Flore Murard-Yovanovitch

Translation from Italian into English by Luigi Attardi (Nail Chiodo) 1952-2014.

Europe once again has a barbed-wire face. Its reality, still scarcely known to the majority of its citizens, is made of thousands of migrants who died in the Mediterranean, of rounded-up, imprisoned, or rejected refugees, and of raids against those who are different, of new brown-shirts, and anti-Romani pogroms. Dozens of abuses of power left unacknowledged, against men and women who have had their human identity attacked – if not outright killed – by the consequences of the European migration policy. Everywhere, from south to north and from east to west, Europe already resounds with barking dogs, blows to the body, and words that we thought had been left behind, such as “fatherland,” “security,” “national survival.” It resounds with the slogans of “parties” that speak about “Dawn,” but whose root is the annihilation of all that is different and are only laying the groundwork for future nightmare. Behind the blind of the so-called “crisis”, populism, racism, and a sense of false consciousness are growing. The political left is dramatically speechless, incapable of seeing and understanding the deeply telluric mutations that are taking place, while Fascist xenophobia stands at the doors of the European Parliament. My book Derive (Driftings) investigates and tries to unveil this new inhuman reality.

In Europe, the violence against migrants is hidden: in the transit jungles along migratory routes, such as Calais, Patras, Oujda; in the underworld of informal camps outside of the rule of law, where people hide behind bushes and amid garbage, waiting to cross the barrier at Ceuta-Melilla, on the Evros, or the new Bulgarian front. The ancient conflict, albeit more routine today than ever, between the human and the inhuman is played out in a sort of new, white militia of the Fortress—among veritable walls, dozens of miles of parallel enclosures, covered with barbed wire, nets used to escape quickly, only to be caught again, roughed-up and massacred by the blows of border policemen.

In the vast, invisible prison that our continent has become, there are 473 operative detention centers for “illegal” migrants, who have been detained because they sought a new life in Europe. Thousands of individuals are deprived of their personal freedom for up to 18 months because they lack sojourn permits; in other words, for violating a merely administrative rule – and not because they committed any sort of crime. Those camps are sites of “spatialization” of institutional racism, that imprison migrants not because of what they have done, but on the basis of who they are: foreigners. Beyond those bars, people from the African continent, Afghans, Albanians, Rumanians, are treated as non-persons, without legal protection, with only minimal health care, if any at all. In such institutions that dehumanize all those incarcerated, as well as their prison guards, pain runs deep: acts of self-mutilation, even of suicide, are frequent, not to mention the unexplained disappearances of detainees from their cells. Also, in the so-called welcome centers, which in reality are only emergency confinement facilities, refugees from Syria or the Horn of Africa, who would have a right to asylum, are detained for months in a juridical and ethical limbo, and, not infrequently, savagely beaten while having their fingerprints taken against their will. Fingerprinting is a first step towards criminalization. In those centers the monitoring of civil society and the press is still limited, and one may speak of de facto censorship at work. Last summer, in the course of my visits to the centers on the south-eastern coast of Sicily, I was appalled to discover plastic wristbands, a series of numbers in lieu of an identity. “K68, that's how they call you at the center,” Mohammed, a young Eritrean at the center in Pozzallo, explained to me. Code numbers on wristbands: do they remind you of anything? Code numbers on wristbands at Europe’s extreme southern border.

In the Fortress, behind the euphemism of the “control of the EU's borders” and facade operations, a systematic manhunt is underway, a whole set of oppressive measures against even more individuals, with deportations and abuses. A black clot of discretionary practices that have yet to be fully investigated, a degeneration of a democracy into a police state. By treating the migratory phenomenon as only a question of security, the EU is violating a series of fundamental human rights. What is actually taking place on Europe's borders is the creation of a border-laboratory for a neo-barbarism on the continent. 

Already in June 2013, Johan Galtung, in his article Reinventing Fascism, warned that the standards of what has become “acceptable” after the Second World War misrepresent the true essence of Fascism: it is not only dictatorship and the elimination of a category of individuals, but “permanent crisis with a permanent enemy ready to hit […]”, a “view of war as a normal activity of the state.” This definition of Fascism, as a product of dualism against an omnipresent enemy, appears well suited to define the present-day low-intensity, but real war that is being waged against “illegal” immigration in Europe. The process of criminalization of migrants that has its fronts (the deployment of Frontex, the Agency for the control of borders), its weapons (military equipment and personnel with the participation of Italy and other countries), and its political and media-driven xenophobic propaganda (the concept of “invasion”). A surge of institutionalized paranoia sees the multiplication of security packages, of government decrees and circulars (a sort of racial laws), of denials of entry permits and summary expulsions. In Italy we have been witnessing the creation of a “penal-administrative law of inequality,” as Stefano Rodotà put it: a suspension of the rule of law for certain categories – the person from outside the community or “clandestine” individual. Once criminalized, the migrant becomes a synonym for dangerous, with an almost “natural” difference, a sort of “neo-race” as Clelia Bartoli called it. Our complicit passivity in the face of this classification – which can never constitute progress but, as history teaches, is often only the first step in a process of regression or future annihilation – cannot be ignored.

