"Protect a different vision"
Born in Mostar (Bosnia-Herzegovina) of a Croatian mother and a Russian father, Predrag Matvejevic studies Arts in the university of Zagreb and Literature in the Sorbonne in Paris. He left his country in the beginning of the war in ex-Yugoslavia, he chose a situation "midway between asylum and exile", living in France between 1991 and 1994, then working in Italy since 1994. He is currently professor of Slavic languages in the university The Sapienza of Rome.
One of his most famous books, "Bréviaire Méditerranéen", retraces on a narrative mode the history of the Mediterranean and edging countries. A work translated into more than twenty languages and considered by critics as a "poetic test", a "poem in prose", a "logbook", a "novel of sites" or even as a "happy science" according to the author's own terms, whose last published is "L’autre Venice".
Predrag Matvejevic is President of the International Committee of the "Fondazione Laboratorio Mediterraneo" in Naples and consultant on Mediterranean issues within the "Group of the Sages" of the European Commission.
In your book "Bréviaire Méditerranéen", you describe a very rich mosaic, but full of contradictions that appear insurmountable...
The Mediterranean is presented in its actual position, and doesn't succeed in becoming a project. Its north strand displays an obvious delay in relation to the north of Europe, all as the southern strand in relation to the European strand. The whole of Mediterranean basin connects with difficulty to the continent. One cannot speak of this sea as a whole without underlining the fractures that divide it, the conflicts that tear it: today in Palestine, yesterday in Lebanon, Cyprus, the Maghreb, the Balkans, the ex-Yugoslavia, the reflections of past wars as Afghanistan’s, or nearer in time as Iraq’s.
The Mediterranean is acquainted with terrible conflicts. The southern strand remains on the reserve, distrustful after having lived the experience of colonialism. Both strands were a lot more important on the cards used by strategists that on those unfolded by economists. All has already been said about this "First sea" that has become a simple maritime strait, on its unity and its divisions, on its homogeneity and its disparity. We know for a long time what is not a "reality in itself", nor a "constant": the Mediterranean as a whole is composed of many subsets that challenge or refuses the unifying concepts.
The concept of a Mediterranean culture would be then illusory, merely rhetoric?
A unique Mediterranean culture doesn't exist: there are several cultures within the Mediterranean. They are some likeness and some differences among them. The resemblances are the consequence of the proximity of a sea in common and the encounters on its shores of nations and cultural manifestations. Differences are determined by events related with origins and history, or by beliefs and traditions: sometimes the first carry away it, other times the second dominate.
All the rest is the spring of mythology.
To grasp the Mediterranean only taking its history remains a tenacious habit, be it on the coastline or inside the earths. This "homeland of the myths" endures the mythology that it generated or that others fed. This space, so rich of history was victim of the historicisms. And this tendency to confound the representation of reality with reality itself perpetuates: the picture of the Mediterranean and the real Mediterranean don't cut up themselves. A form of identity of the being, which is growing, eclipses or repulses the identity of the acts, which is badly defined. The retrospective continues to prevail over the forecasting. And this is how the thinking remains prisoner of stereotypes.
What can Europe do to improve the dialogue?
The parameters that set up the analysis led by the North about the present and the future of the Mediterranean don't agree with those of the South. The grids of reading are different. The North strand of "the interior sea" has a different perception and conscience from those of the opposite strand. Currently, the countries edging the Mediterranean basin have only joined in their dissatisfactions. The sea itself looks more and more like a border separating Europe of Africa and the Lesser Asia.
The Mediterranean consciences become alarmed and organize themselves from time to time. Their demands provoked, during the years, many plans and programs: the Charters of Athens, Marseille and Genoa, the PAM (Action plan for the Mediterranean) and the "Blue Plan of Sophia Antipolis" that is on the horizon a projection of the future of the Mediterranean 2025, the Declarations of Naples, Malta, Tunis, Spalato, Palma of Majorca, and among so many others the euro-Mediterranean Conferences of Barcelona, Malta, Palermo, the Forums of the civil society in Barcelona, Malta and lately in Naples. These efforts, laudable and generous in their intentions, either stimulated or sustained by governmental commissions or the international institutions, haven’t had more than limited results. This type of prospective speech is henceforth about to lose all credibility.
The Mediterranean confronted itself to modernity with delay. All edging countries didn't know secularism. In order to conduct any critical analysis, it is necessary to throw away all the useless and the cumbersome. Each of the strands knows its own contradictions that stops reflecting themselves on the rest of the Mediterranean basin and on other territories that are sometimes faraway. The realization of a coexistence within multi ethnical or multinational territories or, where the various cultures, traditions and religions cross themselves and mingle, is experiencing under our eyes a cruel failure.
So, how to create an alternative common culture?
To make the transit of a project of inter-Mediterranean culture to reality doesn't seem imminent. To have a differential vision appears less ambitious, but not less difficult to achieve. As well in the ports that on the high see the "old" cords that poetry intended to tie up have been broken or torn by intolerance and ignorance. for a long time, this vast amphitheatre has witnessed the same play on its stage, the point is that the gestures of its actors are now well known and foreseeable. However, its genius has succeeded in reaffirming its creativeness every time, by renewing its typical way of telling stories without comparison. It is necessary to reconsider the notions of periphery and centre, the former relations of distance and proximity, the reports of symmetry and asymmetry. To analyse these elements solely on a scale of proportion or under a dimensional aspect is not sufficient anymore: they must be also processed in terms of value. Some Euclidian concepts of geometry need to be surpassed. The shapes of rhetoric and narration, politics and dialectics, invented by the Mediterranean genius, have been used for too long and seem henceforth worn-out and obsolete. Does "the Mediterranean exist beyond our imaginary?" wonder one in the South and in the North, in the West and in the East. Nevertheless manners and ways of life exist, in spite of the separations and the conflicts that this part of the world undergoes.
According to you, what picture does best symbolize The Mediterranean and its adventures?
Certainly Venice, that compresses and condenses all the history of the Mediterranean, that symbolizes the Mediterranean that sinks, that gets lost, a Mediterranean that lost its central axis all like Venice lost its hegemony.