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Krzysztof Czyzewski: THE IDEA OF A BORDER IN THE EUROPEAN TRADITION
Not so long ago, in the 1960s, the Western Europe aimed at eliminating borders, which separated countries, nations and people. A dynamic development of the modern technology, as well as a growing number of problems, which could be solved only across the borders, such as ecology or security, all seemed to confirm McLuhan's prediction about a "global village" - a world community, where borders would lose any importance.
This was accompanied by a conviction that thanks to such a development of events, ethnic conflicts and any national secparatism would disappear. A similar assumption can be found in the eastern part of the continent, in the communist ideology, only there a liberation from the national phobias was to be brought by a new, unified human creation "homo sovieticus". This eastern internationalism actually turned out to be only the top layer, covering chauvinism, which was continuously cultivated here . This fact was the best demonstrated by the borders of the brotherly countries. A traveller, who had all the documents in order, did not smuggle anything, did not even carry any forbidden books, on the border felt guilty, was nagged and humiliated. Inhabitants of countries on this side of the Berlin Wall jealously observed processes taking place in the Western Europe. The world of open borders symbolized freedom.
In 1990, the Berlin Wall was destroyed, which was supposed to initiate opening of the borders all over the Central and Eastern Europe. Meanwhile, new borders, paid by blood, are created in the former Yugoslavia; a border, inexplicable for many, separates the Czech Republic and Slovakia; and a whole network of borders has covered the territory of the former Soviet Union. The understanding of a border itself is revalued: more and more often, in the name of the very freedom and threatened sovereignty, citizens require strengthening of the borders, or even their closing. This is happening in the eastern part of Europe, but is it only there?
In spite of the predictions concerning modernization and technological development coming true, in spite of the advanced process of the unification of Europe, at the turn of the 20th century nobody serious will talk about a complete elimination of the borders on our continent. On the contrary, increasingcly strong voices can be heard in their defense, in defense of maintaining one's separateness . Technology has done a lot, but it is helpless faced with the community members' fear of full openness. Also ethnic conflicts have not vanished, and the awareness of nationality, in spite of transformations, still constitutes a vital force affecting contemporary Europeans.
Europe has already experienced very different forms of the existence of a border . A border was marked out in order to separate, keep away and isolate, to protect, as well as join and meet.
The change in approach to the problem of a border has always been strongly connected with a new philosophy of life being shaped. The present moment is the time of revaluations, a downfall of old systems and hierarchies; that is why it is important to ask the question about the understanding of a border again today, during the debates concerning the European union, or the Europe of regions.
National, geographical borders will not be the leading theme of these considerations. A cultural, social and sociological aspect of a border in the life of Europeans will be more important.
This is how Jean-Marie Domenach perceives the Europe of evanescing borders in his book "Europe: a Cultural Challenge" ("Europe: le defi culturel"): "I cross the Rhine by the European Bridge, not even noticing I go from France to Germany. Once, as a child, I observed manoeuvres of young Nazis through the field-glass of my grandfather artilleryman. Today, I am overwhelmed by joy, which, however, is accompcanied by certain uneasiness: I no longer see the borders of my territory, and, after all , the border (finis ) has always been something which defines (definit) and closes me, which shows me my own limitations."
As is seemly for a European, this observation contains a contradiction, which is difficult to be solved: on the one hand, joy caused by overcoming, or rather liberating myself from borders, and on the other hand, the need to mark out a border, which defines me and determines my identity. In other words, longing for isolation meets longing for enrootedness. In this way, I come to the very essence of polemics taking place in today's Europe, absorbing politicians, economists, people of culture and science. And no wonder, for we are in the process of working out a new shape of the uniting Europe. The polemics gained strength after the disclosure of the results of sociological studies conducted mainly among young Europeans, which showed a growing domination of enrootednessoriented attitudes over isolation-oriented ones. How far we are from the 1960s.
For us , however, a different issue is important : do the above mentioned attitudes have to be regarded as excluding each other? Do we have to look for solutions in deciding in one side's favour? Shouldn't we simply let this contradiction, which manifests itself as naturally as in Domenach's confidence, exist? Isn't it the very nature of the European spirit, enrooted in diversity and polyphony, despising purges and reducing things to one dimension? To let this contradiction exist means to regard it as a part of the European nature, to build its shape so that it contain what cannot be contained elsewhere, what will burst every other container made of a different ore. This is the very task of a builder, because - as my master, carpenter and old-believer said - it's no achievement to build a roof over one's head; it's an achievement to build a roof that does not conceal the sky! It is such a construction that is aimed at by those who work out the shape of the Europe of regions, the Europe, where, once again, the universal will be born out of what is separate.
