MG in-depth

The sea does not wash the shores of Italy

Influenced by Europeanist rhetoric  suggesting that it should cling to the Alps so as not to fall into Africa, over the years Italy has come to see the Mediterranean only as an element of vulnerability. In the meantime other powers have been dominating the Mare nostrum. It is only by rediscovering a Mediterranean vocation that Italy can pursue its strategic goals.


The Mediterranean is the measure of what Italy might be, once was, but is not.

Physical geography uses the conditional. It outlines the peninsula’s centrality in the waters separating Eurasia and Africa, that narrow crevice between Gibraltar, the Dardanelles and Suez connecting the Atlantic and the Indian Ocean. Mare nostrum according to the Romans, the White Sea (Akdeniz) according to the Turks, the Great Sea (Yam Gadol) according to the Jews, the Roman Sea (al-Bahr al-Rumi) according to the Arabs; all fragments of onomastics that change the meaning of the area depending on the perspective of those naming it. All this to the point of revealing the Mediterranean as the sum of seas, named and dominated for centuries by the lands bordering it, thereby marking a variable that is both blessed by nature, but always shaped by humankind, set amidst the jagged, often mountainous European coastlines and the flat African shores close to the desert. A magnet for those peoples migrating from the ends of continents and who, settling there, had for millennia driven the Mediterranean’s shared confrontational history.

Italy is by nature the geographical fulcrum of this basin. One could interpret Italy’s history as a series of attempts or surrenders, of successes and failures in elevating this geographical advantage to a geopolitical one. Overturning the current perception according to which we are Europe’s suburbs, placing the emphasis on our position at the heart of the Mediterranean brings to mind a comparative advantage that awaits a strategy in order to be exploited, or to avoid this becoming its nemesis. History punishes those who do not make use of geography because they end up being consumed by it. In the current atmosphere, which disfigures our sea now reduced to being a vehicle for threats and the scenario for imminent horrors, such oblivion of its geographical privilege risks causing irreversible damage.      

History expresses itself using the past historic tense [used in Italian and French, translator’s note]. It reawakens memories of the centuries in which Italic Mediterranean-ness was a geopolitical power. It was here that the only circum-Mediterranean empire, that of Rome, to quote Rutilius Namatianus’ nostalgic hyperbole, “made a city of what was erstwhile a world.” (1) The Mare nostrum was a common asset protected by the Urbe’s fleet, to defend trade based in the capital having liquidated rival maritime powers and dealt with the pirates that infested its waters.

Long-term admirers have not forgotten that the Roman-Mediterranean border never stopped producing history, and, as Fernand Braudel sensed, “the great matches of the present have often been played, won or lost, in the past.” (2) So the Lutheran secession split Europe along the Rhine and Danube axis, a double imperial limes; but the Great Schism (of the East, according to Roman Catholics, of the West or Latin according to Orthodox Christians) had already in 1054 carved the Euro-Mediterranean area longitudinally through the Adriatic-Balkan fault line that matured within the empire’s space during the 4th century. Above all, even earlier, it was the fall of the Roman-Mediterranean circuit, bisected in the 7th century by Arab-Islamic penetration, which sparked the geopolitical premises of European idealism. As Marc Bloch decreed, “Europe was born when the empire fell.” (3)

There was not only Rome. Two hubs of globally relevant maritime power re-emerged in Italy between the Middle Ages and the Renaissance with Genova and Venice. In about the mid-14th century, Genoese merchants, bankers and aristocrats started the first system cycle of capitalist accumulation, founded in 1407 and based on the finances of the Casa di San Giorgio (the Bank of Saint George) and on Mediterranean colonies – more specifically based on dominion over the Black Sea, based on Caffa (Feodosya). Capitalism was created in the Genoese Mediterranean, spreading over time along adventurous transoceanic routes before evolving into its second still maritime but anti-Mediterranean Dutch phase. The Venetian network was both complementary to and in competition with the Genoese trade system. The Most Serene Republic of Venice opened routes to Asia across the eastern Mediterranean, inventing those same routes that Xi Jinping’s China, with its imaginative Sino-centric globalism, nowadays promotes using the brand name of the “new silk roads”.

