The fall of the Berlin Wall was joyfully welcomed not only by the German people but by the other peoples of the continent: With the abrupt end to the joke about Real Socialism, Europe seemed to be moving forward toward a period of freedom, directed by principles of greater tolerance, compassion and justice.

Two and a half years later, we know this was an illusion generated by the euphoria of the moment. Exclusivist nationalisms, ethnic conflicts and old religious disputes are unleashing civil wars, blind terrorism, persecution of minorities, militant racism and xenophobia. A new protective wall — without barbed wire, minefields, watchtowers and trenches, but equally effective and much more lethal — is arising around the fortress of the Twelve.

To the humiliations and expulsions suffered by emigrants who came from Asia, Africa and Iberoamerica to Europe’s airports and borders, we must add the sad harvest from “the death crossing” to the coast of Andalusia across the Strait from Morocco. Kreuzburg and the Brandenburg Gate have given way to El Ejido, Tarifa and the Campo de Gibraltar. For geographical reasons, Spain has become the “Marca Comunitaria,” charged with vigilantly guarding the order and tranquility of the club of Croesus. [1]

The new “gold curtain” is noticeably different from the “iron curtain” of yesteryear. The mechanisms discouraging movement to and from the defunct “people’s republics” no longer exist. The emigrants who have attempted to cross the Strait of Gibraltar in very small boats are not forcibly restrained by the authorities of their countries: They are merely the victims of poverty and of unscrupulous individuals who take advantage of their distress to make a profit, pushing them to disembark recklessly on coasts that are under strict watch and, at times, to die from suffocation or drowning. The Spanish police don’t shoot them either: They merely catch them in their nets and return them, dead or alive, to their point of origin. While free Europe yesterday fixed its eyes on the Wall to welcome in solidarity all those who crossed it, today it contemptuously turns its back on the drama of the fugitives. Seated on the front row of this scene of so much human misery, we Spaniards close our eyes to it or we watch it through binoculars, like those Californians or Texans for whom the capture of “wetbacks” by the border patrol constitutes perhaps the only satisfying event in their tedious and routine day.

Although we are a people who have experienced great economic and political migrations ourselves during several decades of this century, we have forgotten the kind welcome given to our countrymen and women in the various Iberoamerican countries. We have forgotten the refuge they found there, as well as among the indigenous populations of Morocco and Algeria. There were the defeated Republicans of the civil war, and the exodus of over 2 million Spaniards to France, Germany, Switzerland and the Benelux between 1955 and 1970, looking for a better life and the air of freedom. Comfortably installed in our privileged situation as newly rich, newly independent, new Europeans, we attend unmoved the cruel reenactment of our own past. An almost complete historical amnesia has overtaken us. Nobody is claiming responsibility for the fall of the Wall: This time we are watching the bulls from the rail. In a competitive and ferocious society, exclusively consecrated to the search for material wellbeing and the cult of money and success, Third World histories go against the grain. “Solidarity” and “fairness” have been ousted from our lexicon. Gradually made uniform by the media pseudo-culture, we band together as a class in the face of the unassimilable and foreign. We accept without scrutiny the images and stereotypes purveyed through the sorcery of the news media. Our spiritual impoverishment accompanies an arrogance and conceit based in the presumed excellence of a competitiveness promoted to the rank of universal ideology. The countries and peoples who have not known how to, been able to, or wanted to adapt themselves to this state of affairs deserve their fate and our contempt. Those who rebel against it are easily labeled retrograde Third Worlders, and we end up preaching in the desert.

The ease and speed with which we, the grandchildren and children of migrants, have erased the memories of the overseas odysseys of our grandparents and parents in order to become cold-hearted Eurocrats with sharp smiles, throwing away the knowledge and apprenticeship of a pain that earlier ennobled us — is this a consequence of our miserable human condition or should we attribute it to the contingencies of history? The answer is not easy. Only a close reading of Rousseau, Wilhelm von Humboldt, Bakunin and Chomsky — to mention only those from the cultural arena in which we function — could help us formulate it. The truth is that while humans have prodigiously evolved their faculties during the past centuries in the field of knowledge and science, their ethical sense and social conduct demonstrate a pathetic incapacity for improvement.

Egotism, corruption, cruelty, a drive for power and wealth, arrogance, insensitivity to others’ misfortune — these are similar to those described by Sophocles, Shakespeare and the author of La Celestina. How to explain that dichotomy? Could it be that practical applications of technology and science discovered by a small minority of wise men and specialists redound in favor of the material wellbeing of the privileged countries and sectors of humanity, while the moral and political values of equality, justice and creativity clash with the direct interests of the same? Classes, social groups, nations and whole continents are excluded — culturally unable, we are told, to have access to the liberalism that is the motor of progress without hindrance. Does this not reflect the universe lucidly foreseen by Bakunin, in which a new hierarchy of technical and specialized mandarins — the fundamentalists of techno-science — determine the life and death of the great majority of humans? As we saw very clearly in the butchery of the Gulf war, they impose with the help of generalized misinformation, what the great free thinker designated “the most aristocratic, absolute, arrogant and elitist of all regimes.” Only the democratic control of knowledge and scientific expertise can block the power of those modern sorcerer-apprentices and give back to the whole of humanity command over its own destiny. Neither the governments nor the important political parties of the Community think about this problem. Serious electoral proposals do not take account of such “insignificant details.”

