Row Row Row your boat (people): what the France-Italy squabble means for the future of Schengen

No real silver lining at Ventimiglia

No real silver lining at Ventimiglia

Here we go again! These days France and Italy are at loggerheads over migrants trying to cross the two countries’ shared borders. Not that long ago (2011) Paris and Rome clashed over the very same issue. Back then it was North African migrants moving north in the wake of the ‘jasmine revolutions’. Today it is Libya’s implosion and the record number of ‘boat people’ who made it through the Mediterranean since the beginning of the year. Then, like today, France (temporarily) shut its borders with Italy. With panic engulfing the continent, then, like today, gloomy predictions about the end of the Schengen, the policy regime that guarantees the free movement of people across Europe, started to swirl around. So, are we there now? Does the latest intra-European brouhaha really represent the soon-to-be death of Schengen?

My answer is the same that I gave in response to the 2011 row, namely, NO! Despite these ominous signs (the tone of the discussion, for instance, is getting nastier by the day, with reciprocal accusations of breaching the ‘Schengen spirit’), this crisis might not prove to be as fatal as some doom-sayers suggest. On the contrary, Schengen might actually emerge from the present turmoil stronger than before. Indeed, if we look at the history of the regime (which, by the way, has just turned 30 this week) we can notice other examples of ‘crises’ whose features in terms of cast of characters, content and dynamics bear striking similarities with the present predicament. Then, as today, France (the ‘sceptical yet loyal member’), Italy (the ‘recalcitrant victim’) debated the effectiveness of existing border controls in the face of (perceived and actual) growth in illegal cross border activities, traded reciprocal accusations of either laxness or lack of trust and good faith, re-imposed – or threatened to re-impose – internal border controls, and evoked the possible end of the regime. In the end, however, Schengen not only weathered the gathering storm and survived the threat of a possible demise, but came out even stronger from these challenges. Indeed, the regime, which started as an intergovernmental initiative developed by a group of European governments in the mid 1980s, by the end of the 1990s had doubled in membership and, with its incorporation in the EU’s institutional architecture, became one of the central pillars of the European integration project.

From an institutional perspective, these recurrent crises can therefore be understood as cyclical adjustment mechanisms that have helped the regime withstand new challenges and consolidate its institutional presence in Europe. The current crisis’ patterns and dynamics are consistent with the trajectory that Schengen has followed in the past. It might be overly optimistic, but my guess is that last chapter of the chronicle of a death foretold (Schengen’s)  might have a different ending after all…

Mapping Schengen Art – Part VI

Here is the fifth instalment of Schengen border art, an ongoing project in which I map the multifarious ways in which the Old Continent’ (real and imaginary) frontiers have been represented/performed/subverted.

White Crosses – Centre for Political Beauty (Art installation, 2014)

ZPS_Add_Exp-2

http://www.politicalbeauty.com/wall.html

Bordergame – National Theatre Wales (2014, live/online performance, role-play)

Bordergame by National Theatre Wales

http://nationaltheatrewales.org/bordergame

Borrando La Barda/Erasing the Border – Ana Teresa Fernandez (2001, visual performance)

EU-MAN – European Union Migrant Artists Network (1997)

EU- Man pic

http://www.eu-man.org/index.htm

And to conclude, some Schengen pop culinaria…

Schengen Restaurant – Delhi

The Indian Schengen

The Indian Schengen

Echoes of Europe in a review of Delhi’s Schengen restaurant:

“Schengen is unmissable, with its bright lights, all-white exterior… (…). Yet as you enter there is a nagging sense that there is way too much space. (…) Schengen is a massive space to fill…”

Europe’s borders in 2014: a visual review

It’s been an eventful year for border-related matters in Europe. Here are some visual highlights of the last 12 months…

February 2014

EUhh! The Swiss vote no to more European migrants

Eu Swiss referendum

March 2014

Crime(a) and punishment: Russian crimeans can’t apply for Schengen visas

Crimea Schengen 2

May 2014

All’s quiet on the Eastern front: Polish-German border 10 years after enlargement

Polish-German border

October 2014

Surreal Melilla: Golfers vs migrants in the Spanish enclave

Melilla vs golfers

October 2014

Parking Lot Desperation: Syrian cars at Turkish border near Kobani

Kobani cars

November 2014 

The new marshmallows: ISIS fighters burn French passports

french-passports-isis-fighters.si

December 2014

The answer my friend…: anti-migrant Calais fence blown by the wind

Calais fence

January-December 2014

Mediterranean Blues: more boats, rescues and drownings…

Mediterranean rescue

See you all in 2015!!!