Those trade routes were inherited by most modern organisation of Italian influence in the Mediterranean, outlined in the five decades between the birth of the Kingdom of Italy (1861) and the Libyan War (1911); our diaspora on the south-eastern shores. Almost in spite of itself, the united country discovered a network of Italianness assimilated over the centuries in the African-Levantine quadrant (4). The mercantile imprint of this projection resulted in Italian becoming the lingua franca for Mediterranean exchanges. Hence, the wording on the first series of Egyptian stamps was in Italian and the official language used by the khedival administration was also Italian. And there is more; one of the two languages used for road signs in Odessa in 1861 was Italian. It was also widespread among the Turks, so much so that Italian was used to draft the Russian-Ottoman Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, which in 1774 sanctioned the Tsar’s hegemony over the Black Sea.

Between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century, there were almost a million Italians in the Mediterranean diaspora between Morocco and Anatolia. There were influential colonies from Oran to Istanbul and Smirne, including Alexandria where Italian was the lingua franca until the mid-19th century. These nuclei of Italian origin, polyglot and insensitive to imperialistic impulses, mixed and coexisted with the composite local populations in spite of the religious rift, which was not decisive at the time. This applied especially to the Levantines, who the Turks called “fresh water Europeans”. They were the carriers of commercial and cultural influence, which that “little second-rate kingdom, of no international importance, without ambitions, made bourgeois” – as Dostoevsky ridiculed Cavour’s invention – hinted at turning into elements of geopolitical power (5). Already before unification, future Foreign Minister Pasquale Stanislao Mancini dreamt, “Is it perhaps an impossible feat to once again make the Mediterranean what nature created it to be and what is was for centuries, an Italian lake?” (6). When we finally attempted to do so, disembarking in Tripoli, the “beautiful land of love”, we ended up inflicting a double injury on ourselves; we revealed ourselves as the last among colonial powers, but no less cruel, thereby eradicating that Italic-Mediterranean koiné preserved by the Levantine communities in the course of various migratory flows.

The excessive geopolitical ambitions of Giolitti’s ‘parochial Italy’, resumed with unusual violence by Mussolini, destroyed in the course of a few years our entire Mediterranean network, essential for relations with Islam. Due to a lack of measure, we destroyed geophysical privileges and historical legacies in Libya, to then find ourselves, exactly one century after the Italian-Ottoman war, repeating in a farcical key those same mistakes, bogged down in the never-ending and perhaps unfinishable Libyan issue.

Geopolitics finally returns us to the present. This Italy has neither seized the opportunities provided by geography nor the lessons imparted by history. Italy is neither thought of nor envisaged as a maritime country. In the obsessive Europeanist rhetoric of the past sixty years, which obliges us to remain clinging to the Alps in order not to fall into Africa, we are denying the very usefulness of our Mediterranean centrality, perceived instead as an element of vulnerability for illegal migrations, often depicted as an alien invasion capable of disfiguring the Belpaese and bringing here jihadist terrorism; conflicts that from the fourth shore tend to draw us into a vortex of instability and poverty as well as the temptation experienced by our northern partners to close their borders in our faces, transforming our peninsula into a seawall, Fortress Europe’s first external line of defence against diabolical flows from the south, almost as if for them we had nowadays become what Gadhafi’s Libya once was for us.

Italy’s strategic degeneration confirms its inability to transform a mercantile vocation into geopolitical power. And yet, on paper we have a head start considering that in today’s world almost 90% of all trade is transported by sea. However, while “Mediterranean” Italian ports are handling a fraction of the amounts intercepted by northern European competitors and only 37% of exchanges travel by sea – with the overall “blue economy” stagnant at a more than perfectible 2.6% of the GDP (7) –Switzerland, compressed in its valleys, is the world’s second largest shipping power, thanks to an integrated network of export companies, banks, insurance companies and oceanic carriers, managed from Geneva. Strategy beats geography.

