The EU of social welfare or of generational warfare, the continent of debt-bound economies or of knowledge-based community? Is the predatory generation in power? Why the only organized counter-narrative comes as a lukewarm Mouse Mickey – between Anonymous and Pirate party, from the Wiki-leaky to Snowden-picky.
Europe’s redemption lies in the re-affirmation of the Lisbon Strategy of 2000 (and of Göteborg 2001), a ten-year development plan that focused on innovation, mobility and education, social, economic and environmental renewal. Otherwise a generational warfare will join class and ethnic conflicts as a major dividing line of the EU society in decline.
Back in the good old days of the Lisbon Strategy (when the Union was proclaimed to be the most competitive, knowledge-based economy of the world), the Prodi and Barroso Commissions have been both repeatedly stressing that: “at present, some of our world trading partners compete with primary resources, which we in the EU/Europe do not have. Some compete with cheap labor, which we do not want. Some compete on the back of their environment, which we cannot accept…”
What has happened in the meantime?
The over-financialization and hyper-deregulations of the global(-ized) markets has brought the low-waged Chinese (peasant converted into a) worker into the spotlight of European considerations. Thus, in the last two decades, the EU economic edifice has gradually but steadily departed from its traditional labor-centered base, to the overseas investment-centered construct. This mega event, as we see now with the Euro-zone dithyramb, has multiple consequences on both the inner–European cultural, socio-economic and political balance as well as on China’s (overheated) growth. That sparse, rarefied and compressed labor, which still resides in the aging Union is either bitterly competing with or is heavily leaning on the guest workers who are per definition underrepresented or silenced by the ‘rightist’ movements and otherwise disadvantaged and hindered in their elementary socio-political rights. That’s how the world’s last cosmopolitan – Europe departed from the world of work, and that’s why the Continent today cannot orient itself (both critically needed to identify a challenge, as well as to calibrate and jointly redefine the EU path). To orient, one need to center itself: Without left and right, there is no center, right?!
To orient, one need to center itself, at first
Contemporary Union has helplessly lost its political ‘left’. The grand historical achievement of Europe – after the centuries–long and bloody class struggle – was the final, lasting reconciliatory compromise between capital and labor. (E.g. tightening the ‘financial screws’ while unemployment kept its sharp rise, was a big mantra of the French, British, German and Italian political center-right in late 1920s and early 1930s.) It resulted in a consolidation of economically entrepreneurial and vibrant but at the same time socially just and beneficial state. This colossal civilizational accomplishment is what brought about the international recognition, admiration, model attraction and its competitiveness as well as inner continuity, prosperity and stability to the post WWII Europe.
In the country of origin of the very word dēmokratía, the President of the Socialist International (and the Nation‘s PM) has recently introduced to his own citizenry the most drastic cuts that any European social welfare system had experienced in the last 80 years. The rest of official Europe (and the rest of ‘unofficial us’) still chews the so-called Greek debt tirade as if it is not about the very life of 12 million souls, but a mare technical item studied at secondary schools’ crash-course on macro economy.
The present-day Union, aged but not restaged, is (in) a shadow of the grand taboo that the EU can produce everything but its own life. The Old Continent is demographically sinking, while economically contracting, yet only keeps afloat. Even the EU Commission, back in 2005, fairly diagnosed in its Green Paper Confronting demographic change – a new solidarity between generations that: “…Never in history has there been economic growth without population growth.”
The numbers of unemployed, underemployed or underpaid/working–poor are constantly growing. (Simply, the unemployed is not a free person, but an excluded and insecure, obedient and backward-minded, aggressive and brutal individual.) The average age of the first labor market entry is already over 30 in many MS – not only of Europe’s south. The middle-class is pauperized and a cross-generational social contract is silently abandoned, as one of its main operative instruments – the Lisbon strategy – has been eroded, and finally lost its coherence.
To worsen the hardship, nearly all European states have responded wrongly to the crisis by hammering down their respective education and science/R&D budgets. It is not a policy move, but an anti-visionary panicking that delivers only cuts on the future (generations).
