Joseph, the two Matthews, and the mi­grants

This week, for­mer Ital­ian Prime Min­is­ter Mat­teo Renzi chas­tised Mat­teo Salvini, Italy’s cur­rent Deputy Prime Min­is­ter, over the 49-mi­grant cri­sis, taunt­ing him that he is not a leader while Joseph Mus­cat is.

The Malta Independent on Sunday - - DEBATE & ANALYSIS - Mark A. Sam­mut

Mr Renzi tweeted this mes­sage on Thurs­day: “The man who has solved the mi­grants sit­u­a­tion is a Prime Min­is­ter, but it’s not Conte. He sup­ports Mi­lan Foot­ball Club, but it’s not Salvini. He speaks Ital­ian, and thus it can­not be Di Maio. It’s @JosephMus­cat_JM and he is Malta’s Prime Min­is­ter. Salvini at­tacks him with good rea­son: Mus­cat is a leader, Salvini is not” (my trans­la­tion).

It is worth­while analysing what is go­ing on. Par­tic­u­larly be­cause it is not healthy for any Prime Min­is­ter to be­come in­volved in the in­ter­nal pol­i­tics of an­other coun­try, es­pe­cially when that coun­try is a neigh­bour and one with which his own coun­try has an in­ti­mate and strate­gic re­la­tion­ship.

Ital­ian pol­i­tics are un­usu­ally volatile. Hav­ing been trau­ma­tised by the Fas­cist dic­ta­tor­ship ex­pe­ri­ence, the Ital­ians pre­fer sac­ri­fic­ing gov­ern­men­tal sta­bil­ity for the sake of avoid­ing an­other dic­ta­tor­ship. Yet, de­spite their aver­sion to sta­bil­ity, de­spite the machi­na­tions of other coun­tries to un­der­mine Italy and de­spite not hav­ing a proper for­mer em­pire for post-colo­nial ex­ploita­tion, the Ital­ians have man­aged to cre­ate and main­tain the third largest econ­omy in Europe, on a par with the UK.

With this as a back­drop, it be­comes abun­dantly clear that it is not wise to forge too close a re­la­tion­ship with any Ital­ian politi­cian: they usu­ally have a short life on the shelf of power.

That’s a gen­eral com­ment. More specif­i­cally, Dr Mus­cat’s chum­mi­ness with Mat­teo Renzi, seem­ingly to the ex­clu­sion of oth­ers, is even more per­ilous. One can un­der­stand that, in cer­tain cir­cles, it pays to be seen as an­tag­o­nis­tic to Mat­teo Salvini, par­tic­u­larly if one har­bours cer­tain per­sonal am­bi­tions which go be­yond tiny Malta. But one does not oc­cupy pub­lic of­fice for one’s own ca­reer ad­vance­ment. Pub­lic of­fice is meant to serve the Repub­lic and the Peo­ple. It is in Malta’s in­ter­est for her Prime Min­is­ter to re­main neu­tral in the in­ter­nal po­lit­i­cal af­fairs of for­eign lands and to build the best work­ing re­la­tion­ship with the in­cum­bent.

But be­ing bud­dies with Mr Renzi is droll. Not only be­cause Mr Renzi him­self is – to use an ar­chaic term – droll. (Just an­a­lyse the struc­ture of his tweet – it’s like the fa­mous Su­per­man ci­ta­tion: It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s Su­per­man! … but in re­verse – and just re­call Mau­r­izio Crozza’s in­sight­ful satire on Mr Renzi: a Jerry Lewis looka­like who sprin­kles his po­lit­i­cal mes­sages with inani­ties.)

There’s also the fact that Mr Renzi is not par­tic­u­larly re­spected out­side Italy ei­ther. He dis­par­aged Mat­teo Salvini this week, but in Bratislava a cou­ple of years ago, Mr Renzi strongly at­tacked An­gela Merkel and the then-French Pres­i­dent François Hol­land. Not ex­actly po­lit­i­cal savvy, is it? Mr Renzi looks like a boy try­ing to sprout into po­lit­i­cal man­hood and consistently fail­ing at each at­tempt.

Ger­many and France

In the mean­time, while we are wast­ing pre­cious po­lit­i­cal time and en­ergy vivi­sect­ing the per­sonal and mar­i­tal vi­cis­si­tudes of Mal­tese politi­cians (we need a quick and def­i­nite clo­sure to this), Ger­many and France have pre­sented a novel plan be­fore the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity, to forge a com­mon Franco-Ger­man for­eign pol­icy and to lobby for a Ger­man per­ma­nent seat on the UN’s Se­cu­rity Coun­cil.

In the mean­time, Mr Salvini has an­nounced the emer­gence of an Italo-Pol­ish axis to coun­ter­bal­ance the Paris-Ber­lin al­liance.

The idea be­hind the Fran­coGer­man al­liance seems to be that the two coun­tries can be ideal part­ners, given France’s po­lit­i­cal and diplo­matic clout in the South and Ger­many’s in East­ern Europe. This new al­liance could later evolve into some­thing even big­ger.

One could stoop so low as to say that it seems that French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron is at it again, try­ing to sat­isfy an older woman, this time An­gela Merkel. But one should re­sist such temp­ta­tions and in­stead un­der­line that this new twist in con­tem­po­rary his­tory should grab ev­ery­body’s at­ten­tion par­tic­u­larly in the light of Don­ald Trump’s em­pha­sis on US mil­i­tary spend­ing on the European con­ti­nent.

