Have you ever wondered where the Latin saying Pecunia non olet – ‘money does not stink’ comes from? The first anecdote comes from [Roman writer] Suetonius, who notes in De vita Caesarum (‘The Twelve Caesars’) how Titus, son of Vespasian, complained to his father about a tax he had imposed on the urine collected in public toilets, prompting people to refer to the latrines as ‘Vespasiani’. Titus was ashamed that the people used his father’s name as a nickname for public facilities. Provocatively, he contemptuously urinated on two coins and threw him at his father’s feet as though they were alms. Vespasian reportedly picked up the coins himself only to hold them up to his own nose, then his son’s. He then asked his son what it was supposed to smell like. Vespasian wanted to demonstrate to Titus that money has no smell, no matter where it comes from, how it is earned or for what purpose it is used.
But money does have a smell. You only have to recognise it. It often stinks of blood and money laundering, of drugs, arms and oil. And right now, Europe continues to harbour this stream of money – money whose smell we should learn to recognise – in the form of so-called tax havens. Every state has its own black hole: France has Luxembourg, Germany has Liechtenstein, Spain has Andorra and Italy San Marino. And the whole world has Switzerland and London. A Europe that knows how to recognise the smell of money could take a cue from Germany, a country that knows what the loss of human rights means. A country that, to this day, lacks effective money-laundering laws and does not criminalise mafia groups, but is nevertheless capable of tackling these highly sensitive issues regarding human dignity and fundamental rights. Because the price it had to pay for their loss in the 20th century was immeasurably high.
A Europe of fundamental and human rights could take Germany’s example a starting point, as the continent continues to hold the door wide open for capital from money laundering Mexican drug cartels, or the funds that terrorist cells use to finance their activities by smuggling oil, drugs and works of art. The same doors that it slams in people’s faces. Money in, people out: This cynical mechanism perfectly encapsulates what Europe is to today, or better, how it could develop. The strategy employed by Daesch, the so-called Islamic State, aims to do one thing: to elicit fear so that the international community throws in the towel and no longer shows any interest in what happens in Iraq, Syria and Kurdistan.
But what exactly is happening down there, apart from the constant massacres that force sections of the population to seek refuge in Europe? Now, the alleged Islamic state is essentially eager to exercise hegemony over the oil reserves and the drug trade, purging and barring foreign intervention altogether. So what is closing the borders supposed to change? The answer is basically nothing; on the contrary, the situation could only become worse, because the war – which at the moment is only our war in exceptional cases (bomb explosions are the exception here; in other places, they are part of everyday life) – will turn into a civil war between the generations of European immigrants who have been living here for decades and those who consider themselves the ‘real’ Europeans. Frankly, I find this deeply terrifying.
If I am being awarded this prize because of the circumstances I am living with right now, as a gesture to show that the things I write and the reproaches I make are being heard, then it is the European media’s duty – in this very precarious phase – to admit the complexity of the situation right now and to explain, without simplification, the real dangers of the nationalist drift we are currently seeing in many countries. What’s even more painful right now is the failure of the European Union, not just as an international political actor, not only as a credible and powerful political force, but also – or especially – in its ability to bring all the many different people that compose it together.
Europe, as it was envisioned in the Ventotene Manifesto of 1941 and by Giuseppe Mazzini before that, was not only an economic Europe, a market or worse – a structure that appears to mediate between governments and the financial world. Right now, Europe is paying for its rigid, domestic-political stance – an attitude of inflexibility that appeared to strike the right chord with regard to economic policy, but has now presented us with a steep bill.
In foreign policy, this rigid attitude has expressed itself in the lack of shared vision. How different would the fates of Syria, Kurdistan and Turkey be today if Turkey were part of the European community? We would have set to work stabilising our borders without getting into the humanitarian tragedy we’re experiencing now. Moreover: If Turkish citizens were European citizens, they could have appealed to the European Court of Human Rights after the coup, and the court’s decisions would have had both legitimacy and weight within Turkey. And even if its rulings were not adequately enforced, it would have been a matter of vital importance for us and a topic of heavy discussion.
For this reason, I would like to dedicate here in Germany – Turkey’s second homeland – the M100 Media Award to two Turkish intellectuals, Ahmet Altan (journalist and writer) and his brother Mehmet Altan (economics professor), who were both arrested on 10 September. Ahmet and Mehmet Altan stand accused of sending subliminal messages during a television programme that aired the day before the coup, supposedly calling supporters of a coup d’etat to converge. The newspaper ‘Taraf’, where Ahmet served as editor-in-chief, had always been committed to Turkish citizens’ right to information so that the government would be held accountable for its actions. As an opponent of Erdogan, Ahmet was put on trial and convicted several times. His brother Mehmet advocated building Turkey’s identity on human rights rather than race or religion. This may seem obvious, but it is a revolutionary message. In other words, if Turkey were part of the European Union, Ahmet and Mehmet’s fates would have hit close to home – so close, in fact, that we could not suffer their fates in silence.
I want to close with a quote from Ernesto Rossi, the European Union founding father to whom I feel most connected, also for geographical reasons because I lived in his birthplace Caserta for a long time. The Province of Caserta is also home to the Casalesi clan, which I publically denounced in [my book] Gomorrah and which has threatened me to the point that I have had to live the last ten years of my life under constant police protection. In Pensieri e parole [‘Thoughts and Words’ which has not, to my knowledge, been translated into English] Ernesto Rossi writes: ‘No matter how painful the current situation continues to be, no matter how advanced our republic’s process of confessional regression, we will not lose hope. The curtain falls, but the history of mankind never ends, because we are the actors in this theatre: we, with our will and our ideals.’
The thing that has yet to happen in Europe could still come to pass. Europe can still be the place where fundamental rights, coexistence and social justice come together. It can still be the place where nationalism and populism are defeated before they do further damage. With our will and our ideals, we can achieve it.