(E.g. the EU investments in renewables have been decreasing ever since 2008. Still, today, the EU budget allocation to agriculture subsides is 10 times bigger than to R&D.) No wonder that our cities at present –instead of blossoming with the new technologies– are full of pauperized urban farmers: a middle class citizenry which desperately turns to mini agriculture as the only way to meet their nutritional needs.
Silenced Youth with Bluetooth
Is the subtle, unnoticed generational warfare, instead of the social welfare already going on?!
Recent generational accounting figures illuminate a highly disturbing future prospect for the EU youth. Decades of here-us-now disheartened consumerism corroded the EU’s community fabrics so much that, cross-generationally speaking, the present is the most socioeconomically egotistic European society of all times.
Elaborating on the known ‘ageing argument’ of Fukuyama, I earlier stated that: “…political, social and economic changes including very important technological breakthroughs, primarily occurred at generational intervals…Presently, with demographically collapsing European societies, of three or more generations active and working at the same time, the young cohort (of go-getters) will never constitute more than a tiny minority. Hence, neither generational change nor technological breakthrough (which usually comes along) in future will ever be that of our past: full and decisive.” (Our Common Futures: EURO-MED Human Capital beyond 2020, Crans Montana Forum, Monaco, 2005). Conclusively, many of the Third World countries are known by having predatory elites in power that continuously hinder the society at large and hijack their progress to its narrow ends. The EU might easily end up with the predatory generation in power.
On the other hand, Europe has never witnessed its own youth so apolitical, apathetic and disengaged in last 250 years – as their larger front of realities has contracted into the sporadic and self-disfranchising protests over the alleged, but isolated cyber freedoms or over decontextualized gay-rights â la Lady Gaga, only.
Interestingly enough, in the times of a tacit generational warfare, any consolidated fight for a social and generational cause is completely absent. The only organized revolt of European youth comes as a lukewarm demand for a few more freedoms to download internet contents (Anonymous, Pirate party, Wiki-leaky, Snowden-picky, etc.) or through colorful sporadic campaigns for de-contextualized gay and other behavioristic rights. Despite their worsened conditions, the young Europeans didn’t come even close to the core of representative democracy – e.g. to request 20% seat- allocation for the below-30 age cohort in the European and national parliaments – as one of the effective means to improve their future prospects.
Demographically, socio-economically and politically marginalized, European youngsters are chronically underrepresented since exceptionally few MPs and MEPs are below age of 30. Or as Fukuyama noted in his recent essay: “Something strange is going on in the world today. The global financial crisis that began in 2008 and the ongoing crisis of the euro are both products of the model of lightly regulated financial capitalism that emerged over the past three decades… most dynamic recent populist movement to date has been the right-wing… where the left is anemic and right-wing populist parties are on the move… This absence of a plausible progressive counter¬narrative is unhealthy, because competition is good for intellectual ¬debate just as it is for economic activity. And serious intellectual debate is urgently needed, since the current form of globalized capitalism is eroding the middle-class social base on which liberal democracy rests. (Fukuyama, F. (2012) ‘The Future of History’ Foreign Affairs Magazine 91(1) 2012).
The troll of control: No prosperity via austerity
What is the additional pervasive effect of (any) crisis on democracy? 9/11 is just one in series of confirmations (e.g. from the ‘Nixon shock’ to the ongoing Greek/Euro debt saga) that any particular crisis may turn beneficial to those seeking the nontransparent power concentration.
Once a real democracy starts compromising its vital contents, it corrodes degenerates and turns formal. Many contemporary examples show us that for a formal democracy, it is not far from ending up as an oppressive autocratic dictatorship with either police or military or both residing outside a strict civil and democratic control. A real democracy will keep its financial establishment (as much as its armed organs, and other alienation-potent segments) under a strict popular democratic scrutiny and civil control through the clearly defined mechanisms of checks and balances. That is the quintessence of democracy.
