Senén Florensa

Executive President of the European Institute of the Mediterranean

Linking globalism and difference, as well as perceiving space and cultures in terms of their diachronic and synchronic values, often involves a conflict between the two shores of the Mediterranean, a sea that for millennia has been considered a bridge or a frontier depending on the circumstances and relations between the neighbouring peoples. Mediterranean societies have historically maintained highly intense contacts, which have given way to notable and reciprocal influences while diverse identities have emerged within these similarities that have caused major struggles and disagreements.

Art and writing give us representations that are recreated in contradictory visions that, depending on the moment, can proclaim, as in a Greek tragedy, that “beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror.” This sentence by the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke, is evoked, within the aesthetics of tragedy, in the exhibition “Between Myth and Fright. The Mediterranean as Conflict”, curated by José Miguel G. Cortés, director of the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno (IVAM).This exhibition features works by outstanding visual artists from the late 19th century to the early 21st century and seeks to convey personal perceptions of the different eras while offering highly contrasted representations and sensitivities about the Mare nostrum.

The exhibition was complemented with a seminar organised by the IEMed entitled “The Mediterranean as Conflict”, held in Valencia on 11 June 2016. The papers were written by experts in different disciplines and address key aspects such as the construction, both in the past and present, of some of the myths and realities. This written material makes up the dossier of this issue of Quaderns de la Mediterrània.

Following the structure of the seminar, the papers are grouped into three approaches: “Myth as Creator of Stereotypes”, “The Sea as Border and Drama” and “The Mediterranean: A Mix of Cultures”. The illustrations that accompany the texts largely correspond to the works, with the aim of giving the reader an idea of the IVAM exhibition.

The different perceptions of the Mediterranean expressed in this issue help us to better understand the facets and multiple faces of this highly complex sea, conveyor of civilisations throughout history. In all of them we can see the construction and transmission of a sometimes shared imaginary, which has always been revealing, as José Miguel G. Cortés, Maria-Àngels Roque and José Enrique Ruiz-Domènec explain. Cortés presents the rationale of the exhibition, while the other two authors explore in depth the myths that construct the stereotypes in our culture: Roque in relation to the patriarchy as a model of Greek civilisation, where the representations of aberrant women are typical of cultures to be destroyed; while Ruiz-Domènec presents the forging of romantic myths. The pleasant myths of the Mediterranean area were fed, throughout the 19th century, by the travels of traders, artists, intellectuals and wealthy elites in search of the “lost paradise”. In the romantic era the stereotype emerged of the oriental as picturesque and exotic, the source of artistic inspiration, which was the start of the popularisation of tourism.

The recent history of the Mediterranean again shows an extremely complicated relationship, as the sea has become a major frontier for thousands of immigrants from the south fleeing their countries in search of a better life and encounter death, hostility and rejection from the north. European migration policies, as Javier de Lucas and Najat El Hachmi argue in their respective articles, turn their back on those immigrants and impede the building of dignified societies. In the north the siren songs of populisms, spurred on by the crisis, hinder the necessary revision of current policies in order to build fairer and more balanced societies among the actors of both Mediterranean shores. Also within the fright of drama, Lola Bañón begins her article with the question about whether one day the Mediterranean can be a political subject rather than the passive setting for external struggles. In response to this, after a well-argued analysis of the Salafist evolutions, she concludes that the future of Syria depends to some extent on the answer to this enigma. Thus, she insists that if the conflict becomes chronic due to the lack of a responsible exterior policy that understands the causes and deals with the humanitarian conflict of the refugees, it will not be possible to deactivate the spread of Jihadist ideas in the Mediterranean heart.

However, despite the storm clouds, the Mediterranean is still luminous. There are fragments of hope to achieve a future shared by both Mediterranean shores, so it is desirable to look back and understand that the interaction between cultures, not lacking in conflicts, often introduces a change of paradigm. Mixing has been a key element in both the material and spiritual enrichment and progress of the Mediterranean area. The third part of the dossier, “The Mediterranean: A Mix of Cultures”, elicits this inspiration through the articles by Jaime Vives-Ferrándiz, Najat El Hachmi and Isona Passola. The archaeologist, writer and filmmaker, respectively, argue for the need to nurture this mixing that began ten millennia ago and continues today, when artists and innovators create platforms and markets to unite the great potential that exists in the Mediterranean despite the difficulties, as also shown by the Lebanese filmmaker Dima Al Joundi and the designer Anna Calvera.                          

Bearing in mind the difficulties inherent in the economic crisis, the xenophobia and the lethal fundamentalism, today more than ever Quaderns de la Mediterrània supports diversity, dialogue in pursuit of understanding and peaceful coexistence as the only way of building dignified societies on both shores of the Mediterranean.