Saturday

13th Apr 2024

Europe has forgotten its emigration past, says EU cultural ambassador

Every year thousands of Africans put their lives into the hands of unscrupulous traffickers and crowd onto unsafe fishing boats to try to reach Europe across stormy waters. All along our coastlines, their drowned bodies drift ashore. Is this a decent Europe, award-winning Swedish writer Henning Mankell asks.

"The obvious answer is no, it is not decent," says the crime fiction novelist and theatre director, who is also goodwill ambassador for the "European year of intercultural dialogue", which was launched by the European Commission in January.

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Speaking from his second home in Maputo in Mozambique, Mr Mankell tells EUobserver he intends to use the attention he gets as an internationally renowned writer to defend a humane European asylum and migration policy.

"I want to be the voice of those who try to enter Europe, not just a general goodwill ambassador, but really plead their cause."

He says he did not hesitate to accept the commission's request to represent the programme, something that may surprise his Swedish audience, who remembers his anti-EU campaigning ahead of the Nordic country's referendum on EU membership in 1994.

Mr Mankell at the time argued against what he feared would be "Fortress Europe", a super-state that builds high fences to keep out the rest of the world.

"It is not a secret that I was against EU membership, actively and for various reasons. But there is no use in crying over that spilt milk today. Now we are members, and we should use our membership to try to do good," he explains.

A bridge over troubled waters

One of the ideas the author has promoted over the years is that Brussels finance and construct a bridge over the Straits of Gibraltar, connecting the old continent with Africa.

He says reactions to the proposal have varied. The radical left has supported it while most decision makers have reacted to it with a "great, numb silence".

Brussels has recently looked to redefine relations with Africa, stressing that it is time for a policy with Africa rather than a policy for Africa. Europe is also Africa's biggest trade partner and the main investor in the continent.

But the EU is also pushing for more commitment from African countries to cut down on illegal immigration. Last year, following the demands of Mediterranean EU member states, the EU launched its own border patrols to try and deter African immigrants from entering Europe via its southern shores.

Mr Mankell is concerned about the hardening tone against immigrants in Europe, calling Europeans' approach to migration and asylum "a weak point and an unaccomplished area".

"Europeans of today have very short memories. Let us remember that a hundred years ago, not much more, masses of Europeans left for the US or Australia and other places, and they were well received in their new home countries.

"European history is created by emigration, immigration, large movements of people," he adds.

"The most frightful thing is that we are speaking against common sense. Look at the demographic situation of Europe! Europe needs a steady flow of immigrants to survive the future, said the novelist.

Mr Mankell has written 37 books, of which the stories about police inspector Kurt Wallander - soon to be made into a Hollywood film - are the most well-known.

The writer, who has received numerous literary awards, including the Gold Dagger, the Deutscher Jugendliteraturpreis and the Evangelische Akademie des Tutzings Tolerance Prize, also works as the artistic leader of Teatro Avenida in Maputo, Mozambique, and is involved in the fight against the spread of HIV/Aids in Africa.

Europa hat seine Auswanderungsvergangenheit vergessen, so der EU-Kulturbotschafter Mankell

Europa hat seine Auswanderungsvergangenheit vergessen, so der EU-Kulturbotschafter Mankell

Jeden Tag legen Tausende von Afrikanern ihr Schicksal in die Hände von skrupellosen Menschenhändlern, um – zusammengepfercht auf unsicheren Fischerbooten - den Weg nach Europa zu wagen. Die Leichen ertrunkener Bootsflüchtlinge werden regelmäßig an Europas Küsten angespült. Ist dies ein menschenwürdiges Europa, fragt der preisgekrönte schwedische Autor Henning Mankell.

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