Mapping Schengen Art – Part V

Here is the fifth instalment of Schengen border art, an ongoing project in which I map the multifarious ways in which the Old Continent’ (real and imaginary) frontiers have been represented/performed/subverted..

Isaac Julien – Western Union: Small Boats (The Leopard) (Video Installation, 2014)

Isaac Julien, “Western Union Series no. 1 (Cast No Shadow)”

http://www.isaacjulien.com/installations/smallboats

Mimmo Paladino – Porta di Lampedusa, Porta D’Europa (sculpture, 2008)

Paladino Lampedusa

http://www.spiegel.de/international/europe/africans-remembered-a-memorial-for-europe-s-lost-migrants-a-560218.html

Lena Malm, Sarah Green – Borderwork: A visual journey through periphery frontier regions (2014 photo-book)

jasilti_border-kannet-1070_large

http://www.jasilti.com/se/borderwork-bok

The Splendours and Miseries of the Schengen Zone (theatre performances, Riga, 2014)

Eurovision1

http://www.riga2014.org/eng/news/52867-the-splendours-and-miseries-of-the-schengen-zone-in-four-plays

Schengen Schege (band, Brussels)

Malik Nejmi  – “4160″ (video installation, 2014)

Mediterranean nightmares and Freudian ships: how Europe externalizes its migration anxiety

EU interdiction

These days news outlets around the world are plastered with images of Southern European countries’ coastguard vessels intercepting rickety dinghies trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea. This practice is one of the most notable instances of what Aristide Zolberg calls ‘remote control’, or the array of policies and practices aimed at managing migratory flows before they reach a country’s territory. The externalization of migration management is not a new phenomenon, and not unique to Europe. The Unites States, after all, ‘invented’ the concept of interdiction in the high seas as way to stem the flow of Haitians, Cubans and other undesired migrants heading to El Norte. Yet there is something new about recent developments, both in terms of breath and scope. More problematically, these policies remain highly controversial, raising various ethical and legal issues for the governments that implement them.

All this raises the question: why are these policies so popular? The typical answer offered, the one favoured by politicians – is that it is a very efficient way to address the challenge of unwanted migration. If migrants cannot be managed after they reach their destination, why not contain them before they get there? These policies have also the great advantage of taking place outside the legal boundaries that constrain liberal democracies, thus relieving receiving countries from potential liabilities. They also allow to shift the burden to countries of origin and transit, which are invested with the sole responsibility (with only limited financial and logistical support) of dealing with unwanted migrants.

It is a very simple and appealing logic. It also seems very rational. In this sense it echoes what economists would call ‘externalization’, the idea that in order to maximize profits a business may  off load indirect costs to a third party. Whether this strategy is really effective when applied to the migration realm is, however, debatable. The cost of setting up remote control operations and supporting them with all the latest technological gizmos is ballooning. There is also no easy way to measure success. (More detections on the high sea? Or less?). Certainly, it raises serious issues of fairness. While they do receive some (meagre) compensation, sending and transit countries often do not really have a choice when confronted with their powerful counterparts’ requests. And opposition from various quarters (not just the usual suspects, such as the NGOs galaxy, but also greater sections of the European population) is mounting as well. I wonder, however, if the answer to the question of why these policies are so popular among policy-makers has not much to do with rational calculations, but something more subtle and thus less apparent. After all, economists are not the only ones talking about ‘externalization’. This concept has been famously explored by the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud. From a Freudian perspective, externalization is an unconscious copying mechanism aimed at soothing the anxieties that engulf our daily lives. This process occurs when we find a target – be it a person or an object – in which we project our own characteristics, often negative ones. This mechanism has an important ‘positive’ function. Without the relief that it offers, we would soon reach a state of chronic neurosis. Its sides effects are equally nasty, however, since it can have deleterious consequences on the subjects of our projections, our relations with them and, more generally, on our public image. The silver lining in this phenomenon is that it is typically temporary and that it can be reversed when our level of anxiety gets under control. Whether this is possible when dealing with cases of collective externalization (that is, when it is not just an individual involved but an entire community) is another story. Envisioning Europe’s remote control saga through a psychoanalytic lens, however, points to the fact that politicians’ fascination with these highly toxic policies has more to do with ‘internal’ reasons than external ones. If Europe really wants to confront its uncomfortable relationship with migration, it might have to start by looking at itself in the mirror.

