The International Sabir Festival of Mediterranean Culture took place for the first time in Lampedusa in October 2014. The idea was to create a space that explores the potential social, economic and cultural dynamics around the Mediterranean, promotes a new identity for the region by combining local culture, innovative practices of hospitality and development and shifts the focus of discussion to the periphery.
The name came from Sabir – the Mediterranean lingua franca, a pidgin language, spoken in all the ports of the Mediterranean from the Middle Ages until the nineteenth century. It flowed words of many of the Mediterranean languages and allowed merchants and fishermen of the area to communicate with each other.
This year the second Sabir Festival took place in Pozzallo, Sicily. A city in the forefront of migration with a “hotspot” placed at its port – a military and police guarded fenced facility – that should only serve as a first aid and identification center. The “hotspot” now illegally “hosts” around 120 minors, according to the local authorities, due to the lack of space in proper facilities. During our days in Pozzallo, the children were allowed to exit the center, according to most, some for the first time in over a month. The Sabir festival concluded with a very emotional demonstration to the Pozzallo hotspot.
The festival was a joint event organized by Arci and the city of Pozzallo and promoted Caritas Italy, A Buon Diritto, Asgi, Charter of Roma and ACLI, that facilitated 3 days of national and international seminars, meetings, trainings, concerts, theater, workshops and exhibitions. About 1,300 participants from 28 countries representing civic society organizations, migrant and refugee support networks, NGOs, social movements, left parties and municipalities, as well as activists and migrants, discussed and organized around various topics related to migration and migration politics of the region, as well as socioeconomic political and cultural processes. Overall, participation was diverse, with a young audience including many migrants. The gender balance of the speakers and participants was not satisfying in all sessions, particularly missing female speakers from the Arab countries and migrant communities, but we hope this will be improved in the next edition of Sabir Festival of Mediterranean cultures.
The case of Guilio Regeni was visible and present throughout the days in Pozzallo. Calls for “Justice for Guilio” – the young Italian PhD student that was brutally murdered in Egypt, due to his investigation on the conditions of the labour movement and the antidemocratic practices of the Egyptian regime – were heard during the big concerts at the Pozallo’s main square and loaded the atmosphere with emotion and determination for a common struggle.
The participative format of the festival, the openness of the events and the cultural framing, as well as the collaboration of the city of Pozzallo established a very positive atmosphere, setting an example on how refugee and migrant solidarity initiatives could interact with the society on the local level.
Although the current mainstream tends to refrain from recognizing migrants and refugees as political subjects, their movement and determination across Europe, has fueled the struggles for human and social rights beyond borders. The “long summer of migration” ignited a wave of solidarity across the continent, which could eventually translate to an alternative European identity. This identity would challenge ethnical differences and the categorization of migrants and refugees to 2nd and 3rd class citizens and become a barricade to emerging social rifts.
The festival started with the launch of a new campaign of Prism against online hate speech. The President of the Italian Chamber of Deputies, Laura Boldrini, was present during the international opening plenary, which included various inputs on the current socio-economic situation of countries from all sides of the Mediterranean Sea.
The topic of language and communication, both towards the public but also amongst us, dominated during all days of the festival. “Words are weapons” was the title carried by many of the sessions and trainings and the pledge to stop using phrases like “migrant crisis” or “refugee crisis”, when it is actually a crisis of politics echoed throughout the meetings and events.
A session between mayors and municipalities also took place Friday evening, closing the first day. Particularly interesting were the participations of Pozzallo and Ventimiglia elected representatives. The two cities, at the far edges of Italy manage migration from two different perspectives. On the one hand Pozzallo receiving migrants and refugees directly after their dangerous journey across the Mediterranean and on the other hand Ventimiglia as one of the first places where internal EU borders are “managed”, meaning are closed for migrants and refugees. After the closure of the Balkan route, the Italian North is becoming the next fenced border, with both France and Austrian social-democratic led governments closing the border to the fleeing. An irony indicative of our times, which is characterized by social-democratic parties trying to pace the rise of the far-right by compromising their own values and history.
The international meeting “Migration at the core of European and Mediterranean crisis” proceeded through four thematic sessions:
The second session was hosted by transform! europe and focused on democratic processes in the region, possible alternatives to the currently applied concept of state of emergency. transform!’s role, throughout the debates, was to create the space for convergence and consolidation amongst the international actors and open the floor for political debate and the exploration of common political solutions.
During the international panels speakers mostly from the so-called European and Mediterranean South, provided analysis of the local realities with the prospect of Pan-Mediterranean alliances and collaboration at a political level.
The political and economic crises of the region are polymorphic, yet derive from the same antidemocratic and neoliberal politics, that ultimately lead to destabilization and – for many countries – to mass migration. War, poverty, authoritarianism and the lack of perspectives for the young generation have to be addressed with political solutions. Common strategies and actions have to be planned in order to defend and improve international human rights legislation that is currently dangerously ignored by the decision makers.
Amongst the speakers, it was common ground that democratic transitions take time and don’t necessarily translate to rapid changes in institutional politics, but mostly find roots and expression inside the civic societies. Therefore, multi-level collaboration, and tighten communication and exchange, between social movements and civic society organizations of the region, are essential and must be enhanced in order to create broader alliances and in a longer term constitute the basis for a strong democratic frond.
Contemporary European politics and policies were subjected to harsh criticism, including the lack of real sustainable, democratic and progressive development policies for both the South and the North of the Mediterranean and the current EU migration policies that solely focus on the securitization of borders and the outsourcing of EU’s responsibilities towards migrants and refugees to the periphery.
In particular, the role of the European Union as the fourth biggest weapon exporter to the Middle East and the support and legitimating of openly authoritarian regimes like Erdogan’s government in Turkey or Abd al-Fattah as-Sisi in Egypt, as well as brutally neoliberal politics, could be identified as primer issues to be challenged through joint action.
Parallelly, climate change is expected to become the number one reason for migration and depopulation in the coming years. Therefore, it is imperative to give emphasis to the struggle for a sustainable system and climate justice.
In this context, discussions on convergence could be hosted in decentralized events such as the International Anti-militarization Forum which will be held during October 2016 in Beirut and the Peoples’ Summit that will take place during the COP22 November 2016 (tbc) both taking place in Morocco.
The contribution of unionists from both shores highlighted the current situation of organized labour in Europe, which is characterized by divisions between the North and the South, introducing the idea to shift the space of organization to a new geography that could function as a new political subject. The differences between syndicalism strategies due to national political realities are deepened by the hegemonic neoliberal politics.
We were moved by the intervention of comrades from Kurdistan that were present and reported on the situation in Rojava and other regions of Kurdistan, as well as the Turkish aggression, the experiences of self-governance and the key role of women in all levels of struggle that is reinforced by major efforts for structural equality.
The sessions concluded in a common international assembly. The interconnection of struggles in the region and therefore the creation of permanent structures of collaboration and exchange could evolve into a common political Mediterranean project and ultimately form a collective political actor.
In the spirit of “Sabir”, a language of collaboration and diversity spoken for centuries in most parts of the Mediterranean, the assembly exposed the need for a lingua franca of struggle that will allow us to work together. A language that embraces and celebrates our multiculturalism, concentrates on inclusion rather than integration and keeps us in movement.