Posted by: Borderless Borderguard | February 17, 2008

Border studies divided into three epoches

Statehood is one of the most crucial notions and causes for boundaries to exist. The modern state system consists of nation states, all with their own national ideology, with their national dishes and dresses, national languages and national borders. The peace of Westphalia is known to have laid ground for this development, i.e. the surface of the earth being sliced into nation states all with their linear boundaries. Therefore, the history of borders is mainly the history of states, or evolutions of those. Not that there are no other borders. There are limits to almost everything, and if those aren’t found in nature then they are constructed by humans. Cities are walled; houses and other constructions are fenced to hinder the free entry or exit. Sometimes other signs of limits are to be found in the streets of many towns, which serve as barriers. One of the most common conversations between parent and a child goes about limits to one’s behaviour or patience. However, the most vivid form of limitation is the international territorial boundary.

One doesn’t even have to approach the borderline to experience it. Modern people are well instructed about how and where to cross the boundary, and what papers one needs to show to be able to enter or exit the country, i.e. cross the boundary. Boundaries are thought to be inseparable parts of state, and one of the most important attributes thereof. Roughly the history of borders, according to my research and extensive reading could be divided into three stages: pre-nation-state era, nation-state era and globalised world era.

In the pre-nation-state era states, or state like organisations, are not fixed. They may change in size and strive to change in size, either expandor reduce; There is nothing like a modern boundary, a line which separates states and fixes them ‘forever’. There are rather city-states, which have walls around them. Instead they have borders and frontiers or marches which have a zonal character. They are not fixed, just as the size of the state itself; they are non static and flowing. Anderson (1996: 1) notes, ‘the linear and exclusive state frontier, in the sense currently understood, scarcely existed before the French Revolution’. Land is occupied by more powerful states, and borders are imposed upon the weak. Imperialism is the end of this era. European imperialism, led to the fact, that most parts of Africa, Asia and other continents of the Earth were occupied, distributed and redistributed among the most powerful empires. In order to control their lands in distance, a new form of administering was necessary, nation building, border construction takes place. But it is not done from below, but rather from the capitals of the empires, like London, Moscow, Brussels, Paris, Den Haage, etc. These frontiers weren’t borders dividing the peoples/settlements in Africa or Asia, but rather borders separating territories of other colonial powers, for instance, border between Afghanistan and Turkistan (nowadays Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Tajikistan) was seen as the border between Tsarist Russia and British Empire. Afghanistan was actually thought to function as a buffer state between them. Buffer states were used at some cases to serve as a border state between powerful empires.In pre-nation-state era the empires are equal, and constantly fighting with each other. ‘Primitive’ cultures and their lands are free for occupation, if they weren’t in possession of other powers already. In a CAYN[1] webpage forum there was a question about what would happen to Central Asia if Russia did not occupy it. The very logical and interesting answer followed: if not Russia then it would be the British Empire. It was the time when the surface of earth was being divided like a cake into pieces among the most powerful. The era of imperialism finds shapes of well protected territories, lands and frontiers. Occupied territories are reduced to manageable sizes, to enable easier administration thereof from the distance.

Nation-state era puts an end to imperialism, all the nations are equal. In Donnan’s and Wilson’s word ‘the great fiction’ spreads all around the globe carrying the message that every nation and peoples have a right for self-determination and for establishing a state of their own. Wars for land are inexcusable and no more legitimate, international relations are scrutinised by the UN and other non-state actors. Even if territorial wars have been stopped, there are a number of smaller scale conflicts or frozen conflicts which still inhumanly take lives of the thousands of people and cause immense internal as well as external displacements. To illustrate with, conflicts between Palestine and Israel, Kosovo and Serbia, Abkhazia and others.New states emerge, independencies are being proclaimed. Boundaries appear, border which was a zone, is now a line, heavily defended. There are a number of territorial disputes, of course. Borders are not imposed unilaterally, but negotiated. International treaties about boundaries are signed including all the details about the location of the border. Prescott will be guiding in the next section into the evolution of boundaries, which goes through three main stages: delimitation, allocation and demarcation. Border guards, guard the borders. Visa regimes are established to restrict entrance (or in some parts of the world exit) to certain countries. Soviet Union, and later some of the successor states have exit-visas in use, which puts restrains and control over peoples movement in and out of the countries. Many developed nations nowadays put another restriction to enter their well developed dominions. Many ‘third world citizens’ while applying for visa to,say, US or EU might have to prove having substantial financial means to afford living in US and EU, respectively. Economic aspect is the biggest barrier for many people to move freely, especially if the destination is the western country. Borders, more than being just a line, are felt everywhere; there is no need to be confronted with it physically. Nowadays, when transport means sometimes do not even approach the borderline, like air transports, border became as mobile as the transport means. Airports check peoples’ passportsfor their (exit-) visas or appropriate entry permit. The international carriers (airlines) cooperate with border check points, allowing new forms of control at other layers of boundaries.

Globalisation era co-exists with nation-state system, but strongly influences it. New discourses emerge which questions legitimacy of state speculating about end of it. Borderless globalised world seems to be the popular image. EU with its four freedoms of movements and abolishment of internal boundaries serve as inspiration throughout the world. But at the same time, control of EU’s external boundaries strengthened, making people on the borderlands of Ukraine and other eastern European states feel furious about new borders dividing their villages, and families. As Michelle Comelli et al. suggest ‘the introduction of the Schengen measures on the EU’s external borders are expected to result in new barriers to travel and trade between regions that had previously known intensive cross-border cooperation, such as, for example, Poland and the Ukraine’ (Comelli et al. 2006: 6).

Globalisation seems to have changed the values. Security is perceived differently, people want to be multi-cultural. They realize that threats are no more coming from other states, but rather from non-state actors, like terrorist networks, environmental catastrophes, climate change, poverty, etc. people wish to reunite, to work transcending borders, they create NGOs and Associations which tend to be international, they want freedom of movement for everyone. Therefore, human migration is natural, and national borders are artificial and non-profitable any more. Information flows without even approaching the border-fences, they just fly above or underneath. The information that unites in the air, satellites, WWW, and many other means of communication, which make people feel that they live in a borderless world.


[1] Central Asian Youth Network project launched by OSCE in the first half of 2004

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