Mapping Europe’s border art – a project

Art and other creative expressions about European borders have been a recurrent theme in this blog. So much so that I have decided to launch a new side project specifically dealing with this topic. After all, isn’t the end of the year a time for new resolutions? The tentative title of this endeveour is ‘Schengen border art’, and I am planning to develop it in the upcoming months. The goal is to map contemporary artistic performances whose main subject is the Old Continent’s frontiers, be it the ‘real’ boundary demarcations in the political, social, economic realms or their imagined projections, and in the people who cross, build or challenge them on a daily basis. These artistic performances can take different forms: from novels, poems and paintings to photographs, videos, sculptures, land art, simulations, installations, theatrical and other types of  ‘live’ performances. The number of these artistic expressions has mushroomed in recent years as a result of the growing interest in (and controversy over) Europe’s borders and their management. Below you will find a preview of this body of work. And stay tuned for updates on this project!

After Schengen – Ignacio Evangelista (2013)

th-17_pl-cz

http://ignacioevangelista.com/index.php?/seleccion-natural/work-in-progres-after-schengen/

 

Maritime Incidents – Heiko Schäfer (2008).

schaefer04-k

http://www.heikoschaefer.de/projects/start/maritime_incidents.html

 

Migration, Installation – Raul Gschrey (2010)

gschrey02

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.grenzlinien.com/raul-gschrey.htm

 

Memorabilia – Sabina Shikhlinskaya (2012)

IMG_4967-n_small-200x300

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://transkaukazja.de/?p=333&lang=en

 

Contained Mobility – Ursula Biemann (2004)

Capture

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.geobodies.org/art-and-videos/contained-mobility

 

Fortress Europe – Asia dub foundation (2003)

Asia Dub foundation

 

 

 

 

 

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eMXKt99W61A

***

Scotland’s independence, Schengen, and today’s border reivers

border_reiversWith this week’s issuing of the white paper ‘Scotland’s Future’,  the Scottish government  has officially launched its campaign for the September 2014 referendum on independence. If successful, Scotland would (re)gain full sovereignty and thus control over its destiny. What that means in practice is that Edinburgh, among other things, would be able to exert control over its newly independent territory, including its borders. The Scottish-English frontier would then become Europe’s latest “t

errible reality” (as Dion back in the 1940s referred to Europe’s post WW2 frontiers). Yet, politicians in the Scottish government have quickly dismissed the claims (rumors?) that a modern day Adrian’s wall would be erected  between modern day Caledonia and Britannia – rumors that originate, not surprisingly, mostly from south of the future border). No new fortifications, no customs and passport checks.  And above all – vade retro satana! – Scotland will be not forced by some nasty (continental) Europeans to join the Schengen regime. Scotland will therefore be free to reclaim its land border. Or maybe not. It would take it back, but just symbolically. The UK (or what would be left without the Scots) will not be compelled to open a northern flank in its battle against the masses of (Continental) Europeans yearning to breathe free (and  work) in modern day Albion. Or maybe they will. After all, an independent Scotland, even if outside Schengen, might still feel like inviting those  irritating (Continental) Europeans. And then who would check whether they’ll be sneaking down south? The twisted nature of this debate (and of the motivations of those behind it), then, seems to conjure the re-appearance in modern  guise of an epic and controversial figure that characterized the lawless territory constituting the pre-Union Anglo-Scottish borderland, namely that of the border reiver. Border reivers were individuals (both of Scottish and English descent) who raided the areas around the Anglo-Scottish frontier and robbed their victims of their belongings with no regards to the victims’ nationality. Crucially, governments on both sides of the border were either turning a blind eye or even actually encouraging their actions, because reivers would do the dirty work against the other side that governments were either unwilling or unable of carrying out. What modern day rulers should keep in mind, however, is that border reivers were notoriously unreliable, switching side when convenient and even plundering those who ostensibly they had vowed their allegiance to.  From wherever side of the Anglo-Scottish fence you might sitting today, a sound piece of advice would be: behold all these novel border reivers!