Italy’s standing in Europe depends on whether its dowry includes its areas of Mediterranean responsibility, contributing to the stabilisation and development of the Adriatic Balkans and North Africa – where a part of our military missions are concentrated. Just as Germany takes advantage of Mitteleuropa and the Baltic, and France of the not so unimportant remains of its empire, hence of its grandeur, Italy must organise those terrestrial and maritime areas of the Mediterranean in which it had nurtured an influence it is now dispersing, when not contributing to disintegrating it with blind thoroughness – from the war in Serbia (1999) to the one in Libya (2011).


In order to approach such an objective it is best to contextualize the past Mare nostrum in a global context, tracing its conflicting dynamics and discovering the economic and geopolitical potential to be tapped into. In the fundamental geopolitical competition, which concerns the United States and China, the compass points towards west-east polarity. Here “our” sea is the link in a transoceanic strategic chain. Taking a broader look and continuing to follow from one meridian to the next the order/chaos divide, one discovers two other Mediterraneans at not too inconsistent latitudes. An American one between the Caribbean Sea and the Gulf of Mexico, the United States’ back yard, and an extreme-Asian one between the belt of the Kamchatka-Kuril-Japanese Islands, continuing along the Straits of Korea and Malacca, formed by the Sea of Okhotsk-Sea of Japan-East China Sea-South China Sea system, the epicentre of competition between Beijing and Washington, in a scrum mobilising all regional powers.

In the hierarchy of semi-enclosed seas, the Euro-Arab Mediterranean is therefore, to say the least, in third position as far as global prominence is concerned. It would be logical to assume that the most important European navies would nowadays be capable of recovering their quotas of lost influence seeing that the American superpower is concentrated on the Asian-Pacific side.

And yet never has the Mare nostrum belonged to others more than it does today. This of course applies to trade, but also to the hierarchy of military fleets. It is residual compared to the Cold War period, but the imprint of the United States Fifth Fleet based in Naples remains decisive, followed by its tested British brothers-in-arms, on its way out of the European Union, but clinging to bases in Gibraltar and Cyprus. France holds the same rank, followed at a distance by Italy and Spain and then Turkey. To these one must add the Gulf’s petro-monarchies, which have not only rediscovered the al-Bahr al-Rumi from an economic point of view, but above all as the carrier of their projections of power in north African geopolitical matches, to prevent further “Arab Springs”. The equation is complicated by the re-emergence of Russia, attracted to the warm seas by America’s relative disengagement and an artful understanding with Ankara, after reconquering Crimea and on the basis of the slogan used for its “War on Terror” in Syria. One must above all take into account the arrival of China, for the moment as a commercial power and in the future as a strategic player, as anticipated in 2015 by joint naval exercises held with the Russian Navy, an absolute first for the Mediterranean.   

Beijing sets the waters surrounding us within the framework of a global strategy. Its long-term objective, between now and the centenary of the People’s Republic (2049), is to assert Sino-centric “globalisation” (see hegemony) alternative to the American one, perceived to be on the path to failure and decadence. All this, however, while taking care to avoid, or to postpone for as long as possible, a direct collision with the Number One, both a partner in view of economic-financial interdependence, and a rival due to reciprocal implacability regards to the other’s hegemony. Beijing approaches America following the rules of weiqi, the board game created in the days of Confucius, in which the two opponents, envisaging a geopolitical cadence, compete for control over areas by placing on the board their respective black or white stones in a patient game involving encirclements and unmarking. It is an elegant dance with which the Chinese leadership tries to mask its recent arrogance, which, if not kept under control, could lead it towards excessively dangerous adventures considering the resources available.

The strategic pentagram on which the Chinese are recording their Mediterranean melody is the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched by Xi Jinping in 2013, poetically depicted using the brand name of the “new silk roads”. Leaving aside the accompanying music, it is a holistic project in which the visible network – the creation of infrastructures for Euro-Asian trade – is intertwined with esoteric territorial penetration in the form of “protective bases”, the bridgehead for military projection in the world. To better understand this project one must follow the “21st century maritime silk roads” drawn on the most recent map of BRI corridors produced by Beijing’s National Administration of Surveying, Mapping and Geoinformation. Attention falls on its open blueprint from the Bering Sea to the Atlantic, beyond the Pillars of Hercules. This not a mere Asia-Africa-Europe circuit, but an ambition to organise in these three continents a network of Sino-centric relations used to better address the challenge posed to the United States. The Euro-Arab Mediterranean is a basin experiencing robust growth, considering that in 1995 trans-Pacific routes amounted to 53% of global exchanges, compared to the 27% of the Suez-Mediterranean route, while in 2015 the Pacific’s advantage has almost vanished (44% compared to 42%).      