(E.g. Without any electoral dependence on EU governments or EU voters, thus, with unconstrained authority and means – the ECB quickly produced over € 1,000 billion to refinance the banks. It seems as if the European integration does not rest on social welfare, public services, job creation and labor protection, enveloped in a democratic, transparent atmosphere of full accountability and universal, especially cross-generational, participation.)
“There has been little willingness to strengthen civic watchdogs of international financial institutions, which might provide a more accurate service than the commercially driven credit-rating agencies that performed so disastrously in the financial crisis…” – laments the FRIDE Institute Director, Richard Youngs in his luminary book: Europe’s Decline and Fall. Indeed, is there any rating agency for ethical bankruptcy, for a deep moral crisis affecting all societal segments around us? The ability to comprehend our common destiny, to show our cross-EU empathy and solidarity is also hitting its record low. The southern/peripheral member states are already pejoratively nicknamed as PIGS by the bank analysts and bond traders (an ill-made, but increasingly circulating acronym referring to Portugal, Italy/Ireland, Greece and Spain).
Currently, the end game of the so-called Euro-crises seems to reveal that the financial institutions are neither under democratic control nor within the national sovereignty domain. (E.g. 20 years ago, the value of overall global financial transactions was 12 times the entire world’s gross annual product. By the end of 2011, it was nearly 70 times as big.) How else to explain that the EU –so far– prefers the unselective punitive action of collective punishment on the entire population/s (e.g. of Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, etc.) – meaning: to control, then it is keen on a thorough, energetic investigation of responsible individuals – meaning to: resolve? So far, Iceland remains the only country that indicted and sentenced its Prime Minister in relation to the financial crisis.
From the democratic, transparent, just, visionary and all-participatory, a holiday from history- model of the European Community, the EU should not downgrade itself to a lame copy of the Federation of Theocracies – the late Ottoman Empire.
This authoritarian monarchy is remembered as a highly oppressive and undemocratic although to a degree liberal and minority-right tolerant feudal state. The Ottoman Federation of Theocracies was of a simple functioning system: with the Sultan’s handpicked Grand Porta (verticalized/homogeneous monetary space of the EMU and ECB, moderately restrained by the Council of the EU) that was unquestionably serviced by the religious communities from all over the waste Oriental Empire (horizontalized/heterogeneous fiscal space of the EMU, in which every state freely exercises its sovereignty in collecting taxes and spending), unless otherwise prescribed off-hand by the Sultan and his Porta (ECB and IMF).
Ergo, negotiating on the coined “Euro-zone debt crisis” (debt bound economies) without restaging the forgotten Lisbon strategy (knowledge-based Community), while keeping a heavy tax on labor but constantly pardoning financial capital, is simply a lame talk about form without any substance. Simply, it is a grand bargain of a tight circle behind the closed doors about control via austerity, not a cross-generationally wide-open debate about vision of prosperity.
Tomorrow never (D)Lies
Despite a constant media bombardment with cataclysmic headlines, the issue is not what will happen with the EURO or any other socio-economic and political instrument. The right question is what will happen with us – as means are always changeable and many, but the aim remains only one: the self-realization of society at large.
Indeed, the difference between a dialectic and cyclical history is a distance between success and fall: the later Lisbon (Treaty) should not replace but complement the previous Lisbon (Strategy). It is both a predictive and prescriptive wording: either a status quo of egoism, consumerism and escapism or a concept of social dynamism resting on a broad all-participatory base. To meet the need is/was always at our reach, but to feed the greed no wealth will ever be enough. Restaging the Lisbon Strategy and reintroducing all of its contents is not just Europe’s only strategic opportunity, but its grand generational/historic responsibility as well. Or as Monnet once explained this logic of necessity: “Crises are the great unifier!”