Let us take a look again at today’s Spain. In a recent intervention before the [European] Parliament in Strasbourg; I took with me a folder of well-documented charges to support my assertions about the assassinations, aggressions and arsons in homes, mosques and inns suffered on a daily basis by the Gypsy, Maghribi, African, Indo-Pakistani and Turkish communities in this very democratic European community. Today I regard that precaution to be totally superfluous. The facts are within everybody’s view. As if we were stoking the fire, prejudices, generalized slander and alarmist headlines are commonplace.

Let’s take the case of the Gypsies, whom one journalist judged as no less than “foreigners,” despite their well-proven — and suffered — Spanishness for five and a half centuries: While the rapid economic change in our society has negatively affected their nomadism and ways of life, eliminating their traditional occupations and cornering them in ghettos, nobody, or almost nobody, seems to have made the effort to analyze the consequences of this ethnocide, or to propose any remedy. The fact that groups of unemployed and illiterate youths, pushed to marginality by the current dynamic competitiveness, have found a modus vivendi in the traffic of drugs has led instead to the equation of Gypsy with “pusher,” thus placing blame not just on a bunch of delinquents — Gypsies and non-Gypsies — but on the whole of the Spanish Romany community. The irrationality of this xenophobic attitude is manifest: It makes that community responsible for its own marginality, while preventing it from adapting to new social conditions by destroying its homes and schools, making it impossible for Gypsy children who would like to become literate to come to class. Pure-bred postures on the subject do not distinguish themselves by their logic — four centuries ago, a popular old Christian playwright upheld the theory of the royalty or purity of Jesus’ blood through Mary’s lineage. Atavistic prejudices against Moors, Jews, Gypsies and Blacks emerge with the same strong cruelty today as in the satirical verses of Quevedo. The lapsus lingua of the honorable president of the Generalitat of Catalonia, rejecting indignantly the “Gypsyness” of the Catalans, makes clear the strength of the mechanisms that still command our subconscious.

Meanwhile, I have recently seen dozens of Senegalese and citizens of other West African countries wander around the harbor and the zoco chico of Tangier, or watch from some vintage point the nearby but unreachable coast of Spain, waiting like many North Africans for the risky occasion to cross the Strait without being detected by the vigilant patrols or suffering a terrible death. The situation today of thousands of undocumented individuals, victims of the exploitation of the slave traders, evokes dark scenes of times that we thought we had overcome. I am not going to repeat the pessimistic predictions I and others made public in the Spanish press over the past ten years. The passage of unjust laws, restrictive and discriminatory clauses, expulsions and repressive actions of all sorts, have not managed to stop, nor will they stop, the dreaded trickling invasion so long as the brutal differences between North and South persist. It will not even be slowed by economic aid aimed at creating jobs and suitable living conditions.

To speak of the demographic “Islamic bomb,” and to speculate perversely about the South as the “new evil empire,” does not help to clarify the problem created by the unequal distribution of wealth and the plundering of backward societies to benefit the opulent ones. The dazzling exhibition of luxury products on television is capable of inducing whole nations to cross the Red Sea, as happened last year in Albania. These precarious situations and the semi-slavery created by the Alien Law and the homogenization of our laws to those of other countries in the Community will prolong this crisis indefinitely if we do not confront the causes. How many tragedies, wrecks, drownings and captured stowaways will it take to stir our atrophied morality and shake our indifference? To wait for those who embody the aspirations of our society — in which the number of bathrooms in the villas and small palaces built by the gods and goddesses on their Olympus is the object of envy and admiration — would be a waste of time.

Only the coordinated action of the different Gypsy collectives, of immigrants and undocumented individuals, together with the associations of human rights and political and trade unions, can liberate us from our hateful role as the Marca Comunitaria, the guardians of the peaceful dream of the Eurocrats.

I have stopped believing in the efficacy of press articles, conferences and round tables. A further step is necessary: We must resort to all kinds of civic action and legal means to combat racism, xenophobia and harassment of immigrants. Passivity and silence are the best accomplices of those who try to strengthen and perpetuate the new wall of shame, and who close their eyes to the despicable spectacle of ethnic marginalization and the number of innocent corpses dragged by the tide to our shores.

Translated from the Spanish by Marisa Escribano and Peggy Hutchison


[1] Translator’s note: Goytisolo is playing with words. Marca dates back to the historical period when the Frankish lords created a buffer zone in northeastern Spain to prevent the Arab expansion into what is now France. Comunitaria refers to the current European Community.

How to cite this article:

Juan Goytisolo "Constructing Europe’s New Wall," Middle East Report 178 (September/October 1992).

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