The Flashing Light
The Italian writer Erri De Luca on the global South as the source of the future, on the European nightmare and on writers as a partisan vanguard of a new EU. A statement.
By Erri De Luca
The lighthouse, which stands on the coast or on an offshore crag, warns with a flashing light. Its signal in hiccup rhythm sends short illuminations. This is how Europe acts: it can bring light only intermittently into the darkness. For example, it opens its borders to the passage of refugees, then it closes them again with the disconnect switch.
Europe suffers from a mistake: it considers the Mediterranean a problem. It worries about the budget balances of Spain, Italy and Greece. These states are regarded as untrustworthy clients of a bank. Europe distrusts the south, its own south.
Sometimes I elicit a smile when I say that there is more south than north in the world. Because the south does not stay in its hemisphere; it climbs over the equator, comprises North Africa, expands to the Mediterranean.
The south is the predominant measure of geography and demography.
Europe owes almost everything to the Mediterranean, ranging from its ancient name to a myriad of words in its dictionaries, from architecture to wine, from geometry to astronomy, from philosophy, numbers, theatre and oil to its monotheistic deity. European culture grew out of southern ingeniousness. The south is fertile with births, with manpower. The south is the source of the future, its energy reservoir.
As a citizen of the Mediterranean, I recognize my blood brothers and sisters in all those born in coastal countries. Today I have also learned to recognize my blood brothers and sisters in all those who have died in this sea. You can shipwreck in dinghies that drift pilotless on calm sea. The human body is the most profitable cargo that can be transported across the ocean of civilization.
Homer called it “a watery road”. It was our Main Street. The fish hanging from our hooks and caught in our nets feed on bodies thrown into the wind like seeds. For these travellers of misfortune, I have wished for the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, a passage with dry feet to which all those fleeing from oppression are entitled.
Europe had the island of Lampedusa as its ambassador in the Mediterranean. It was up to its task of embodying the civilization of the whole continent. Today, Europe is the second front of a global civil war against Islam. It will not stop until one of the two camps is defeated. Europe’s enemy is the new caliphate, which invokes the first caliphate that ruled half of the world from Persia to Spain. With its territorial expansion, the new caliphate is the nightmare that is shattering the Islamic world, and so also Europe. The military victory over this nightmare is the order of the day. Important, valuable allies were therefore the Kurds, who forced the troops of the caliphate between Syria and Iraq to retreat. Today the Kurds are being attacked by the Sultanate of Turkey, and Europe contents itself with gestures of regret.
Today Europe must recognize that its centre of political action is its south. I am a partisan of the European Union and I believe that member states must move towards greater unity, greater powers of action for a central government. Europe emerged to prevent fascist and nationalist tendencies. It started with a few states. It has to start again with a similar core.
If Europe tries to preserve its current condition, it will lose. In view of the new facts, the bar must be set higher, not lower.
The task of the writer is easier than that of a representative of institutions. Literature creates a worldwide unity between the reader and the writer. There are no borders for books. In dictatorships, under censorship, the book takes hidden paths, but it does not submit. The writer is already part of a strengthened European unity. That is why we constitute a small vanguard that has struck camp in the future.
I return to the image of the lighthouse. To illuminate the darkness and confusion, Europe must radiate a constant light, without intermittencies