This article is an extended version of the key-note address ‘From Lisbon to Barcelona – all the forgotten EU instruments’ presented at the Crans Montana Forum, 2013, Geneva, Switzerland
- Lisbon European Council (2000), Employment, Economic Reforms and Social Cohesion: Towards a Europe based on Innovation and Knowledge, Brussels COM 5256/00 + ADD1 COR 1 (en)
- Bajrektarevic, A. (2004), Europe beyond 2020: Three-dimensional Challenge, 13th OSCE Economic Forum, Trieste Italy, November 2004
- European Commission (2005), Confronting demographic change – a new solidarity between generations, Brussels COM 2005 94f of 16 MAR 2005 (page:5)
- Bajrektarevic, A. (2012), No Breakthrough at the Rio+20 Summit – Geopolitics of Quantum Buddhism, GHIR 4 (2) 2012, Addleton Publishers
- Fukuyama, F. (2002), Our Posthuman Future, Profile Books
- Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Our Common Futures: EURO-MED Human Capital beyond 2020, Crans Montana Forum, Monaco, Dec 2005
- Fukuyama, F. (2012) ‘The Future of History’ Foreign Affairs Magazine 91(1) 2012
- Youngs, R. (2011), Europe’s Decline and Fall – The struggle against global irrelevance, Profile Books
- Ferguson, N. (2005), Colossus – The Rise and Fall of the American Empire, Penguin Books (page 221)
- Bajrektarevic, A. (2005), Green/Policy Paper Submitted to the closing plenary of the Ministerial (and the statement of the Slovenian Chairmanship summarizing the recommendations and conclusions of the OSCE Ministerial Summit Prague 2005), OSCE Documents/EEA 2005/05/14857/En
The EU of social welfare or of generational warfare, the continent of debt-bound economies or of knowledge-based community? Is the predatory generation in power?
Europe’s redemption lies in the re-affirmation of the Lisbon Strategy of 2000, a ten-year development plan that focused on innovation, mobility and education, social, economic and environmental renewal. Otherwise a generational warfare will join class and ethnic conflicts as a major dividing line of the EU society in decline.
An Austro-Franco-German Proposal for a European Post Covid-19 Recovery Programme
The conference named “75 years of Europe’s Collective Security and Human Rights System”, which took place on the 1st of July at the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, brought together experts related to the reality of the Old Continent and its Union over the course of the past 75 years of its post-WWII anti-fascist existence. It was jointly organized by four different entities (the International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies IFIMES, Media Platform Modern Diplomacy, Scientific Journal European Perspectives, and Action Platform Culture for Peace) with the support of the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, numerous academia supporting and media partners.
The conference gathered over twenty high ranking speakers from Canada to Australia, and audience physically in the venue while many others attended online – from Chile to Far East. The day was filled by three panels focusing on the legacy of WWII, Nuremberg Trials, the European Human Rights Charter and their relevance in the 21st century; on the importance of culture for peace and culture of peace – culture, science, arts, sports – as a way to reinforce a collective identity in Europe; on the importance of accelerating on universalism and pan-European Multilateralism while integrating further the Euro-MED within Europe, or as the Romano Prodi’s EU Commission coined it back in 2000s – “from Morocco to Russia – everything but the institutions”.
The event itself was probably the largest physical gathering past the early spring lock down to this very day in this part of Europe. No wonder that it marked a launch of the political rethink and recalibration named – Vienna Process.
The panel under the name “Future to Europe: Is there any alternative to universal and pan-European Multilateralism? Revisiting and recalibrating the Euro-MED and cross-continental affairs”, was focused on discussing the determinants of Europe’s relations with its strategic Euro-MED and Eurasian neighborhood, the possible pan-European political architecture as well as on the forthcoming post-crisis recovery.
On the latter topic, the panelist Mario Holzner, who is the Director-General of the WIIW Austria, outlined the policy proposal on the post-pandemic European recovery programme, elaborated by his Viennese Institute in collaboration with the Paris-based research institute OFCE and the German IMK Macroeconomic Policy Institute. The Recovery Fund recently proposed by the European Commission represents a benchmark in the era of stalled European integration, and during the unstable and precarious post-pandemic times it holds a crucial role for overcoming the immense political and economic crisis of 2020 . Following on much public debate about the recovery financing, which however has heretofore lacked the proposals for concreteprojects that the EU should allocate the funds into, it is now urgently needed to come up with these.
