Up In Smoke

H/T Pat Nurse and Harley for this Christopher Booker article:

As a measure of just how desperately the EU has lost its way, it is worth taking a closer look at the symbolism of the venue chosen for last week’s meeting of the leaders of Germany, France and Italy, to discuss what they can do next about it all.

We were coyly told that the little island of Ventotene off Naples was where, in 1941, a prisoner of Mussolini’s had written the visionary manifesto that looked forward to building, after the war, a “United States of Europe”. What somehow got omitted was that Altiero Spinelli was a Communist (the Today programme merely described him on air as a “Fascist prisoner”, although, lest this be misunderstood, that was edited out of their online report).

We were not told that Spinelli’s Ventotene Manifesto proposed that his future government of Europe should be quietly assembled by its supporters over many years; and that only when all its pieces were in place would those supporters summon a convention to draw up a “Constitution for Europe”, which would finally reveal to the European people just what they had been up to.

What we were also not told – and this is seemingly one of the best-kept secrets of the whole story – is that many years later, when Spinelli was elected as a Communist MEP in 1979, he became the second most influential person, after Jean Monnet, in shaping “Europe” as we know it today.

It ends:

If ever there was an occasion when one could see that the European dream was dead, it was in that very place where Spinelli first scrawled it out on cigarette papers 75 years ago: Ventotene.

So the Ventotene Manifesto was written on cigarette papers! May we deduce that Altiero Spinelli was a smoker?

Maybe not. Having taken a quick glance at the Ventotene Manifesto (English version), I estimated that it contained about 300 lines each 160 characters in length, and thus was 48,000 characters in total. My cigarette papers are 7 cm by 3.5 cm, and I can write about 6 lines of 30 characters on them in biro. So I would have needed 267 cigarette papers. And it’s actually quite hard to write on cigarette papers, because they tend to ruckle up under the weight of the pen. Spinelli probably had to pin each of them carefully onto a board before he started writing.

And that’s in English. In Italian, it would probably have been longer, since English is quite an efficient language. So maybe, with all the crossings out as well, 300 cigarette papers would have been needed. And that’s just the final version. There may have been several draft versions before the final one. So call it 1000 cigarette papers.

If Altiero Spinelli was a smoker, he probably had to quit smoking to save up enough cigarette papers. In fact, he probably had to demand that fellow prisoners stop smoking in order to keep him supplied with cigarette papers. Altiero Spinelli may have been an antismoker of an unusual kind, hating to see precious paper wasted.

I calculated that the finished document would have covered an area of 85 cm x 85 cm. Almost a square metre. And I supposed that it was all glued together using the glue on the edge of the papers.

What happened to this founding document – the EU’s equivalent of the Magna Carta or the US Declaration of Independence? I imagined that it was now kept guarded behind armoured glass under dim lighting, and a Google search would soon reveal it.

But I found nothing. The original Ventotene Manifesto seems to have vanished without trace. Which prompted the awful thought that, after its custodians had deciphered it, they used it to roll cigarettes, and the whole thing had gone up in smoke.

Which may have been prophetic of the European Union.

In Roman times, the island of Ventotene was known as Pandateria. In 2 BC the Roman emperor Augustus banished his daughter Julia there, on the grounds of excessive adultery. Her daughter Agrippina was later also banished there by the emperor Tiberius. And Agrippina’s daughter Julia Livilla was also banished there by her brother Caligula. It has a long history as a prison island.


About Frank Davis

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7 Responses to Up In Smoke

  1. harleyrider1978 says:

    Maybe ELBA will become a smokers prison like the lepers were done,but hey at least wed have a place of our own.

  2. Lepercolonist says:

    “Which prompted the awful thought that, after its custodians had deciphered it, they used it to roll cigarettes, and the whole thing had gone up in smoke.”

    Great line.

  3. harleyrider1978 says:


    The smoking-lung cancer theory will eventually be regarded as a conspicuous and catastrophic howler . ” (The late Professor Sir Ronald Fisher of Cambridge University)

    A good book to read.

  4. I should point out that cigarettes papers were a lot larger back then indeed one cans still buy various sizes. The history of fag papers is fascinating…and yes, I am a sad old man.

    • nisakiman says:

      Back in 1971 when I was in Thailand, they sold rolling tobacco (fearsomely strong black stuff) in small clear plastic bags, and provided bits of rectangular dried banana leaf to roll it in. To say it was a rough smoke would be the understatement of the year. Think Zware Shag on steroids. I haven’t seen it in the shops for years, but no doubt the farmers and labourers are still smoking it. It’s probably ‘under the counter’ now.

  5. Clicky says:

  6. Some French bloke says:

    “May we deduce that Altiero Spinelli was a smoker?”

    It should also be noted that, in Italian, spinello is the most popular colloquialism for “marijuana cigarette”, so his family name can be translated as “reefers”, “spliffs” etc…

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