the dignity and the social and economical well-being of all.
The reaction provoked by the rise of neo-liberalism in Europe is the undeniable rise in extreme right-wing rhetoric unknown on such a scale since the pre-WWII period. The economical fluctuations that have left so many Europeans in misery was produced by the same neo-liberal ideal that made the “Mediterranean a cemetery” in the words of the Maltese prime minister.
In a recent meeting in Brussels, the leaders of the European Community joined forces to continue persecuting migrants at sea instead of addressing the issues of lamentable conditions within the detention centers or actually create a more ‘humane’ policy for migrants upon their arrival in the Shengen zone. As per usual, with every conference in Brussels the outcome is more austerity, austerity on the land, austerity on sea.The fight against austerity must then be one conducted on land and by sea.
Lampedusa is our Ventotene, Lampedusa is the embodiment of everything that has went wrong on the path of European construction. The EU is currently a prison, a financial one, one in which the will of the markets trumps the will of the people. Xenophobic, racist and nationalist discourses are on the rise, neo-fascist paramilitary groups are once again flourishing.
These fascist for many offer an alternative to the establishment, to neo-liberalism. Unfortunately they are the armed-wing of neo-liberalism, the armed-wing of corporatism.
The European left must stand with the migrants of Lampedusa and others scattered throughout the Mediterranean, we must re-appropriate the European ideal and build in this day and age a society that fulfills the principals of the Ventotene manifesto. Lampedusa is a major crack within the walls of Fortress ‘neo-liberal’ Europe, time to tear down the walls.