My Mediterranean – Article of Ofer Bronchtein to be published in IPEMED book
Ofer Bronchtein: That the South “nordise” and that North is “méditerranise”
The reality of the Mediterranean area is fragile
The Mediterranean is the cradle of the three monotheistic religions, the source of cross-Jewish history, Christian and Muslim Arab. This is the best place for reunion between East and West. Yet its current development is an empty promise: the peaks of 13 July 2008 in Paris, and Barcelona in 2004, have high hopes but neither partners nor the political and financial means, were at the rendezvous. If we want the Mediterranean to happen, and it is a vow that I make here with force, it will take time to combine the wishes of the action and draw up a balanced partnership, among legitimate and stable regimes, based on the rule of law, and propagating shared values, with and for their peoples. Indeed, notably absent from this empty shell that was UfM are civil societies, and especially youth and women. The construction of the Mediterranean should not be the sole preserve of senior European officials, but would benefit from integrating all stakeholders.
The Euro-Mediterranean project responds to real and urgent needs
The difficulties of the current crisis can only be overcome through a renewed solidarity, and a policy based on the values of liberty, equality, and fraternity. The idea of Euro Mediterranean will give concrete answers to serious problems if we manage to move towards greater social justice within the country, and a better balance between them. The gap between democratic and authoritarian regimes, the enormous disparities between rich and poor, between men and women, will not allow ourselves to achieve our goals. We must therefore encourage the wind of freedom that continues to blow, not without difficulty, on the Mediterranean; us to support the demands for justice.
Is there a Mediterranean identity?
Yes of course, is a multifaceted identity. It is historical, political, cultural, religious, climate and even gourmet – the inhabitants of the south shore consume more olive oil than the Swedes or the Scots. Jerusalem, Athens, Rome or Avignon Cordoba, some are gross and extraordinary evidence of our common heritage.
Each strand is characterized by its own history, its climate, specific languages, forging singular identities but also a common destiny. The challenge is to create synergies, mingling, exchanges in culture, economics, pedagogy, so that the South is “nordise” and that North is “méditerranise”. We can not overnight ask a Dane or a Mediterranean feel of Luxembourg, to an Egyptian or a Syrian to adopt the customs and habits of an Irish or Polish. Everyone must preserve its uniqueness and heritage, while opening up to others. The Mediterranean identity can be sublimated beyond the differences and disputes between the two sides, allowing everyone to express themselves while sharing universal values, those of human rights and democracy.
What are the complementarities and what differences you perceive between the two sides?
Disparities between countries on both sides but also within countries, are primarily economic and social. Development gaps persist: the literacy rate is nearly 100% in countries of the European Union while it still oscillates between 50 and 80% in the Maghreb countries, it is the same for access Internet: the penetration rate has stagnated at around 15% in Algeria or Syria, or it is only 5.5% in Libya, while the European average is around 60%. As for complementarities, they are many: the values of family, community, spirituality, natural resources are all factors that the southern Mediterranean could bring to the North. Human rights, democracy, social protection, technological, industrial know-how, could inspire the South. Countries on the southern shore are emerging or emergence, they are characterized by sustained growth, rapid population growth. This provides an opportunity for countries of the North Shore: new opportunities, potential new markets and share with whom, of course, a good example in terms of demographics – the Nordic countries with their aging character.
The Arab revolutions change the perception of the whole Mediterranean
What a great lesson of freedom, courage and dignity we offer young people in Tahrir Square, Tunis, Tripoli or Homs! This historical movement is still in its premises, and the road will certainly be long and perilous, but it is our duty to support and encourage. The emergence of democracies in the Southern shore of the Mediterranean necessarily change the perception of the whole Mediterranean, we can no longer consider the clash of two worlds in balance, but as a place of cooperation between equals . Even in Tel Aviv or in Madrid, young people take to the streets to make their voices heard and demand social justice. The Arab revolutions disrupt the deal because they introduce the possibility of rapid and unplanned change in the region and a break with past patterns: we did not observe any American or Israeli flags burned. This is not the West that people accuse, but it is their dictatorial and corrupt regimes they challenge.
Imagine that spring will be born of Arab democracies modeled on the West is an arrogant view of the mind. Each state will build a democracy singular, corresponding to its needs, its history, and culture. The victory of Islamist parties in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco or Libya, is to follow. New trend for the region, or simply visit? The answer to this question will depend in part on future relations between the two sides: towards a homogenization or an accentuation of differences.
Develop cultural exchanges, for more than border cooperation
The great rift between North and South is due to arrogance. We must accept that Europe gradually open sky and sea for the passage of people and goods. The drama of Southern elites is that they are cut off from their country: create an Erasmus allowing thousands of students from the South to come and train in Europe and vice versa, would be important: fewer boundaries for further cooperation, this is the first of our challenges. Why not introduce Arabic as a living language in Europe as well as English, German or Spanish? We could organize in various places of the Mediterranean, expert groups (political, economic, cultural, religious, scientific) from throughout the area and whose work would lead to concrete recommendations.
It is necessary to create a Euro Mediterranean Bank. We could create a tax of 0.2% on all transactions oil, gas, financial and cellular communication. Socially, it is essential to consider the construction of hospitals and schools, but also scanning for all citizens. Finally, I think the focus should be on decentralized cooperation between the cities, local authorities, but also schools, universities, research centers, or museums. The list of projects to build together is far from exhaustive.
Smartphones to give all young people to break down barriers
Europe was the most beautiful creation of the late twentieth century, the new Euro Mediterranean community must be that of the first half of XXI century. If I could afford it I would start by giving access to internet at all, and by distributing PDAs to all young people, especially women, in the region. I truly believe that communication technologies are the best weapon of the new generation: more no border can be imposed. We are now at a crossroads: either more Euro Mediterranean; more than walls and a return to the borders, which might lead us to conflicts or even wars.
What is the Mediterranean for you?
The Mediterranean is my DNA.
France, Israel, Palestine, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, Spain, these are my roots, my heritage, my culture, my identity. Born in Israel, the French by my father born in Tunisia, I grew up and lived over half my life in France, my mother was born in Egypt, one of my grandmothers was born in Turkey and the other is between Algeria and Morocco; my grandfathers were born in Hebron, or Tiberias under the Ottoman Empire and a great-Russian mother. Descendant of Spanish Jews and Palestinian passport holder, I believe that the Euro-Mediterranean relations should be based on: humility, solidarity, forgiveness (having the strength to apologize, take responsibility for a heavy colonial past and to apologize, it is a strength, not weakness) and generosity.
Ofer Bronchtein is former associate of Yitzhak Rabin, Miguel Angel Moratinos, former Spanish Foreign Minister co-founder of the International Forum for Peace and special envoy to the PLO in Tunis. Mahmoud Abbas presented him with a Palestinian passport in April 2011.