We need to question our lack of a collective response and our voluntary blindness in the face of the drama of migrants who lose their lives in the heart of a Mediterranean saturated with radars, satellites, controls and patrols. The ephemeral and comfortable indignation at the latest violations or shipwrecks – such as the most recent tragedy at Lampedusa in October 2013, in which 360 individuals drowned – is not enough. Since 1988, about 20,000 individuals who attempted to reach Europe have been lost at sea or found dead, not because of weather conditions as is purported, but as a result of precise migration policy decisions. Why does our blood not freeze at the knowledge of what by now should be called a veritable organized mass disappearance? We can no longer fool ourselves into thinking migrants are dying by chance: before the Mare Nostrum operation, they were passively left adrift. How will we narrate and explain to History this passive complicity of ours? Our knowledge of the ongoing massacre? What name will History give to this acceptance of certain death as “normal”? Was it a letting die or “letting eliminate,” letting “disappear”?

The time has come to trash the comforting and false myth of a Europe of the rights of man. We need to ask ourselves whether at the base of the western culture that produced Nazi-Fascism is the notion that those migrants are somehow “differently human.”

Derive is the chronicle of five years of episodes of racially-motivated aggressions and detentions, compiled for the purpose of revealing the hidden reality, the subterranean signs of an inhuman phenomenon. With this work I have tried to reveal and to interpret, underneath the patina of an official and extravagant version of events, the diseased dimensions of reality, the impulses at work, which in part still elude us or that we try not to see, but that we run the risk of finding ourselves brutally faced with someday: the latent in Europe. Central is the current reconstitution of a trans-historical psychopathology, the heritage of slavery, colonialism, and post-colonialism. A contemporary inhumanity, founded on the “death instinct”, as of yet unnamed and unnamable, because we lack the courage to see it, to recognize it, to eradicate it. With Derive, I have practiced and developed a form of journalism which is not mere narration of facts but the work on an imperceptible, “invisible” plane; because I am convinced that what is required more urgently than ever is a journalism capable of investigating and revealing that which is hidden.

The degrading treatments of the migrants are not, in fact, only the responsibility of the European governments, but of our own blindness, of our fear in the face of the new historic subject. Our still racist culture – which detains, deports, displaces persons like objects – can be understood also as an act against ourselves. It increases our inability to understand the richness of diversity. In my view, there is an institutional, cultural and unconscious violence at work in the West that is aimed at migrants, in a new “war” whose purpose is not only to destroy their bodies (and, to wit, to cause their corpses to disappear), but also to deny them a basic humanity. This is clear from the EU's migratory policies and the Dublin Regulation – which treat those requesting asylum as non-persons, objects to be transferred from state to state like packages, expelled, refused – the violence at work is present in those  “welcome” centers, which as ethnic prisons for foreigners only, become de facto detention centers. In those places people go through the psychological torture of an endless wait, the purloining of their freedom, and the destructive effects of psycho-pharmaceuticals. Not to mention the hundreds of homeless refugees who are left to survive in the street, in a condition of “non-existence,” despoiled of their life projects, hopes, and dreams.

What is the capacity for healthy collective response in Europe? Do we possess the antibodies necessary to defeat and cure this inhumanity? We seem to be dramatically late; it is time to invent a new migrant Resistance. Meanwhile, the European elections are expected to award a third of the seats in the European Parliament to parties that are openly neo-Nazi or xenophobic, anti-Semitic or anti-Romani. A sense of false consciousness in Europe seems to have already jeopardized our capacity to understand; perhaps today we have reached a point where racism is shifting from being a “diffused” phenomenon, into a crystallized and violent “ideology.” This is what Josef Gabel, the brilliant and, unfortunately, forgotten visionary, had predicted before the Second World War. In False Consciousness, Gabel identifies a schizophrenic structure within racist ideology, a “delirious form of ethnocentrism,” “a reified and anti-dialectical delirious perception of the minority involved.” This is an analysis that cries out its relevance to us today: we are in a reifying phase, without any real dynamic knowledge of “diversity”. The media, as much as the political left, remain unable to look deeply into the gravity of the “invisible” that is underway, they mumble weak words, and are accomplices to the adriftness. A Europe that denies the death instinct could lead to the cultural apocalypse prophesied by Ernesto de Martino.

Derive cries havoc.

Flore Murard-Yovanovitch is a writer and journalist, born in France in 1972. She has been working several years with NGOs and UN Agencies in aid relief in developing countries, in Albania and Laos. Since her return to Europe in 2006, she has specialized in issues relating to migration flows, detention centers and racism. Her most recent work is Derive (“Driftings”) Small Mosaic of the Inhuman published by Stampa Alternativa. She is a regular contributor to Italian newspaper l’Unità.

Photo Natursports / Shutterstock.com