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Frank Jacobs ” In Praise Of Borders’

Borderlines is Frank Jacobs’ column in the New York Times. Through an extensive study of borders, the column examines the political geography of the world. Jacobs humorously brings an insightful perspective and manages to address a broad spectrum of concepts in political geography. Jacobs’ articles are written and published during a period of increasing disdain for borders, especially exemplified with the European Union’s move towards free movement and migration within its external boundary. The increase in anti-barrier sentiment is easily seen in some reactions to the articles in Borderlines.

Alastair Bonnett quotes in a review of the column that” Jacobs received a stern scolding… Borders are for small minds which exploit fear and ignorance, and attempt to circumscribe a human species which knows no limitations? ” Jacobs argues the exact opposite of this. The first article in the series is titled “In Praise of Borders” and unequivocally asserts his belief in “humanity’s need for obstacles, for a line in the sand between Them and Us. ” A coveted sense of belonging is fostered by the Them versus Us attitude.

The need to live among others that are like yourself is complemented by the desire to separate yourself from those alien to you, thus constructing barriers: abstract or concrete. Jacobs’ is completely correct, and his sentiments are echoed by Lord Curzon’s statement that border policy “has a more profound effect upon the peace or warfare of nations than any other factor, political or economic. ” More specifically, Jacobs uses the examples of Transnistria and continued Indo-Pakistani tension to illustrate the utility of borders.

The articles introduce the major themes of identity, language, religion, culture, and the legitimacy of borders. Beginning with “Transnistrian Time-Slip,” Jacobs examines the case of a state attempting to redraw (or create? ) its borders. Moldova is a former Soviet republic that lies on the border of the European Union today. Transnistria is a region of Moldova that shares almost nothing in the way of identity with the remainder of the state. Jacobs is quick to point out that Transnistrians speak a different language than Moldovan, sand do not culturally identify with them.

Instead of speaking Romanian with the rest of Moldova, Transnistrians speak Russian. Geographer Hans Weigert stated that “where more than one language is spoken within the national boundaries of a nation, the germ of not-belonging-together exists and serious problems are apt to rise. ” Weiger’s deduction shows borders are necessary to assuage differences in language by giving a confirmation that you belong with a group of people, and no other group controls your sovereignty. When the Moldovan government attempted to coerce the Transnistrians into speaking Romanian, conflict truly began to break out.

Living in a state as a minority is already undesirable, but more so when your language is being actively persecuted by the state. Even further, Transnistria was one of the few places in the USSR that the idealized Homo sovieticus would truly be produced. This ethnic transcendence had the effect of solidifying the feeling that Transnistrians did not belong with Moldovans. Not only their language is foreign, but far more importantly their fundamental values and shared vision of the future were drastically different.

Jacobs argues that the rebellion that “established the independence of Transnistria was not motivated by Russian nationalism, but by Soviet nostalgia – or, rather, the inability to imagine a future other than a communist one. ” Perhaps the strongest symbol of national identity, the flag, still contains the communist sickle and hammer in Transnistria. This directly reflects the “time-slip” into a totally different identity from another era. In a study of how boundaries form, Weigert noted that “in one’s system of values allegiance to the common values and traditions takes precedence over allegiance to the people that speak the same language. This statement exactly echoes Jacobs deduction that the Soviet identity and Marxist-Leninist (perhaps -Stalinist too, for some? ) values are what truly precipitated separation.

Switzerland is an example that shows the perfect mirror of this: Swiss people strongly share common values and vision, allowing them to overcome lingual division. Therefore, the question of forming a new boundary arises. Since the role of a boundary or border is “to ensure peace and goodwill between contiguous peoples by putting a definite edge on the national political horizon,” it is only logical that Transnistrians would take this step forwards.

After all, good fences make good neighbors. Unfortunately, despite declaring independence, few existing states recognize Transnistria’s secession and creation of a new border. This is another key issue that Jacobs’ article puts forward: What constitutes a legitimate border? In practice, recognition by other states is the key. To produce some semblance of legitimacy Transnistria became a member of the Community for Democracy and Rights of Nations. Simply put, “the main aim of the organization… seems to be at least to recognize one another’s independence…. ” Recognition by other unrecognized nations is hardly a driving force though.

