Walls have a long life

Article published on Feb. 17, 2003
community published
Article published on Feb. 17, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

One wall falls; others are already taking its place. The ramparts bristle around Fortress Europa.

'The End' of the cold war was written at Pratica di Mare on 28 May 2002. This would seem to end a process of reform in international relations started more than 10 years ago with the fall of the shameful symbol that was the Berlin Wall. Unfortunately, international relations haven't finished with their walls - real or symbolic.

This is the case with the wall that separates the Israelis and the Palestinians, the wall that moves them further away from peaceful cohabitation every day. The physical manifestation of the wall has now begun to appear: a defensive barrier 350 kilometres long along the green line, along with its trenches, cameras and no man's land. The point is to avoid any Palestinian infiltration on Israeli territory apart from through the small number of checkpoints. The reality of this barrier is the death of any hope of integration between these peoples arguing over a land they could live in together. Or more simply the rejection of the 'other' beyond the unbreachable barrier, even the rejection of their existence full stop.

Again, this is the case with the wall that separates Mexico and the United States. The frontier line of a war being waged between North and South, rich and poor, the latter being the victims when they attempt to pass this frontier in the guise of a barbed wire fence garnished with observation towers. "A war without a name on the borders of America" as shown by Chantal Akerman in "From the other side", a documentary screened in Cannes, which evokes through the everyday dramas around this wall in the middle of the desert the contemporary problems of North-South exchange, immigration, insecurity, racism...

And finally this is the case with the wall that some would like to see built around a Europe turned fortress. Seeing as the Schengen agreement permits the free movement of people within Europe, the Union's external borders must be strengthened. The interior ministers gathered in Rome to sketch the outline of a European border police force, proposed by the Commission. This is legitimate, and such a degree of European integration should surely be celebrated. What is more, European governments will try to harmonise their immigration policies at the Seville summit. But at a time when 1 in 4 Frenchmen identifies with the ideas of the National Front, at a time when all over Europe immigration has become the central issue of electoral campaigns to the great profit of the extreme right, at a time when the latter is seeing its support sore, is even gaining power to put in place its policies based on rejection and exclusion, the perspective of a Fortress Europa marked by a closed attitude and racism comes close.

As we are so happy to have pulled down one wall which divided Europe, we should not let the masons of segregation begin their work again. Europe herself was built around notions of openness and exchange between nations. And as wall tend to rise again, we must reiterate that it is the circulation of ideas and people, opening, exchange, mixing populations, freedom, which guarantee and will continue to guarantee the richness of our countries, and which on a November day in 1989 broke the wall of totalitarianism. Not segregation closed attitudes, introspection and the rejection of the other. It was these that, to a certain degree, built the Wall of Shame one day in August 1961.