This week, the world marks 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, one of the most significant borders of recent history. As OpenCanada contributor Jennifer Jenkins writes, looking back on the occasion, the wall was “three metres of ugly, pre-fabricated concrete that ran as far as the eye could see.” But it was not the same on both sides. “For East Germans, it was “untouchable, unapproachable.” On the western side, it was covered in graffiti, commentary and colour. You could lay your hands on it if you wanted to. This difference explicitly demonstrated what the wall symbolized: the division of ideologies, of economic approaches, of citizens of one country. Borders usually represent the partition of more than just geography.
While the world certainly changed after the wall came down, and further still with the fall of the USSR soon thereafter, it was not the beginning of a new, borderless era. The jury is still out whether borders have thinned or thickened since the end of the Cold War — while trade agreements and internet connections have brought global citizens closer to one another, increased security measures, especially following 9/11, have also prompted more intense border controls.
The Berlin Wall anniversary this week has prompted this in-depth look at some of the most contested borders around the globe, and also provides an opportunity to expand our understanding of borders, physical and otherwise.
First, contributors Jeremy Kinsman and Jennifer Jenkins explore the significance of the fall of the Berlin Wall, 25 years ago, remembering the optimism inspired by the event and the political implications that followed.
Narratives from Israel and Afghanistan tell the story of life on the frontlines of more recently contested borders. Analyses of Canadian visa restrictions on Mexico and Ebola-stricken countries look at how diplomatic and security measures can extend a state’s border beyond its geographical boundary. An interview on the intersection of internet mapping and indigenous territories explores the politics of border-making; and, finally, we consider the many ways the word can be divided in a new visualization.
From a Canadian standpoint, the examination of borders — and the closely related issues of migration and security studies — is central to our identity and of political importance. It is an ongoing conversation we hope to continue here at OpenCanada.org.