“Our” sea is seen by Beijing as the western outlet of the enlarged Mediterranean, between the Persian Gulf and Gibraltar, re-including the Horn of Africa, the Sahara and the Maghreb. This area portrays the geo-energy asymmetry between the United States and China. For America, Middle Eastern gas and oil treasures – recently enriched by discoveries in the Levantine Sea – are increasingly less invalidating while they are essential for China. 

The Suez Canal is the internal jugular vein guaranteeing circulation in the range of routes that are of most interest to China. Along this route, Beijing has identified the Greek port of Piraeus, “the pearl of the Mediterranean” according to Prime Minister Li Keqiang (8), as the regional hub for exchanges and has gained controlled over it. This aspect has been strengthened by a recent investment in the Kumport Terminal in the Turkish port of Ambarlı, near Istanbul. This outlines an Anatolian-Balkan route that leads overland to Germany.

For Beijing the wider Mediterranean is not a region but rather a conveyor belt. A canal enclosed between heterogeneous shores. Mandarin bureaucracy distinguishes the Old Continent, between the Atlantic front and Russia’s western border, from the southern front, between the coasts of Mauritania and the Persian Gulf, including Turkey and Iran. In the Foreign Ministry, the northern area is assigned to the Department of European Affairs, the south to the Department of Western Asian and North African Affairs. These are offices that do not shine in the field of communications, to the extent that they effectively involve two distinct diplomatic careers. Furthermore, in Chinese strategic workshops, Europe is also a synonym for Germany, while Italy is assigned to the far less noble Euro-Mediterranean family in the company of Albania, Croatia, Cyprus, Greece, Macedonia, Montenegro, Portugal and Spain. (9) Our country is considered an almost hopeless case. For years Beijing has in vain been searching for an Italian port to be connected to the maritime silk roads. After the for-now unrealistic attempts made, Venice, Genoa and Trieste (a free port well-connected to Mitteleuropa, far less to the Italian market) are now in the running, with investments beginning to flow in from Beijing and others. We still remain far from achieving the importance of Piraeus.

The secret diplomatic efforts aimed at the Vatican are a separate chapter in China’s projection towards a topographically Mediterranean player that is geopolitically universal. With Pope Francis, informal relations between the Holy See and Beijing are more intimate. The day they are formalised could precede the Last Judgement. This is confirmed by the echo Chinese media has provided to an article published by Civiltà Cattolica, in which the Jesuit Joseph You Guo Jiang warns that the Chinese Church is called upon to “redefine its role and its relationship with the Communist Party and its ideology,” so as to “find flexible and effective solutions to continue its mission.” Not an excessively cryptic guarantee that from the Chair of Peter there is no intention to solicit any regime change in Beijing (10).     

In its projection towards the West, aimed at escaping the grip of American strangulation – focused on the Asian Mediterranean and organised around Sino-phobic nationalisms in Japan, Vietnam and India – China therefore merges trade and security, diplomacy and propaganda, geo-economics and geopolitics. All this with a specific but for now understated security aspect, which reveals how close the bond is with the enlarged Mediterranean.

This occurs above all in a defensive form. The stability of the People’s Republic depends to a great extent on controlling centrifugal forces in the Xinjiang, whose large Muslim and Turkish-speaking Uighur minority is spread across the Mediterranean Levant.

Then there is also the offensive form. The “new silk roads” accompany and mark the expansion of Chinese military forces. These are often in the form of United Nations “peacekeeping missions” and opposing piracy, increasingly also aimed at protecting their compatriots, especially engineers and workers sheltered in BRI building sites. The first of the People’s Republic’s military bases abroad has almost been completed in Djibouti, standing guard over the Bab al-Mandeb choke point, the southern border of the enlarged Mediterranean. It is just four kilometres from Camp Lemonnier, America’s only permanent military base in Africa, and close to similar French, Japanese and Italian bases. Other Chinese bridgeheads will also follow on the African shores of the Mediterranean.

