The Mediterranean Sea, the combination of a multitude
Traditional geography teaches us that the spatial dimension of a closed basin also includes the basin of the rivers flowing into it. Although not a closed sea, because of the outlets to two different oceans, the Mediterranean Sea can be considered as substantially closed, like a huge lake between two large landmasses: the euro-Asian and the African, from which derive also the etymology of its name – Mediterraneo – i.e. “between the lands”, namely Africa, Europe and Asia. The characteristics of the Mediterranean basin shape it as a geographical and political hinge, which prompts natural exchanges and contaminations across the different societies inhabiting and living this area.
The beginning of the Bronze Age, one of the first truly “global” historical phenomena, is emblematic of the interrelationship between the Mediterranean civilizations: the trade of tin and copper – the first taking place mainly in Iberian Galicia and in Britain, whereas the second especially in Mesopotamia – created a deep network of first commercial and then cultural relationships within the Mediterranean Sea; in order to emphasize its special feature of “binding sea”, the historian Braudel coined the epithet Liquid Continent. The same author also stressed how its “overall unity” is, actually, reflecting a “progressive division”; it is this aspect that has characterized the different lines of fracture that, over the recent centuries, have created a context not particularly favorable to a peaceful dialogue among the diverse Mediterranean identities.
If in modern times the feature of the fight has been the one prevailing (undergoing also a significant acceleration throughout the last 25 years), it is also true to say that there has always been a tendency to an overall unity and to conceive the entire Mediterranean sea as a single, though complex, set of historically united, culturally similar, but often politically divided identities.
This political division is to be traced, on a practical level, in the ongoing struggle perpetrated by the actors interested in the satisfaction of the very diverse interests (economic, strategic and political) gathered in the Mediterranean sea. The actors involved range from the different states overlooking its coasts to all those para-state and / or trans-state actors such as terrorist, religious, economic, cultural groups, etc. which have increased over the recent decades, stabilized throughout the 2000s and finally emerged in the scene of global politics from 2011 onwards (e.g. the outbreak of the so-called Arab Springs, now drastically moved back to a freezing winter). These actors have brought back the Mediterranean Sea at the center of the global political arena, after that the Cold War’s system of blocks had temporarily reduced its importance.
Certainly, considering the present state of affairs, the Mediterranean Sea presents various types of cleavages and each actor finds its specific geopolitical code to understand better its own Mediterranean space. It is believed, however, that will not only be the outbreak of these events to make the Mediterranean Sea central in international politics. In fact, throughout its history, this sea has represented a valuable litmus test of the status and direction of the policies of the major world powers. For example, to Russia it has been and still is the place to achieve its two strategic goals on the western border: the outlet to a warm sea and the influence on the South Slavs; to the United States it is an important (although peripheral) basin where to play a crucial game for the achievement of new world stability and balances; to Great Britain and to India is a very important way of communication; to Asia is a part of the so-called New Silk Road (although it would be more feasible to talk about roads instead of road) that moves a substantial part of the world commercial and energy traffics.
What has been described so far is the starting point of the studies and analysis carried out by the Centre for Studies “Mediterranean Affairs”, created between Messina and Reggio Calabria, in the geometric center of the Mediterranean Sea and inspired by the ideas of a group of Political Science and International Relations students who, thanks to their enthusiasm and passion, were able to develop their project not only within other Italian contexts, but also across Mediterranean and European ones, gaining adhesions and approvals at any level, from student to the scholarly environments. Focusing the attention of the spokesman, whether an entrepreneur or a passionate scholar, on the Mediterranean area and acting as a “guide” for the interpretation of the different realities existing or simply passing through the Mediterranean Sea, remains one of the main objectives of the Centre of Studies.
In conclusion, facing an historical period in which events accelerate, highlighting the high level of fragmentation of the Mediterranean area (and thus pushing it to the “edge of the world”) we feel the urge, as citizens of Europe and the Mediterranean, to restore an overall view, typical of the past ages, able to point out the central role of the Mediterranean sea today and in the future to come.