2 letters on Language

Is Triton Haunting “Our Sea”?

Dear Andrea Segre,

The recent launch of EU Joint Operation Triton coordinated by Frontex (November 1st, 2014) has been accompanied by debates and polemics. Just to mention a few of them: Italy decided to consequently discontinue the program Mare Nostrum carried out by its Navy since October 2013, even though Triton won’t do the same job (it is intended to be more of a surveillance device than one of rescue deployment) and will have far less economic resources; Frontex has reminded Italy that a member of the EU it is not exempted from its border-patrol duties; many voices have pointed out that Mare Nostrum‘s suspension will result in a dramatic increase in the deaths of people trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea in search of wealth and safety in Europe; through its Foreign Office, Great Britain declared on October 28 that it did not intend to contribute to Triton since the operation would likely encourage more people to undertake this dangerous effort.

Overlooking what these facts might tell us about Europe’s (dis)unity, identity and security concerns, I’d like to bring your attention to the linguistic aspect of the issue: “Mare Nostrum” versus “Triton”. Whereas the former name draws its evocative power from quasi forgotten Italian nationalistic and fascist rethoric uses, it seems to me that Triton summons a mythological, mysterious and ultimately disturbing and threatening frame of meaning. At the same time, the reasons behind the choice of the operation’s name (formerly known simply as Frontex Plus) are not entirely clear, nor are the purposes — if there were any — behind such a naming.

Perhaps the name “Triton” speaks of Europe’s widespread ideas and fears about otherness, relegating it to​ a parallel reality far removed both temporally and spatially from normal life, a reality which is fascinating, exotic, yet also abominable and which seems to belong more to the depths of the abyss than to our rational, efficient, clean, luxurious cities. What do you think?


Dear Nicola,

Although I understand that there is a degree of meta-provocation in your linguistic curiosity, I believe that poring over these aspects is all to the great and therefore dangerous benefit of the completion of Europe’s strategy for border management in the sphere of migration.
Let me explain.
Mare Nostrum, Triton, Poseidon, Nautilus and all the other operations invented by Frontex or EU member countries in the past ten years are sometimes smoke and mirrors, meaning a waste of time.
Fundamentally, what they do is attract the public’s attention, crush debate and confuse people’s minds.
If you read the missions of Frontex’s different operations, all of them have the aim to save human lives, and command respect for human rights that are being flouted by criminal organizations.
Mare Nostrum did this more explicitly, but follows the same type of plan based on the indestructible yardstick of illegality. The persons crossing the Mediterranean are illegal and they travel in an illegal way, so it’s normal that they are at risk of getting caught. All we need to do is decide how to save them, but we are not thinking in the slightest about how to change their destiny of illegality.
The yardstick is what we need to change, not discuss which mission is better, which is worse.
Let me be even plainer. Unfortunately, I’ll have to use the sick logic of quantitative demonstrations. Mare Nostrum has saved about 100 thousand people, well over half of which were Syrian. These people have 100 per cent right to humanitarian protection and a high number of them have plans to return to their homeland after the crisis has subsided. The other half was made up of nationalities that for the most part also had the right to protection. Let us say that (according to the sick logic of quantitative reasoning) Europe has been saying to at least 90 thousand people having the right to protection, “You are illegal, so if you want protection you need to risk your life and pay criminal organizations.” And Italy says, “Yes, that’s true, but to avoid seeing the dead wash up on our shores, we’ll come save you.” The result?
In the same Mare Nostrum period, at least 3,000 people died. See how terrible reasoning by numbers is? It reduces the dignity of existence itself to digits. Are these people that Mare Nostrum did not succeed in saving? From a certain point of view, yes. But I suggest another way of looking at it: they are people to whom we presented the only destiny possible, because we defined them as illegal.
So what are we to do? Are you going to bring them all to your house, Segre?
I already tried answering this question much time ago, here (in Italian): http://andreasegre.blogspot.it/2013/10/si-ma-allora-come-si-fa-possiamo-mica.html
I’d like this to be a topic of discussion. I’d like for people to say clearly to those proposing the missions, “We are not interested. You need to change the definition that lies at the base of all this. If not, history will prove that you will continue to produce death.”


P.S. I finished writing this message just before the first presentation conference for the launch of the Khartoum Process at the Italian Foreign Ministry. It just might be the start of something interesting. Or something terrifying.
Let’s try to keep a close eye on it, even though its name is not as mediagenic as those of the Frontex missions.