A border is sacred
Marking out a border, a man often establishes a line which belongs to the sacred sphere . Violation of such a border amounts to sacrilege . In Plato's "Laws" , we find the following sentence put in the mouth of Zeus himself, the guardian of borders, whom the Greeks called Herkoios - Of a Border: "Nobody move the stone which separates his property from the property of his neighbour..." Interpreting this fragment in "The Human Condition", Hanah Arendt stresses that what made Greeks defend the inviolability of borders was "not the respect for private property as we understand it today, but the fact that without possessing a house, a man would not be able to participate in the matters of the world, because he would not occupy his own place there." The Slavs planted pear trees on borders; cutting down these tress - as was commonly believed - was unlucky. We have protected our place, our separateness, i.e. what - as Domenach says - defines us, creates a possibility for us to participate in the matters of the world as subjects. The question concerning the spatial scope of this place remains open. Once, it used to mean our closest surroundings, our family property, our small homeland, the walls of our city... Today, we have national states with their guarded borders, and the feeling that we have lost our own place.
A border is relative
I come from the part of Europe where it would be difficult to find something more unstable than state borders . Here, you can meet people who, while living in the same place all their lives, have been citizens of three, or even four countries. After the World War II, the borders of my country were moved one hundred, and sometimes more, kilometres to the West.
The relativity of borders is emphasised even more by the fact of their course, so often absurd, defying any standards of rational thinking and appropriate recognition of the reality. It happens here that a border runs through the middle of a town, for unknown reasons separating families, or people speaking the same language.
"After the World War I, instead of seven, fourteen countries were created in the Central Europe, and today there is no country there which would consider its borders fair - and this is the heritage of peace treaties from both wars . The borders were marked out with a pencil by a group of political and military psychopaths, on the desk where they were celebrating their victory" - states professor Kucera from Prague.
I myself live close to the so-called Triple Junction, an unusual place in this part of Europe, where, since the 15th century, the borders of three countries have invariably met: before, the Kingdom of Poland, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Teutonic Order; today, Poland, Lithuania and Kaliningrad District belonging to Russia.
I give this example as an exception confirming the rule. This is accompanied by a phenomenon of extraordinary migration dynamics of the Central and Eastern Europe inhabitants, caused either by economic reasons (in the recent period, e.g., migrations of Romanian Gypsies to Poland and Germany, or Transylvanian Hungarians to Hungary), or by forced deportations conducted by the communist regime (displacement of the Ukrainian population from the east to the west of
Poland, or deportation of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia to Germany). Examples could be multiplied. In the West, similar phenomena did not occur, or at least not to such a great degree. Nevertheless, also there a growing feeling of relativity and temporary character of borders has arisen, mainly because of the developing process of opening and obliterating of state borders. As the result, today inhabitants of both, until recently still separated, parts of Europe equally long for a place, whose separating stone would not be violated and which would enroot us.
Also a belief is becoming increasingly obvious that the border line of this place will no longer be a border of a national state, but rather a border of our home, family region, which it is easier for us to identify ourselves with.
A border is overcome
The aspiration of the European spirit for separation and liberation from local affiliations is equally strong as the aspiration for homely feeling. Continuous crossing of borders is a challenge, which a European attempts to meet with joy. This is underlain by an insatiable interest in the world, openness to differences, seeking wealth in diversity. It is also underlain by a desire to create a supra-local structure, a civilization of universal nature, which would gather and assimilate as many different areas as possible. After all, the Latin civilization was just like that. Such was also the "Republique des lettres", initiated by the Huguenots banished by Louis XIV at the end of the 17th century, who distributed the books they printed among elites of different countries, thanks to which French became the language of common, European understanding. An affiliation to this republic was identified with participation in what was common, and had to be paid for with renouncement of any religious, national, or even family affiliation. It is, therefore, an extreme example of opposing locality and discrediting any differences.
The situation was dissimilar in case of the Latin civilization, which, thanks to the Christianity, was sensitive to local colour; it took in, and thus preserved, all regional differences. Its unity was unity in diversity.
Undoubtedly, today's European unification comes from this spirit, unceasingly aspiring for crossing of borders . There is no doubt that its completion will create a completely new quality in the history of Europe. Nevertheless, the echoes of various unification concepts from the past, which I have recalled are present in today's discussions on the shape of the union.
One should also remember that it is due to the aspiration for overcoming of borders that Europe, unlike any other culture, is still dissatisfied with itself, still open and expansive.
The borders of Europe
It is very difficult to actually say where the borders of Europe are. E.g., disputes concerning its eastern border are still going on. Herodot placed this border on the Don River, de Gaulle in the Ural Mountains, and not so long ago there were still people who kept placing it on the Elbe River. Today, the Europe stretching from the Ural Mountains to the Atlantic Ocean is increasingly often mentioned. And where are its borders in the south?
This will sound paradoxically, but the Europeans' universalism
has always had its borders. Universal was the European civilization, which guarded its borders separating it from the barbarians' world. Thus, starting with the "limes" - the borders of the Roman Empire - the existence of Europe itself has been conditioned by a clear definition of its border lines. Of course, those borders could, and even - as became civilizing missionaries - had to be expanded. The word designating Europeans - "europeenses" appears for the first time as a definition of Christian warriors, who fought for expansion of Charlemagne's empire in the 8th century. Awareness of the existence of a border separating us, inhabitants of the Central State from strangers, whom, for a long time, we insultingly called barbarians, determined the existence of our European identity. One should remember that our "limes" were never as hermetic and closed as , e . g . , the Chinese Wall; they were borders of penetration and mutual influence, whose importance for the development of Europe is beyond argument. Nevertheless, the very fact of their existence determined our separateness and our nature.