WIIW, OFCE and IMK, three research tanks dealing with economic topics, suggested two main pillars – an EU one, and a national one- for the spending of the Commission’s recovery programme that reaches the amount of €2tn and is to allotted over a 10-year horizon. The spending of the EU pillar is to be channeled into the area of healthcare, eventually giving rise to a pan-European health project under the name Health4EU. Not least, another efficient allocation of the funds located in the programme’sEU pillar is to projects helping to mitigate the risks resulting from climate change, as well as to develop an EU-wide rail infrastructure that would substantively contribute to achieving the Commission’s goals of carbon-neutrality at the continent.
Among other, the proposal introduces two ambitious transport projects- a European high-speed rail infrastructure called Ultra-Rapid-Train, which would cut the travel time between Europe’s capitals, as well as disparate regions of the Union. Another suggested initiative is an integrated European Silk Road which would combine transport modes according to the equally-named Chinese undertaking.
Mr. Holzner’s experts team put forward the idea to “electrify” the European Commission’s Green Deal. Such electrification is feasible through the realisation of an integrated electricity grid for 100%-renewable energy transmission (e-highway), the support for complementary battery and green-hydrogen projects, as well as a programme of co-financing member states’ decarbonisation and Just Transition policies. Together, the suggested policy proposals provide the basis for creating a truly sustainable European energy infrastructure.
From the national pillar, it should be the member states themselves who benefit from the funding allocation in the overall amount of €500bn. According to the experts from WIIW, these resources should be focused on the hardest-hit countries and regions, whereas it is imperative that they are front-loaded (over the time span of three years).
The overall architecture of the programme’s spending, involving the largest part of the budget, needs to be focused on long-term projects and investment opportunities that would serve as a value added for the European integration, while also allowing to build resilience against the major challenges that the EU currently faces. The proposed sectors for the initiatives which could be launched from the EU’s funding programme are public health, transport infrastructure, as well as energy/decarbonisation scheme. Accordingly, it is needed that the funding programme is primarily focused on the structural and increasingly alarming threat of climate change.
As stated in the closing remarks, to make this memorable event a long-lasting process, the organisers as well as the participants of this unique conference initiated an action plan named “Vienna Process: Common Future – One Europe.” In the framework of this enterprise, the contributing policy-makers and academics will continue to engage in meaningful activities to reflect on the trends and developments forming the European reality while simultaneously affecting the lives of millions. The European system, formed over centuries and having spanned to a political and economic Union comprising 27 states, is currently being reconfigured as a result of numerous external factors such as Brexit, the pandemic, as well as the dynamics in neighbouring regions. All of these are engendering the conditions for a novel modus operandi on the continent, whereby it is in the best intention of those partaking at this conference to contribute to a more just, secure, and peaceful European future.
Britain, Greece, Turkey and The Aegean: Does Anything Change?
Since at least 1955, the Aegean Sea has long been an area of contention between local powers Greece and Turkey on the one hand, and the US-UK-Israeli strategic axis on the other, with the Soviet Union and then Russia defending its interests when necessary, since the Aegean cannot be separated from the Eastern Mediterranean as a strategic whole, nor from Syria, Cyprus, Egypt, Palestine and Israel. In this essay, we shall, by using original documents, unravel the background to the present media hysteria over a potential war between Greece and Turkey.
As Giambattista Vico, beloved by James Joyce, wrote, the world moves between periods of order and disorder. At the moment, there certainly seems to be a surfeit of disorder or, in the words of some attention-grabbing media pundits, chaos. We should also bear in mind Francesco Guicciardini’s dictum that things have always been the same, that the past sheds light on the future, and that the same things return with different colours. The current Aegean clash between Greece and Turkey is no exception. Let us look briefly at British policy to gain a more realistic insight into what is really happening, and slice through the emotional and warlike rhetoric emanating mainly from President Erdogan, emphasising as it does Ottomanism and Sunni Mohammedanism (thus undermining Kemalism), and in turn holding NATO to ransom, and distracting the Turkish people from an impending economic crisis.
