Italian writer Roberto Saviano on 2016, year of walls and exclusion

Italian writer Roberto Saviano described 2016 as the “year of exclusion” in a recent online TV show. As he reviewed the most significant events of last year, he said 2016 was marked by the building of walls to separate countries and people. The number of walls across the world is now the “largest in the history of mankind,” he explained.

Saviano rose to fame with the publication of Gomorrah, in 2006, a book denouncing the collusion of business with organised crime. An international bestseller, it was followed in 2013 by ZeroZeroZero. Because of his work, however, the writer received death threats and since 2006 he lives under police protection.

On December 29th his latest TV show – “Imagine” – was broadcast online in Italy reaching an audience of almost 9 million, according to media reports. (An excerpt is available on La Repubblica – in Italian.)


Discussing the most important events of last year, Saviano said 2016 can be described as the year of exclusion as it saw the erection of a record number of walls. “For us ‘the wall’ has always meant the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Cold War that marked the division between the capitalist West and the socialist bloc.” In 28 years (from 1961 to 1989), 139 people were killed in the attempt to cross it, he reminded.

“When it fell, we thought we were done with the age of walls. We were told this was the start of a new era for mankind, an era of openness,” he continued. Since then, however, walls have tripled. “At the time, there were 20 walls in the world to mark borders between countries. Today there are 63. They do not separate capitalism from socialism any longer, they signal a divide between the rich and the poor. The most recent ones have been built in Europe, despite it being considered one of the most open areas in the world. Their purpose is to halt migration flows.”

Many barriers have been built along the Balkan route to stop migrants from the Middle East, he explained: between Turkey and Greece, Greece and Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary, Croatia and Slovenia, Croatia and Hungary, Slovenia and Austria. In addition, the EU signed an agreement with Turkey to prevent people from entering Europe via the Aegean. Norway also built a fence at the border with Russia to close the Arctic route, an alternative used by more than 5,500 asylum seekers challenging the polar temperatures.

But if new barriers have reduced the arrivals by land, they encouraged the pursuit of the more dangerous journeys across the Mediterranean. In 2016 the number of dead and missing at sea increased by 30% compared to the previous year.

“These barriers are contrary to the founding principles of the European Union. We are failing our values and the European dream,” concluded Saviano. “Welcoming asylum seekers is not a matter of volunteering, of social service or generosity. It is the fulfillment of a right guaranteed by the Lisbon Treaty.”

[The Union] shall ensure the absence of internal border controls for persons and shall frame a common policy on asylum, immigration and external border control, based on solidarity between Member States, which is fair towards third-country nationals.

Article 61.2 or the Lisbon Treaty



While Europe is closing its external borders, new barriers are also built within. With looming Brexit, is there any hope that 2017 will be better?

The first test will be this week. A conference at the United Nations (UN) in Geneva from 9 to 15 January will aim to find a solution to the historical divide of Cyprus. If this is successful Nicosia, the last divided capital of Europe, will be reunited.

The Mediterranean island has been separated since 1974, when Turkish troops occupied the northern part after a coup sought annexion to Greece (timeline). This led to the establishment of the Republic of Cyprus, in the south, and the Northern Cyprus state, which is recognised only by Turkey. Since then the island has been separated by a buffer zone that crosses the capital, Nicosia. In 2004 Cyprus joined the European Union as a whole and in 2007 the wall separating Nicosia was symbolically taken down. But attempts to unify the island always ended in failure.

In October 2016 another divide was created as the Turkish part abolished the daylight saving time. As a result, Nicosia was the only city in the world to start 2017 over two different time zones. This week will reveal if the new year is off to a better start.


Claudia Delpero © all rights reserved.

Top photo: Roberto Saviano by Daniele Devoti, Italy [CC BY 2.0], available via Wikimedia Commons. Photo in text: Nicosia wall, 2009, by Julienbzh35 (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.

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