What Transnistria requires is recognition from major powers, and it cannot even get this from Russia due to the diplomatic conflict it would cause. Jacobs writes “the lack of international recognition compounds the sense of limbo and hinders economic development,” showing the very real requirement for states to have well defined, recognized borders. Two months later, Jacobs published another article that discusses the nature of borders. This time the border is the Indo-Pakistani “geopolitical fault line,” called so because of the “deep hostility and mutual resentment between India and Pakistan.

The border was nicknamed the “Radcliffe line” for the man that was responsible for singlehandedly determining the borders of a state. While the existence of this border is not disputed, as is Transnistria’s, the position of the border is a topic of contention that has caused several wars. Titled “Peacocks at Sunset,” the article recounts a ceremony at a border crossing where both states make a show of force every night as their flags are lowered at the respective border station. If there is a more perfect representation of the function of borders, it is certainly hard to find.

Again, the flag being lowered represents an entire place and its people, unifying each side of the border against the other as two distinct identities. Religion is the defining factor in this case, in lieu of the shared set of values in Transnistria’s conflict. As set forth in his introduction to the Borderlines series, this ceremony strongly reflects the “Them and Us” mentality that is pervasive in basic human nature. Although both states possess a shared history and memory of suffering under British rule, this shared heritage is not enough to overcome both linguistic and religious divide.

Specifically, it is the strength of religious divide that precludes any possibility of the two nations remaining unified and borderless. The rise of secularism has relegated religious conflict to the past for western society, but in the 20th century (and even to this day) religion was a defining aspect of Pakistani and Indian identity; especially when compared to each other. At the very least, the British recognized the need to place an international boundary between the two religious groups when they granted the entire region independence.

When there are differences that can even drive people to kill each other, having a border that unifies an entire group in defence is certainly reassuring. The decision to segregate each religious group “removed the fears of Indians and Muslims by grouping the Muslim provinces into two solid units. ” This sense safety and belonging yet another reflection of the vital need for borders, which humanity has certainly not moved past. Unfortunately, the border was chosen between the two nations arbitrarily, attempting to “divide Hindu-majority lands from Muslim-majority lands in as equitable a manner as possible.

This meant that while the goal was two states with each its own religious-ethnic majority, the problems that arose would come from the other group that is forced to be the minority within the same state. These minorities were created by virtue of the “equitable a manner as possible” clause. The clause stipulated that some precedence in deciding the border must be given to economic and territorial balance of the two states, rather than homogeneity of its residents. The desire for this minority to be with its right people, or irredentism, is what lead to the bloodbath when India and Pakistan separated.

Stacie Goddard explains this by writing that “national and religious identities are most likely to drive indivisible territorial disputes. Because ethnic groups view territory as a homeland, they will pursue violent secessionist claims that rip apart the fabric of the state. ” In other words, people do not want to leave their homeland to be a part of the state that represents them. Instead, shifting the border and joining their homeland to their nation-state is far preferable, but would undoubtedly lead to conflict as no state wishes to see swaths of valuable territory simply up and leave.

This is the heart of the issue in India’s partition and the violence that the initial border, or “Radcliffe line,” caused. The initial border certainly changed, being shifted by a series of wars between the two States. Nevertheless, Jacobs admits that “the internal dynamics of Indian politics necessitated such a border” to give a greater sense of safety and stability, even if there would be some violence caused by the imperfection of the border.

The current border that materialized as a result “is not an international border, determined by a commission, a reassuringly full line on the map, but a line of control represented cartographically by the much more ephemeral dotted line. ” This is simply the nature of borders and states in geography, being constantly subject to change and movement. This is a good thing, however, as a border determined by practice rather than arbitration is far stronger. Interestingly, the least disputed area of the border The heart of the issue for both articles is the nature of borders and disputed territory for states.

While Transnistria’s conflict stems from a strong sense of identity and values (and somewhat language), India and Pakistan’s situation is chiefly rooted in a conflict of religion. In either case, Jacobs argues that the drawing of borders and the creation of barriers is only innate human nature. This comes from a basic inner desire to feel a sense of belonging and live among people like yourself. Indeed, there is an excellent case presented by Jacobs that humanity will always need borders, and the world is a better place because of them.

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