Undoubtedly this has been an annus horribilis for European borders. Here are some visual highlights of the last 12 months…
The Other Exodus: Kosovars heading North
Sunk: the deadliest drowning in the Mediterranean (so far)
Calais’ waves: migrants try to enter the Eurotunnel
All along the watchtower: Poland proposes border posts around Kalingrad
Born to be wild: Pro-Putin bikers stopped at Polish border
Terra nullius: migrants stranded at Italy-France border
Greek tragedies: migrants landing in Lesbos
No (Of)fence: migrants making their way trough Serbia-Hungary border
Tripping: foul play at the Hungarian border
The long march: migrants heading to Austria
Guardian Angel(a): Germany opens the doors to migrants
Suspended! Schengen area under pressure after Paris attacks
Øresund blues: Sweden closes its border with Denmark
European borders in 2016?
Posted by schengenizer on December 31, 2015
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…
Posted by schengenizer on June 15, 2015
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’. 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’…
 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
Posted by schengenizer on June 29, 2013