A month has passed since the closing of SabirFest 2017 (5 – 8 October 2017), the festival of Mediterranean Culture and Citizenship which is held in Sicily since 2014, and whose I am one of the founders. Many emotional feelings have crossed our hearts those days, and many things have been said, especially at the dialogues on Mediterranean citizenship, the festival’s cornerstone, which bring together activists, thinkers, artists and civil society practitioners from more than 20 countries under the name of “Sabir Maydan community”. In this note I will tell you some of those things.
This year, we have experienced new things and opened new paths.
First of all, SabirFest has for the first time reached three cities, Messina, Catania and Reggio Calabria, with about one hundred events distributed across the three locations. We have thus given substance to the founders’ initial idea of creating a “festival of the Strait”, as a symbolic meeting space between the two banks of the Mediterranean. The path has been traced, and from now on Sicily and Calabria will work together, putting together their energies in a common cultural box, for the sake of the rapprochement between the peoples of the many shores of this sea.
SabirFest 2017 has also given us the opportunity to hold a “Sabir Off” in Naples thanks to the close collaboration with Cantiere Giovani of Frattamaggiore. Naples’ event focused on welcoming practices in Italy, inspired by the theme of hospitality, which was the cross-cutting topic of the whole SabirFest this year, whose slogan was precisely: “(Dis)courtesy to guests. ” Following the closure of the 2017 edition, our ambition is now to multiply the spaces of dialogue, creation and strategic reflection in the format of festival / forum through a trans-Mediterranean network of “SabirFest” events. This network could include next year the locations of Tangier (Morocco) and Opatje Selo (Slovenia), thanks to the interest and the availability of local members of the Sabir Maydan community.
Hundreds of events and a hundred guests, were we saying. Beyond the numbers, however, SabirFest 2017 was the occasion to finally launch the pre-Manifesto for the Mediterranean Citizenship. This document, the result of a collective editorial work, is the political message of the Sabir Maydan community, which seeks to promote a free and united Mediterranean, thus challenging a narrative that whishes all of us to be divided, irreconcilable and in profound disagreement. In other words, the pre-Manifesto is our social, cultural and political project for the Mediterranean to come. Started at the end of 2015, this collective work was initially interrupted, to resume its course at a later step and reach what we have called a “pre-Manifesto”, a text we wish to discuss in all the physical and virtual squares possible we can open or reach. Through a genuine bottom-up “constituent” exercise, we want to involve all those groups and associations who are interested in joining a public debate on the Mediterranean we dream of.
This is an exercise we have experienced on the field during SabirFest 2017, organizing two open sessions on the draft manifesto in Catania (with teachers and university students) and Messina (with Sabir Maydan activists and SabirFest organizers), and three “territorial events” in the three festival’s locations that we have named “exercises of hospitality”. These events allowed us to address some of the theses of the draft manifesto with specific contexts related to Mediterranean challenges: the first one was with the minors’ detention centre of Acireale (Catania) on citizenship rights and cultural recognition; another one with migrants & refugees reception workers and experts in Messina on solidarity; and the third one with Reggio Calabria’s Chamber of Commerce on development, economic prospects and borders.
The Pre-Manifesto is available in Italian and English here, and is being translated into Arabic, Serbian-Croatian and French. It is our intention to have several language versions to multiply the opportunities for debate and consultation.
Sabir Maydan intends as well to promote complementary tools aimed at supporting local groups acting in favor of a free and united Mediterranean, in terms of strategizing, mobilization and communication work. Last year already, Sabir Maydan activists talked together about these tools (see the conclusions of SabirFest 2016). If we want to imagine a real bottom-up “constituent” process, besides drawing the political message, we must think about the forces we can put in place, which can represent the founding framework of a voluntary and self-organized trans-Mediterranean institutional architecture. While our political class finds more profitable to speculate on the chimeras of nationalism, or it dreams of erasing the Arab spring season from our memories and the anti-austerity movements from today’s life, we want instead to move up the times of the Mediterranean to come, the only Mediterranean possible. Won’t we do it, we will all face a status of permanent war in all its declinations, and the inescapable decay of democracies. If you allow me using a metaphor, it is as if we were to create a “shadow government” of the Mediterranean, even though a legitimate government for such a region does not yet exist. And to do this, what do we need then?
First of all, a trans-Mediterranean information platform, which reports, observes and analyzes the bad news, but also describes the good things happening in this region and brings forward people’s stories. Such a platform should be available in several languages, and offer unknown stories, as well as facts and analyses that contribute to make our awareness of sharing a common destiny growing. Immediately after SabirFest 2017, we have received at least a couple of proposals to work together on an online media of this kind, and we have to follow it up.
Secondly, we need to shape the new “Mediterranean citizens”, whom we want responsible, active and courageous. That is why we have thought of an institute for active citizenship in the Mediterranean, which exchanges knowledge, practices and resources among groups of activists in the region, and connects grassroots activism with academic research and the intellectual and scientific community. On this, after last year’s failed attempt to secure funding through EU programmes, we are still running below our original expectations.
Thirdly and lastly, we need: trans-Mediterranean campaigns involving citizens of the two banks on priority issues of common interest, so that we can start doing politics beyond borders without being “Eurocentric”, and can highlight how the same contradictions affect the territories of the two banks; and we need incubators to generate business and work without destroying our landscapes, impoverishing our communities, or distorting our cultural roots. Perhaps a portal to promote micro-initiatives for local development and jobs in the social and solidarity economy field?
The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are still few or dispersed. Let us, however, celebrate a good news: Özlem Dalkıran, a member of Helsinki Citizens’ Assembly Turkey, one of Sabir Maydan’s community organizations, is free. Arrested by the Turkish regime during a meeting between human rights defenders in July this year, she has obtained conditional freedom at the end of October after a long legal battle. SabirFest 2017’s edition was dedicated to our dear Özlem, as well as to Father Paolo Dall’Oglio and to all those who died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. Unfortunately, there are other friends, whom SabirFest’s past editions have been dedicated to, and who are still in jail, such as Egyptian blogger Alaa Abdelfattah or Egyptian journalist Ismail Iskandarany. On behalf of all friends of SabirFest and the Sabir Maydan community, we ask for their immediate release!
Last thing: the cartoon accompanying this article was donated by Syrian artist Diala Brisly, who has with this image given her interpretation of a manifesto for Mediterranean citizenship. Children’s eyes, this is what we need to dare imagining what is not yet there, a Mediterranean without frontiers.