And so we return to the central issue. In the absence of suicidal impulses, the unachievable Chinese hypothesis of associating the United States to the “new silk roads”, hence to plans for a Sino-centric world aimed at suppressing the American empire being rejected on principle, Washington intends to obstruct Beijing’s race to the West that stretches as far as the Mediterranean. All the more dangerous should it intercept Russia and Germany’s shifts to the East so as to connect a Sino-Russian-Germanic geostrategic sequence aimed at destabilising the United States’ primacy. At that point the network of Eurasian land links and trans-Mediterranean oceanic routes (from the China Seas to “our” sea), prettily embellished by Xi Jinping with the narrative of the “new silk roads”, would turn out to be America’s noose. The Mediterranean would then return to be what it was during the Cold War; the theatre of clashes between Washington’s empire and its Enemy.


We instead remain hypnotised by the latitudinal interpretation that considers the Mediterranean a moat to protect Fortress Europe; the bulwark against the world of Hobbes pressing from the south to subvert our old home.

The driving force for such fear is the inappropriate but powerful equation migrants=invaders=terrorists. The Mediterranean would enjoy a totally different image were it not the collector and go-between (but increasingly often a common grave) for a growing number of people in movement from the south to the north, mostly coming from lands with an Islamic tradition in which jihadist groups particularly capable in spreading their brand of terror have put down their roots over recent decades. There are four driving elements that determine these human flows that in the northern European media are linked to Völkerwanderung – the age of migrations between the 4th and the 6th centuries, at the time moving in the opposite direction (an exodus of Germanic tribes towards central-southern Europe) – hence destined to reshuffle in depth the demography, economics ,climate and geopolitics of our societies. All structural changes at least for the medium term. There are no policies capable of radically neutralising or reorganising them. At the same time, leaders in hyper-mediatised European democracies are not permitted to admit that a problem does not have a solution and that therefore, by definition, it does not exist. The perverse cross between the power of migratory propellants and the coercion to lie experienced by those responsible for managing the consequences, excites European xenophobes who portray the migrations as the antechamber to the apocalypse.

It is the demographic asymmetry between Europe and Africa that is the decisive one among these four factors. The first represents 10% of the world’s population (738 million, estimated in 2015), but will fall to 7% in 2050, while the second, currently 16% (1,186 million), will rise to over 25% and then double (2,478 million). Above all there is the fact that the average age in Europe is almost 45, while in sub-Saharan Africa, the reservoir for these flows, it is not even 20. And while north of the Mediterranean the fertility rate is usually well below the level of two children per woman, ensuring population stability, in sub-Saharan Africa this figure rises to five and is at its highest in Nigeria and Senegal. What moves these men and women towards more promising lands – not necessarily Europe, on the contrary nine times out of ten migrants move within Africa due to the lack of alternatives – is the mix between the demographic outburst and economic depression, aggravated by climate change that makes large areas south of the Sahara uninhabitable. With subsidised agriculture experiencing a crisis and a famine epidemic oppressing tens of millions of Africans, while the recession affects colossuses such as South Africa and Nigeria, the rebirth of the Black Continent has been postposed indefinitely.

The combination arising from the demographic, economic and climatic emergencies also contributes to rendering chronic the conflicts destabilising Chaosland and deprive us of effective interlocutors in critical areas. The race undertaken by European governments to pay off alleged local leaders, all more or less co-interested in the management of migrations as a certain source of revenue in a totally uncertain context, is pathetic. This purely repressive approach, aimed at reducing flows by getting rid of their managers, is equally senseless. Traffickers do not create flows, they exploit them.