British Imperial Origins
The origins of Turkish claims go back to Britain bringing Turkey into the Cyprus question in 1955, in breach of Article 16 of the Treaty of Lausanne, and then helping Turkey with its propaganda.1 This enabled Turkey to link the Cyprus issue to unfounded claims in the Aegean. Let us look more closely at British policy.
In 1972, Turkey was threatening Greece over its legitimate building of a radar station on Limnos, first for national defence purposes, and then integrated into NATO’s radar network. Britain recognised Greece’s objections to Turkish sabre-rattling: the Head of the FCO’s Southern European Department (SED) consulted Western Organisations Department (WOD), including the comment ‘what looked prima facie like a strong Greek case in law’.2 In a typical bout of taking French leave of the problem, WOD replied: ‘The last thing that we want to do is to find ourselves playing any part in it’.3 Thus, the rights and wrongs of the case were irrelevant to the FCO. Non-involvement was the order of the day.
But internally the debate continued. On 28 September, an FCO legal adviser wrote: ‘My preliminary view is that I agree with the Greek contention that when the Montreux Convention entered into force the provisions of the Lausanne Straits Convention concerning the de-militarisation of Lemnos terminated. I am of this opinion because of the plain words of the two treaties in their context and in the light of their object and purpose.’4
In the event, the issue was fudged, and war was avoided. But the claims remained, to be resuscitated whenever it suited Turkish foreign policy, as in 1975 and in the wake of the invasion and occupation of over one third of Cyprus. Turkey expanded its claims to cover several Greek islands. Again, in private, the FCO revealed the absurdity of the Turkish claims, with the Head of Chancery at British Embassy in Ankara writing: ‘Another example of perhaps typically Turkish thinking on this occurred when I was discussing this subject with Mr Dag, a First Secretary who works to Mr Süleymez […] He said that all that was needed for progress was that the Greeks should give in! I was left with the impression that reference to the International Court was still seen as something rather irrelevant and that the Turks hankered firmly, however unrealistically, for a bilateral solution. This is perhaps not surprising as they can presumably not have very much confidence in winning their case at the Court on its merits alone.’5 In this connexion, Henry Kissinger also pressurised the British Prime Minister to water down a draft UN resolution, so as to appear less supportive of the Greek position.6
The British position can be seen even more plainly in an FCO brief in 1977: ‘It happens that the British Government’s view of the issue is much closer to the Greek than the Turkish view. In particular, Britain supports the entitlement of islands to have a continental shelf.’7
The backstage reality is however better encapsulated in the following extract from an FCO paper: ‘We should also recognise that in the final analysis Turkey must be regarded as more important to Western strategic interests than Greece and that, if risks must be run, they should be risks of further straining Greek rather than Turkish relations with West.’8
At the Moment
The question arises as to whether anything will alter intrinsically in Greek-Turkish relations and in Anglo-Saxon support for Turkey. We are currently witnessing a repeat of previous illegal Turkish actions in the Aegean. France, as often in the past, tends to support Greece more openly, and now Italy has joined in a naval exercise with the French and Greeks. Germany is more difficult, as it still seems to place its enormous business interests in Turkey (its ally in the Great War), including large arms sales, above international law. Britain, the US’s acolyte in the Eastern Mediterranean, is enjoying the possibility of a Franco-German EU-weakening split, as it always has.
If it does however come to serious push and shove, Germany will have to succumb to the French view on Turkish law-breaking, since the EU depends more than ever on the Franco-German axis, and irritated commentators are starting to make comparisons between the Nazi genocide of Jews and Turkey’s genocide of Armenians and others. This is likely to have an effect on the German institutional psyche, still intent on being seen to be humanitarian, to balance the horrors perpetrated in the past. This leaves us with a potential disagreement between the Franco-German axis and thus the EU (even with a Germany being reluctant to criticise Turkey too obviously) on the one hand, and the US-UK-Israel axis on the other. Although the US is still trying, with the UK (and, until recently, Germany) to force Greece and Turkey to talk to each other on an equal footing, this is precisely what Turkey wants, so as to avoid its claims going to the International Court at the Hague. Russia, although happy to see two alleged NATO allies talking about war against each other, and undermining an organisation that it sees as obsolete and a threat to world peace, would not like to see major disorder on its southern flank, as this could affect its strategic interests in Syria and the region as a whole, interests that are considered by many to more legitimate than those of the US, thousands and thousands of miles away.