There were various attempts to overcome, or even obliterate those borders, too. Especially in our century, the opening of Europe onto other civilizations, which was particularly encouraged by the dynamic development of cultural anthropology, did not only have cognitive nature, but also fought against Europe-centrism and opposed the wisdom of other cultures to the proud Europe . As a result, however, it was the European culture which became even more varied, and the "limes" still exist in our awareness. They exist, among others, in form of the awareness of a threat, which, no doubt, has always activated any attempts to unify Europe; it is so today, as well.
Contehove -Caliegri, who, in 1923, in Vienna, laid the foundations of today's idea of the European Union with his book entitled "Pan-Europe", warned against the Soviets, looking for the main threat to Europe in the barbarian East. The idea that Caliergi's anxiety was not groundless was supported by a Polish writer, Stanisław Vincenz; in his book "Dialogues with the Soviets", Vincenz describes a reaction of people, who start burning books when they hear about the Red Army entering Poland, because possession of books may bring them to ruin. Today's actions of the Europeans, undertaken, among others, in defence of a book against the invasion of American mass comics culture vividly remind of the attempts to mark out a border, new "limes", in defence of European identity.
Europe of the Centre
Strengthening and careful guarding of borders, whether these are the "limes", or the borders of national states, occurs not only in the period of a growing threat from outside . Strong borders are also demanded by a weak centre . In other words, it is our internal crisis and threatened identity that make us pay great importance to a border, which is supposed to protect us. In such a situation, tensions arise and conflicts easily break out.
At the beginning I have mentioned that today our understanding of borders changes, compared, e.g., to the 1960s. The sources of this situation should be detected in the internal problems of the Europeans themselves. The need for enrootedness, more and more clearly articulated, expresses anxiety connected with the loss of one's own place. Fascination with the possibility of moving easily and gaining space, as well as with openness of borders, is replaced by the search of ways leading to the middle, to the very centre.
And where should one look for the centre in the contemporary Europe? It is long since we lost Rome as the centre radiating onto all our civilization. The period when the role of the centre could be played by some cities of strong cultural and political influence, such as Paris or Vienna, also belongs to the past. Neither can this role be played by contemporary European administrative centres, like Brussels or Strasbourg, which signify a Europe of open borders, but, at the same time, a unified one .
If I correctly recognize the Europeans' aspirations, finding the best expression in the existing contradiction between a clear definition of the borders of one's own place, and their continuous overcoming, the new Europe, which will appear soon, will be a Europe of regions. For it seems that only such a shape will enable a modern European to reach the centre, which enroots him and defines him in his separateness, and, at the same time, gives him participation in the matters of the world, in what is common.
What is a Europe of regions? It is sphere, having its centre everywhere, and its borders - nowhere. This specific definition of the God, formulated before the hermetic tradition and assimilated by the Christianity thanks to the medieval mystics, seems exceptionally relevant also to our considerations. Creating small and bigger regions in Europe means creating authentic centres, situated near a man and possibly fully expressing him. This process is necessary at the time of founding of the European union; it is necessary for stability. Opening, or obliteration of borders entail strong isolation of varieties and dissimilarities, which oppose unification. And this is a natural phenomenon. This is how the unity in diversity, not unfamiliar to the European experience, is born.
The creation of regions is an aspiration in search of the centre, to the inside. At the same time, the strongly radiating centre opens the borders, soothes our fear of openness and blending, and, thus, increases the chances of implementing the idea of the European union.
It would be false to say that the Europeans' aspiration for enrootedness in their small regions implies a danger of the primacy of particular interests, xenophobia and. nationalism. Nationalism came from the outskirts. It was born among people isolated from the centre, living with the complex of the centre, exploited by the centre. In this sense, nationalism is a baby of the period of a huge disproportion between the political and cultural centre, and the regional and ethnic provinces. A real equipoise to this can be brought by Europe, which will create centres at the outskirts and whose centre will be everywhere.
Of course, the Europe of regions, defending its separateness and diversity, which constitute it, will not aspire for obliteration of the existing cultural , national , or religious borders. The existence of strong regional centres will preserve and isolate these borders. There is no contradiction here, because the source meaning of the word "border" itself, of the Latin "finis" and the related "finitimus" - adjacent, is connected with the concept of a close neighbourhood, rather than a hermetic isolation. This is the specific nature of a region, which may be called a borderland region, i.e. a place, where borders are inside, rather than outside the neighbouring area. The existence of a vivid centre weakens only those borders which are outside, which isolate and close; on the other hand, it naturally strengthens the borders running inside and determining the nature of a region.
The existence and development of borderland regions, the number of which will grow in the contemporary, multicultural Europe is extremely important in the process of shaping European unification. For, it is in these regions that an authentic community, born in the struggle of strong dissimilarities, is the most likely to appear. It is here that clearly defined borders will come together in a universal centre. In this way, the Europe of the Centre will be created. And maybe then we will manage to build a roof over our heads, which will not conceal the sky.