 

Saying ‘non’ to Schengen: or how a visa refusal can challenge the system

Image

A Non-Schengen ticket…

“Non, merci”. These simple words have caused a stir, embarrassing France and Europe as a whole in the process. What I am referring to is the symbolic gesture that a young Senegalese woman, Bousso Dramé, performed last week after the French consulate in Dakar had granted her a visa to travel to Europe. She really wanted to go to Paris. And she well deserved it (the trip was the prize for winning a French writing contest). Yet, she declined. We often hear stories about visa applicants, especially in developing countries, being turned down by callous European officials. Not this time. Drame turned them down. And she did not do it silently. She wanted to let the consulate officials know why she did it  – because of the way she was (mis)treated during the application process. She also wanted everybody else (in Africa and beyond) to know. And she wanted to make a statement about the humiliation that many people like her have to endure in order to get to Europe. That is why she put all her bitterness in writing, in a composed yet powerful j’accuse against a ‘system’ that she feels is profoundly unjust, which pretends to be objective but whose main raison d’être seems to be that of keeping unwanted people out of Europe.

Drame’s gesture has made me think about other symbolic performances that target Europe’s visa system, in this case using art as their main ‘weapon’. What I have in mind is what Milevska  calls ‘Non Schengen Art’[1]. The common theme addressed by non–Schengen artists is the impact of the Schengen border regime on the everyday life of Eastern European citizens (those holding passports of countries that are not yet Schengen members). In order to present their work in Western Europe, these artists (themselves citizens of ‘Non Schengen’ countries) need to obtain a visa. To challenge what they perceive as a clamp down on their freedom of expression, they conjure up performances, objects, installations, and video or photography projects that are clandestine attempts for finding a way to trick the political system and bureaucratic procedures. These performances are often based on illegal tactics that mirror the creative ways in which would-migrants try to sneak across Europe’s external borders, such as faking passports, bribing officials, avoiding surveillance cameras, overstaying visas, white weddings, etc. Their criticism of the Schengen regime, rather than overt and outspoken, is evoked by their actions. They are not just representing an illegal migrant in their art; they are performing it. Thanks to these performances, art becomes part of everyday life. But the artists’ objective is not to reify the ‘everydayness’ that Schengen represents, but to disrupt it from within.

The Serbian author Tanja Ostojić, for instance, in her performance Crossing Borders, realized in 2000, the author illegally crossed the border between Slovenia and Austria. When she crossed the border, Slovenia was still a non Schengen country, and its borders with the EU were heavily fortified. According to Ostojić, the journey was possible only because of the help she received from her Austrian friends who accompanied her in the treacherous trek across the Slovenian-Austrian border. The final objective of the work of Ostojić and other members of the Non Schengen Art movement is to unveil Schengen’s exclusionary underpinnings. Their artistic performances thus engage with ‘the system’, if only as a means to debunk it from within. This is precisely what Drame’s ‘spectacular’ gesture seems to be doing. The power of  a ‘non’…


[1]  Milevska, Suzana, “Non-Schengen art: the phantasm of belonging”, paper presented at the UCL school of Slavonic and East European studies 7th annual international postgraduate conference, Inclusion Exclusion, University College London 16-18th February 2006

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