Malta should also be pub­licly dis­cussing what we stand to ben­e­fit from the com­ing into be­ing of “Fra­many” and whether we have any­thing to gain from a mil­i­tar­ily rein­vig­o­rated Ger­many with an in­ter­na­tional voice so pow­er­ful that it oc­cu­pies a per­ma­nent Se­cu­rity Coun­cil seat, no less.

His­tory is ob­vi­ously a favourite can­di­date as guide. Not only the two World Wars (1914-1918 and 1939-1945) for which Ger­many was re­spon­si­ble, but the many oth­ers in which the Ger­mans were prime ac­tors: the Franco-Prus­sian War (1870-1871), the Thirty Years War (1618-1648), the North­ern Cru­sades (12th and 13th cen­turies) … one could even go back to the Völk­er­wan­derung, mi­gra­tion of peo­ples, as the Ger­mans ro­man­ti­cally re­fer to the Bar­bar­ian In­va­sions of the Ro­man Em­pire (4th-6th cen­turies).

The re­la­tion­ship be­tween France and Ger­many is very old, and fra­ter­nal. The Frank­ish part of the French peo­ple and the Ger­mans are broth­ers. A lit­tle more than a thou­sand years ago, France was West Fran­cia and Ger­many was East Fran­cia. Those who be­came the French Ro­man­ised them­selves; the oth­ers who be­came the Ger­mans and re­mained in the Ger­manic lands, did not (or did, but to a the

My Per­sonal Li­brary (36)

This week was es­pe­cially marked by the mi­grants saga, the clash with Mat­teo Salvini and the eth­i­cal dis­cus­sion on whether mi­grants de­serve the same level of hu­man-rights pro­tec­tion as cit­i­zens.

The de­bate is whether all hu­mans de­serve re­spect or only cit­i­zens. In other words, are hu­man rights de­pen­dent on their recog­ni­tion by states (this is the po­si­tion of Is­raeli le­gal and moral philoso­pher Joseph Raz) or do hu­man rights de­pend on our hu­man­ity, whether we are cit­i­zens of a state or not? These ques­tions have to be posed, de­spite the word­ing of in­ter­na­tional hu­man rights in­stru­ments, be­cause in prac­tice in­ter­pre­ta­tions are prof­fered that tend to give up on the ide­al­ism of the drafters and grav­i­tate to­ward a “more re­al­is­tic” (read re­duced) scope of hu­man­rights pro­tec­tion.

The is­sue of whether mi­grants are to be treated as just hu­man (like hu­man em­bryos, say) or on the same level as cit­i­zens, was ad­dressed in a lit­er­ary fash­ion by the Peru­vian au­thor and No­bel-Prize lau­re­ate Mario Vargas Llosa (b. 1936) in his 1977 comic novel Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter. Though the medium is hu­mour, the novel’s un­der­ly­ing agenda is se­ri­ous; the au­thor sim­ply reck­oned that some­times hu­mour is the best way to ex­plain and un­der­stand cer­tain se­ri­ous is­sues (also, pos­si­bly be­cause the novel is in a sense au­to­bi­o­graph­i­cal).

The novel re­lates the crazy love of an 18-year-old (Mar­ito) for his 32year-old aunt (Julia), whom he ends up mar­ry­ing, and the crazy story of the melt­down of a highly suc­cess­ful scriptwriter. It is a hilarious and bril­liant novel, and, ul­ti­mately, a great read.

There is much to say about it and its funny episodes. But amid all the hi­lar­ity, there’s the se­ri­ous story of an African mi­grant, a stow­away, who ar­rives in the Latin Amer­i­can city where the ac­tion is tak­ing place. He is dis­cov­ered by a po­lice sergeant naked, his body cov­ered in scars, and un­able to speak a recog­nis­able lan­guage. The sergeant ar­rests him and takes him to the sta­tion where he is locked up in a cell while he waits for a de­ci­sion on his fate. The sergeant then re­ceives the or­der to kill him. The episode ends in sus­pense: the sergeant draws his re­volver but, af­ter sev­eral sec­onds have passed, he still has not fired … and there’s a se­ries of ques­tions. Will the sergeant let the African es­cape or will he shoot him dead? “How would this tragedy of El Cal­lao end?”

In the early 2000s, I read an ar­ti­cle some­where on the 19th-cen­tury Latin Amer­i­can con­tri­bu­tion to In­ter­na­tional Law and its rel­e­vance to our own neo-Vic­to­rian times, when the North is once again ex­ploit­ing the South. I think I read it when I was at­tend­ing a course in Pub­lic In­ter­na­tional Law at The Hague Acad­emy of In­ter­na­tional Law. I then made ref­er­ence to it in my book on con­sular law pub­lished in Eng­land al­most 10 years ago. I thought then, and still think now, that the Latin Amer­i­can ex­pe­ri­ence with Euro­peans shar­ing the same liv­ing space with na­tives, Africans, mes­ti­zos (half European, half na­tive), mu­lat­tos (half Euro­peans, half African), and sam­bos (half na­tive, half African), has a lot to teach us.

Be that as it may, the episode of the stow­away ex­em­pli­fies the eth­i­cal prob­lem of how to deal with il­le­gal im­mi­grants. Forty years and more have passed since the pub­li­ca­tion of Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter and the prob­lem has not been re­solved. Look at how Prime Min­is­ter Mus­cat played with 49 lives, with­out show­ing any com­punc­tion.

Re­duced to its essence, the ques­tion is: are all hu­mans equally hu­man, or are some hu­mans more hu­man than oth­ers?

At the end of the day, when all is said and done, if you want to be in­tel­lec­tu­ally hon­est you have to ad­mit that it is vir­tu­ally im­pos­si­ble to es­cape from Ge­orge Or­well.

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