The only question is whether there will be another international fudge – which means only postponing the problem – or whether UN Law of the Sea will prevail (of course Turkey has not signed the UNLOSC Convention) and put Turkey in its place, with a concomitant return to Kemalism and friendship with neighbours, or even a weakened but less jingoistic Turkish state.
1 – Mallinson, William, Cyprus: a Modern History, I.B. Tauris, London and New York, 2005, 2008, and 2012 (now Bloomsbury), pp. 22-25.
2 – Hitch to McLaren, minute, 7 September 1972, BNA FCO9/1525, file WSG 3/318/1, in Mallinson, William, Britain and Cyprus, Bloomsbury Academic, 2020.
3 – Ibid., Ramsay to McLaren, minute, 13 September 1972.
4 – Ibid., Wood to Hitch, minute, 28 September 1972.
5 – Fullerton to Wright, letter, 28 September 1975, BNA FCO 9/2233, file WSG 3/318/1.
6 -Telephone conversation between Kissinger and Callaghan, BNA PREM 16/1157.
7 – FCO brief, May 1977, BNA PREM16/1624.
8 – ‘British Interests in the Eastern Mediterranean’, FCO paper prepared by South East Europe Department, 11 April 1975, BNA FCO 46/1248, file DP1/516/1.
From our partner RIAC
From Intellectual Powerhouse to Playing Second Fiddle
A multi-ethnic, multi-religious culture built Spain into an intellectual powerhouse so much so that after the reconquesta scholars from various parts of Europe flocked there to translate the scientific and philosophical works from classical Arabic into Latin triggering the European renaissance.
But soon there were other changes. The Holy Office of the Inquisition was born. Muslim dress, Arab names and the Arabic language were outlawed. A new inferior class of people emerged – Moriscos. They were Muslims who had converted to Catholicism under threat, usually of exile and loss of property. Many of course continued to practice Islam in secret.
Discrimination and mistreatment led to Morisco rebellions which were crushed. Eventually they were forced into internal exile to the northern provinces of Extremadura, La Mancha and New Castile where there was greater tolerance particularly in La Mancha.
In Toledo, the area around the cathedral gained fame as an informal school of translators. Often Morisco, these translators’ services were available to scholars or others requiring translation of Arabic texts. It is here that the narrator of Cervantes’ epic Don Quixote of La Mancha finds a translator for an Arabic manuscript, a supposedly historical account of Don Quixote’s adventures. The author of the fictional text is Cide Hamete Benengeli, a name that is clearly of a Morisco. If Spain was busy making Moriscos a non-people, Cervantes was reminding them of their heritage.
In 1492 when the last Arab Emirate (Grenada) was relinquished to Catholic Spain the treaty signed promised Muslims the right to their way of life in perpetuity. Their Catholic Majesties Ferdinand II and Isabella I soon reneged on the deal. Restrictions, internal exile, discrimination and forced conversions were the result. But even the converted were not safe. As Ottoman power expanded to the Mediterranean, Spain felt threatened. Morisco loyalty became suspect and in the early 17th century they were expelled from Spain as were the Jews. So ended 900 years of coexistence, fruitful and friendly that changed to suspicions and final expulsion under Catholic Spain.
And what of Spain? Having lost its intellectual dynamism, it took its brand of intolerant Christianity to the Americas and added it to European diseases to which the people there had no immunity. A devastated but Christianized population was the result. Time and immigration have changed demographics. A majority of Argentines for example have Italian ancestry; German influence in Chile which encouraged immigration from there in the 19th century is another example.
Our own Ferdinand and Isabella composite resides in the White House with a good chance he will not next year. Life will go on and people will continue to practice the religion of their birth or choice.
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