The power of traffickers is, if anything, exercised in choosing the migratory corridors that cross the Sahara towards the Mediterranean. These are the boundless and ungoverned historical regions of the desert tribes, which take part in the trafficking of narco-mafias and their respective militias. Those fleeing their Africa of origin in search of a promised Eldorado retrace the caravan routes that for centuries have segmented the desert, from one oasis to the next. They travel along the western and Atlantic route via Mauritania-Morocco towards Spanish exclaves (Ceuta and Melilla) or islands (Canaries); along the central route based on Agadez, which from the Niger arrives in the Tripolitanian port of Sabratha and its surrounding areas, while geography suggests the Turkish-Greek route to Middle Eastern migrants.

First there was the almost total block of western ways out – agreed on between Spain and Morocco and its neighbours – then the Merkel-Erdoğan pact that reduced to minimum terms the eastern and Balkan routes deviating the majority of trans-Mediterranean flows towards the median route. It is here that the boats are waiting to load migrants to take them to the limits of Libyan waters where private NGO rescue services – recently the focus of the Italian judiciary due to alleged connivance with traffickers – and the Italian Navy intervene, while the Maltese pretend there is nothing going on.

Between the Mediterranean flows and restrictions on Alpine passes imposed by our European neighbours, Italy has been transformed from a transit country to the forced destination for migrants. Compared to the 43,000 who arrived in 2013 the figure has risen to 181,000 in 2016. This year, it seems we are destined to pass the not only psychological threshold of 200,000 considering that in the first six months of 2017 numbers have risen by 25% compared to 2016. These figures apply above all to migrants coming from West Africa (seven of the top eight nationalities with the curious and symptomatic exception of Bangladesh). It is the exuberant but fragile demographic colossus of Nigeria that takes first place. Everything indicates that for the foreseeable future Italy will have to equip itself to address changes to its social and cultural characteristics. We are increasingly immersed in the Mediterranean and with no Mediterranean policies, let alone integration/assimilation policies.


Thirty years ago Fernand Braudel described the Mediterranean as “a system in which everything merges and is recomposed as an original unit” and intended to explain its “profound essence” (11). The great historian of the Annales thereby payed tribute to the Mediterraneanist ideology, the one that has nurtured the Mediterranean’s aesthetic myth, expressed in the image of a world apart, distinct for its flora, fauna, climate, human and physical landscape. This is a geographism, in the sense used by Yves Lacoste, a figure of speech that by using the name of a territory metaphorically inspires a geopolitical subject. All that nowadays remains of such Mediterranean emphasis is the diet – for those not considering it a scam. The opposite Mediterranean-phobic ontology of northern origin (northern Italy included) has achieved greater success, resulting in a devastating catalogue of the private and public vices intrinsic to those populating the coasts of our sea. One such vulgarisation came from the Eurogroup’s Dutch president, Jeroen Dijsselbloem, with a tirade against those Mediterraneans who “spend all the money on drink and women and then ask for help” (12). This is the offspring of that Germano-centric representation, which at the time of the debate concerning Italy, Spain, Greece and Portugal (an Atlantic nation for some reason assimilate with us Mediterrraneans) being admitted to the privilege of having the euro, intended to deny them this right since they belonged to “Club Med”.

It is not only in rhetoric that little remains of Braudel’s koiné. Let us observe the backdrop, the landscape. The effects of climate change are added to the human devastation of the coasts. According to a study by the Aix-Marseille University, global warming will cause the desertification of parts of southern Europe and of North Africa before the end of the century, changing the ecosystems to an extent never experienced in the past ten millennia. The Sahara will spread to the northern provinces of Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, to then overrun southern Spain, Portugal, Sicily and elsewhere (13).

For those living in terror of the “invasion”, the advancing of the sands beyond the Mediterranean is the geophysical aspect of the south-north migratory flow. Both contribute to the upheaval of the European identity. It does not matter how (un)realistic such perceptions may be. What matters is their geopolitical impact. Northern Europe, which until very recently had ignored the Mediterranean, and even when demonising it was under the illusion it could exorcise it remotely, has instead discovered it is nearby, in fact it is present within itself. In the heart of its own senile metropolises, they host seething Maghreb and Anatolian, Arab and Levantine, sub-Saharan and central-Asian communities, often branded as jihadist breeding grounds.

