Why would an international businessman give up the day-to-day running of the company he has built up over the past 15 years to pursue a quest?
Before I answer that, let me tell you a little about my business. Through an accident of birth many millions of people find it impossible to travel in search of education, work and fulfillment. Their movement is restricted and their lives are poorer as a result. My company has helped thousands of individuals gain second citizenship in countries as diverse as Canada, St Kitts & Nevis and Bulgaria through participating in immigrant investor schemes.
They are the lucky ones. Last year many millions of other people tried to flee war, insurrection and poverty. Some succeeded, but the outcry affected this year’s elections, notably Britain’s vote to leave the European Union and Donald Trump’s election to the presidency of the United States when he said that he would build a wall between his country and Mexico to keep out the immigrants.
Part of the reason for my quest is personal. My grandparents were both Armenian, and their families were forced to flee the genocide in 1915. My grandfather was born in Greece, my father in Bulgaria. But then the Iron Curtain came down with the arrival of communism and travel was prohibited.
I was lucky. Thanks to my father’s work we lived in Morocco and France before being recalled to Bulgaria. And once the Wall came down in 1989, we moved to Canada where we received a warm welcome. I was accepted to one of the best schools in the country, Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf, where Justin Trudeau, now Canada’s prime minister, was also a pupil. The government even lent my father money to set up his own business.
But Canada is unusual. It helps that it is a very large country, the second largest in the world, with a relatively small population. It officially accepts more than 250,000 immigrants every year. Few other countries today share this view. Many people are suspicious of immigrants, fearing they take jobs, carry diseases and resort to crime.
For a while after the fall of the Berlin Wall it seemed like there was a worldwide acceptance of the concept of a global citizen who travels freely and lives without borders. This makes sense in a world where the major problems – climate change, water and food security, terrorism, the advent of automation and many others – don’t respect national territories.
Nonetheless, it appears the barriers are returning. For the writer Bruce Chatwin this conflict between those who want to travel and those who want to restrict movement is the story of the nomad and the pastoralist. Chatwin believed that man was a nomad who walked out of Africa and conquered the world. But then the pastoralist started growing crops and rearing animals. He wanted fences and was prepared to fight to protect them. In the Biblical story of Cain and Abel, it is Cain the farmer who kills his brother Abel the shepherd because his crops have been trampled by his brother’s sheep.
In Roman times it was enough to say ‘Civis Romanus Sum’ or ‘I am a Roman citizen’ to be allowed to travel around the Mediterranean under the protection of the Roman state. Ironically, the nomads who destroyed Rome also put an end to freedom of movement as it was just too dangerous.
King Henry V of England is credited with having invented the first true passport as a means of helping his subjects prove who they were in foreign lands. But it was only many years later in 1648 that the Treaty of Westphalia, which put an end to the Eighty Years’ War, introduced the notion of a nation state with clearly demarcated borders. Borders needed protecting, and passports would be the way that access to those doors could be unlocked.
Theresa May, the new British prime minister, seems to sneer at the notion of freedom of movement and has dismissed the very notion of global citizenship. In a recent speech she said, “If you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere.”
This is contrary to what many people believe. My quest will be to talk to experts, politicians and individuals to discuss the future of global citizenship. Is it a human right? Will the next 50 years see us condemned to national borders, or will larger blocs unite? What new technology will allow us to cross borders? How will countries deal with migration? What is the difference between an expatriate and a migrant worker?
Apart from a belief in the desire of an individual to travel for education, work and safety, I go into this journey with no preconceptions or agenda. I shall listen to the opinions of others and would ask you too, dear reader, to contribute to the debate. If you have any questions for me or the people I shall be meeting throughout the course of next year – including Leonardo Di Caprio, Wyclef Jean, Robin Sharma, Philippe Starck, Irina Bokova and many others – please don’t hesitate to get in touch via the blog, or follow me on Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn.
It has been said that the best way to predict the future is to invent it. I think that 2017 will give us all a very clear idea of the next 20 years.