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Saturday 22.09.2018 | Name days: Maigurs, Mārica, Māris

Borders tend to disappear across the world

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While in Europe, political and economic agreements have brought borders down, elsewhere religious and territorial conflicts are driving walls, barriers and security fences up.

FT Magazine writes that closed borders are by their nature unstable. Too many forces – similarity on both sides of the fence, trade, desire for happiness – gnaw away at them. Already the southeast Asian states united in Asean are pursuing European-style porous borders by 2015. The South American countries in Mercosur have stumbled along a similar path. There’s reason to hope more regions will follow Europe’s example. In most places, history seems to be working against borders.

In the decades before the first world war, you could generally cross a European border without a passport. The movement of people and ideas helped make neighbouring countries more similar. From 1914, European borders began to tighten. The process reached its nadir in 1961, when Berliners woke one summer Sunday morning to find that the East German regime was building a wall through town. With the Berlin Wall, closed borders became the everyday European reality.

After the Wall fell, the former West German chancellor Willy Brandt said, “Now what belongs together is growing together.” He meant Germany, but his words were true of all Europe.

Now Europe is the most open it’s ever been. Even the Polish-German border, once the fearsome Oder-Neisse line, has effectively gone. Poles and Germans have a bloodier past than Israelis and Palestinians, but house prices have proved a stronger force than history: many Poles now live on the German side, where property is cheaper.

Since the signing of the Schengen Agreements in 1985, the borders of most of the European continent have been fading from the landscape and from people’s imaginations. The agreements are a giant leap in the progressive unification of Europe and the emergence of a European consciousness. Today, with 26 countries belonging to the Schengen Area, 16,500km of borders can be freely crossed.

The one town in Europe where you can still see old-fashioned border fences is Belfast. The Catholic Falls and the Protestant Shankill neighbourhoods are separated by a Peace Wall. In the open city centre, Protestants and Catholics work or study together. Belfast isn’t utopia, but it’s much better than Jerusalem.

Europe’s border fences are now on the outside of the bloc: between Spain and Morocco, or Greece and Turkey. But as pictures of Israel, Korea and the Mexico-US frontier show, elsewhere borders still very much exist.

The proposed fence across the Mexico-US border, begun in the years after the 9/11 attacks, ended up covering only about 600 of the 2,000 frontier miles. Then it was quietly abandoned as expensive, ineffective and silly. This is the most-crossed frontier on earth. Mexican-US trade hit $500bn last year, up fivefold since the North American Free Trade Agreement took force in 1994. Still, many poor Mexicans die while secretly crossing the desert at night.

American politics are now tending towards a more open border. Pearce lost office in 2011. The Republican party, chastened by last November’s election, has begun flirting with Latinos. Meanwhile, Barack Obama wants increased cross-border trade. Politicians may still talk macho about the Mexican frontier, but as we saw in Europe, the sturdiest borders can suddenly evaporate.

In addition, FT Magazine says that mutual similarities tend to eat away at the highest border fence. They are most obvious at the Korean-Korean border. The fact that North and South Korean border guards can blare insults at each other, and be understood, is why the border will disappear when the north’s regime does.

Similarities exist even across the Israeli-Palestinian fences. Israel’s wall will only grow. But the temper of our times – the decline in wars for territory, the rise of global trade – means that the future will probably look more like the Polish-German border.


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