“The first person who, having enclosed a plot of land, took into his head to say ‘this is mine’ and found people simple enough to believe him, was the true founder of civil society. What crimes, wars, murders, what miseries and horrors would the human race have been spared, had someone pulled up the stakes or filled in the ditch and cried out to his fellow man: ‘do not listen to this impostor. You are lost if you forget that the fruits of the earth belong to all and the earth to no one!”. That was Jean-Jacques Rousseau in The Social Contract and the Discourses, essay written in 1755, in which he theorized how the abandoning of natural laws ruined our species.
Protection of borders always defined History. According to a version of Rome foundation myth reported by the Latin historian Titus Livius, Romulus killed his twin Remus because he was crossing the walls of the new town and said: “so perish everyone that shall hereafter leap over my wall”. Lovely brother. From Hadrian’s Wall to Medieval fortresses, this kind of constructions became famous monuments, not only in Europe, of course. The Chinese Wall, the only structure seen from outer space, was built in the III century b.C. against Mongolian raids. But although its 3000 km, it couldn’t stop the invasion till the end. Same for the Roman walls against Barbarians or Byzantium ones against the Ottomans.
In modern ages things didn’t change much, see the Maginot Line. This “insurmountable” French masterpiece on the German border worked very well on World War I, but was wiped out less then 30 years later. The Berlin Wall, symbol of the Cold War, had in its 20 and something years of life more than 5000 successful attempts of leaping from the communist side to the capitalist west – even though by the hundreds were killed by the police. Someone did the reverse path, they say that a guy was caught five times and he justified himself telling the authorities that was the quickest way to meet his relatives. Other attempts were demonstrative, such as the one of John Runnings, who went on the wall with a ladder and walked for a half km on the perimeter.
So, walls, physical or imaginary ones like those demanded nowadays, always existed to preserve something, especially peace. But in an era in which wars are over – in the lucky side of the World, sure – why we still feel the need to be so conservative? Right-wing extremists and populists yell to support the National identity, from Donald Trump (U.S.A.) to Matteo Salvini (Italy), from Narendra Modi (India) to Marine Le Pen (France), which at first glance can sound reasonable, having an identity, knowing your own roots is important. But does it make any sense when we look at the History?
It’s not an opinion. Identity, nationality, aren’t static concepts, they developed during millennia. The Aryans come from India, migrations, conquers, explorations, marked the past events. The Mediterranean Sea saw the alternation of dozens of civilizations. Phoenicians, Babylonians, Egyptians, Carthaginians, Etruscan, Greeks, Latins, Arabs, even populations coming from the northern or eastern Europe, like Goths, Northmen and Huns. That’s why even in Sicily you can find blond people. Then the Europeans started colonizing overseas, if North America wanted to preserve its identity, well, too late. There aren’t many Inuit or Sioux left, sorry.
Globalization, nowadays, should have facilitated the circulation of ideas and even problems, to find out common solutions. The internet gets us everywhere in a click, everything looks like it was meant to reset distances, for a finally peaceful communication based on curiosity and will to share knowledge. But something went wrong in the end. Instead of creating a horizontal platform, globalization kept a vertical hierarchy, used by rich Countries to relocate factories for a low-cost production. If we think about it, the real “global” main theme is… anti-internationalism. We’re closing more and more in our small backyard and to make sure nobody enters or leaves we build walls all around.
Israel started long time ago to build the so called “wall of shame”, more than 700 km constantly updated and re-drawn, because of international protests and also because the borders with Palestine are unclear. It seems, more than self defense, a try to keep the water sources, more precious than anything else in dry areas. The wall between United States and Mexico got almost the same sinister reputation. Completed for a third of his total length, was one of the highlights of Trump’s campaign for the White House, to stop migrations from the south.
The list doesn’t end here. Actually, geopolitical experts say that is almost impossible to calculate the number of structures which divide populations basing on census, language, nationalities, religions. In Rio de Janeiro a wall protects the forest from the expansion of the favelas, but the opponents talk of ghettoisation. In Padua, Italy, an entire neighbor has been encircled in 2006 to defeat drugs dealing. Cyprus opened the path from the Turkish north to the Greek south only in 2003. Morocco still wants to defend from Saharawi indipendentists and is segregated also from the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla. Pakistan has walls on two sides, with India for the Kashmir issue and with Iran to limit immigration and smuggling of any kind (drugs, weapons, products destined to black market). Botswana fenced the border with Zimbabwe, officially to avoid animals trespassing, really it’s still for (against) immigrants.
And we get to the strictly current events. Hungarian president Viktor Orban started the European fade, when he closed the border with Serbia. New barriers came out between Bulgaria and Turkey, Macedonia and Greece, Slovenia and Croatia, for a while even the border between Austria and Italy was at risk (but nothing happened after Austrian elections, won by the Green Party and annulled after few months, but that’s another story). The purpose is always the same one, blocking extra-European migrants and save Fortress Europe from a menace that’s more virtual than real, at least if our fear is the replacement of our “pure” ethnicity.
The European Union is losing power, the institutions never took serious actions against these blatant violations of free circulation, the only one who took a stand is the pope Francis I, but obviously he’s got no real power. Better yet, Europe signed a deal with Turkey, giving 3 billions euro to Recep Erdoğan regime just to send immigrants from Middle East and Asia back to their countries. And Donald Tusk, president of European Council, approved that, saying that is an antidote against populism…
40 years ago Jurij Gagarin was the first man in space and once he reached a different perspective to see our planet, commented astonished: “from up here the Earth is beautiful, without borders or boundaries”.
The protest rap song of Swedish group Looptroop,
“Fort Europa/ My so called Utopia/Where I can’t find no culture/ Feel the walls getting closer and closer and closer”