Borderless and Segmented

By Agnieszka Paczynska.

A few days ago I got back from a trip to a conference in Tartu, Estonia. The conference was a gathering of mostly European political scientists although there were a few participants from the US, Latin America and Asia as well. The workshop I was directing explore the increasingly prominent role that emerging powers, such as China, India, Brazil and Turkey among others are playing in the processes of post-conflict reconstruction and peacebuilding. We spent a few days exploring the reasons behind the emerging powers growing prominence in international relations, the divergences between them and traditional donors as well as the differences within this heterogeneous group of states.

While the discussions were very interesting, what struck me was what was happening outside of these meetings. I traveled to Tartu through Copenhagen in Denmark and through Riga in Latvia. And the journey and the theme of the workshop made me think about the extent to which globalization processes have fundamentally reshaped the relationships between people and between states and to what extent the organization of political space has in many ways persisted despite the changes. Perhaps within the European Union these tensions between change and continuity can be seen more starkly than elsewhere. Those who are admitted into this political space and those who are not or are admitted grudgingly and with restrictions reinforce hierarchies of global power and political access. On the beautiful, old streets of Riga and the seemingly endless forests and fields between Riga and Tartu, these hierarchies and problems of access could not be seen. There were no horrific images of boats full of migrants capsizing in the Mediterranean, no reports of people being smuggled in cramped trucks or trekking on foot for weeks. Riga, experiencing unusually sunny and warm whether was filled with sauntering tourists gazing at remains of the Hanseatic League era and locals and visitors sitting at the many outdoor cafes sipping beer. In fact, there was little sense of international borders. I entered the Schengen Area arriving from Washington, DC in Copenhagen. Here a bored border guard barely glanced at my American passport and did not bother stamping it. Once in, the only way I new I was entering a different country was the ring of my cell phone to inform me that a different service provider would now be taking care of my mobile needs. I was travelling in what felt like a borderless world, so fully wired that I could find wifi on my phone while strolling down city streets and following the unfolding protests in Istanbul in the bucolic parks of sleepy Tartu.

But others arriving at the workshops told a story of a very different world. The passengers exiting a plane from Istanbul where greeting by border guards who seemed poised for a verbal altercation and who carefully scanned all documents. A workshop participant who lives in London but travels on a Chinese passport waited for weeks for her visa and arrived in Estonia at the last minute and then was forced to stay after the conference ended because of the very complicated visa regulations that dictated her movements within the Schengen Area. Other workshop participants told stories of their failed attempts to invite colleagues from South East Asia to their German university. Not everyone would be granted entry into the borderless world of the Schengen. The world might have become more interconnected but not less segmented.

Tartu at night