The most relevant consequence has been the change in Germany’s Mediterranean and African geopolitics. First Bonn and then Berlin had always respected France’s pré carré with the informal empire of Françafrique. Just six years ago, when Sarkozy decided to be rid of its former financer Gadhafi, Germany washed its hands of the affair. Nowadays, the approach to Arab and African lands has become internal policy, not just foreign policy. It is the issue on which the electoral campaign for the renewal of the Bundestag on September 24th will play out. Tens of billions of euros have been allocated to comprehensive plans both for cooperation in Africa – including funds for little dictators and local warlords to slow down the migrant flows they speculate on – as well as for migrant integration in Germany.

But the Mediterranean also touches the East as witnessed by the newly-born Trimarium, the maritime meridian axis from the Baltic to the Adriatic and the Black Sea, outlined in the agreement uniting former Soviet republics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) and Moscow’s former satellite countries (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria) to neutral Austria, as well as including the couple (Slovenia and Croatia) that liquidated Yugoslavia. This was a Polish idea conceived by Krzystof Szczerski, President Andrzej Duda’s Chief of Staff, mindful of the Intermarium (Międzymorze) evoked by Józef Piłsudski almost one hundred years ago as the bulwark against the Red Army. This heteroclite company shares the urgency to reject the “invasion” from the Mediterranean in the name of a very recently reconquered (or invented) national sovereignty as well as an implicit anti-Russian reflex and the asserted will to set up north-south infrastructures.

Italy instead remains the country of choice for pro-Mediterranean rhetoric, hence of what remains of it. We endure the Mediterranean.

Are we in time to change course? Perhaps we are. Let us begin with a map-reading session. Let us again pick up China’s map of the maritime silk roads. Let us move the blue intra-Mediterranean route, cheerfully ignoring Italian ports, a few degrees further north to link it to one of our ports equipped to handle exchanges with markets on the other side of the Alps. Far more than any Europeanist voluntarism, in one fell swoop this modest move would reinforce both our anchorage to the heart of the continent and our openness to global trade. The Mediterranean will never again be nostrum. This does not mean we must drown in it.

(translated by Francesca Simmons)


[1] CLAUDIO RUTILIO NAMAZIANO, De reditu suo, I, 66: “Urbem fecisti, quod prius orbis erat”.

[2] F. BRAUDEL, Il Mediterraneo. Lo spazio, la storia, gli uomini, le tradizioni, Milan 1998, Rizzoli, p. 108.

[3] Cit. in M. FERRO, preface for L. FEBVRE, L’Europe. Genèse d’une civilisation, Paris 1999, Perrin, p. 11.

[4] On Italy’s presence in the Mediterranean between the 19th century and the early 20th century we refer here to the pioneering study by V. IANARI, Lo stivale nel mare. Italia, Mediterraneo, Islam: alle origini di una politica, Milan 2006, Guerini.

[5] F. M. DOSTOEVSKIJ, Diario di uno scrittore, Milan 1943, Garzanti, p. 645, quoted in V. IANARI, op. cit., p. 20.

[6] Cfr. C. ZAGHI, P.S. Mancini e il problema del Mediterraneo (1884-1885), Rome 1955, Casini, p. 34, quoted in V. IANARI, op. cit., p. 37.

[7] See the report entitled Maritime Economy – Port Indicators2017, by Assoporti and SRM.

[8] Cfr. E. AVRAMIDOU, “China and the Mediterranean”, Efimerída ton Syntaktón, 20.4.2017.

[9] See the paper by A. GHISELLI and E. FARDELLA “Cina - Il Mediterraneo nelle nuove vie della seta”, no. 132, May 2017.

[10] J. YOU GUO JIANG S.I., “Il cattolicesimo in Cina nel XXI secolo”, La Civiltà Cattolica, year 168, no. 4007, pp. 417-424.

[11] F. BRAUDEL, op. cit., p. 9.

[12] Cfr. “Dijsselbloem nella bufera per le frasi sul Sud Europa: “Non può spendere tutto in alcol e donne e poi chiedere aiuti”,, 21.3.2017.

[13] A. DOYLE, “Mediterranean warming fast, deserts may spread in Europe: study”, Reuters, 27.10.2016.