Step across the Border

Another [natural] migrant abused. Which part of the border to blame?

Daring to paraphrase Vonnegut, I premise that this is a simple-minded piece about men who enjoy killing – and those who don’t. And in these times the former have a regrettably higher profile. …The Viadrinicum Summer School’s participants routinely walked there and back along the bridge stitching two circles of Europe, at the tips of Slubice and Frankfurt (Oder), and could notice how the perceptions of Poland at its western border mirror Poland’s own projections on the eastern one. Some 10 kilometers upstream, on the same September days a nameless wild bison naively swam across Oder to be shot near German Lebus. The unwanted species had been part of a rewilding program in Poland.

(Poland, from the Mizielinskis’ mental maps)

The incident evokes, among many considerations, the question of ownership over environmental (and other vaguely bounded) projects’ outcomes in the spatial perspective. The entangled Polish-German transborder natural multiplex is barely coverable in its totality with a man-managed system. Organic element of it, the bison roamed internationally as a mobile unit of partially agentized – and consequently (under the given circumstance), no one’s nature. At the conceptual level, it oscillated between the rewilding initiative remit and a commons status. And in either case its position would have suffered from governability deficiencies on the value side, such as the problem of recognition in an NGO-driven program or trading responsibility and operational difficulties between cooperative polities. The end the animal met should remind us of how vulnerable projects are, if poorly inbuilt into the existing governance setup.

Now, would it be just to agree with the widely invasive phrase ‘Nature knows no borders’? Negative. Yet, having learned the craft of dividing from Nature, man clearly surpasses the benchmark. For the 600-kilogram loner the river was an easy dip, but the invisible state border turned out inexpugnable. We look here at the institutional layer, where the regulatory space is created at the interrelation of politics and nature. While a lot of effort is being spent worldwide on physically establishing natural connectivity in border areas, the conventional aspect (i.e. legal) preserves its fundamental significance.  Then, these are the failures of the institute of border that are fraught with casualties. In the given case such lacunae opened for the community the easiest way of dealing with the foreign.

However, ‘spatial overlays’, or ‘layers’ in the border stack are many more. Not to be neglected is also the very multiplicity of boundaries potentially streaked through a plot of land, as lines of delimitation can be invented ad infinitum, following all sorts of criteria. One might casually change the optics (probably, the discipline as well) – and move from examining the line to exploring the borderland. Still, along with the progress in studying the area on the ground, one may realize that the meaning-weaving patterns depend on the formal status of the dividing line. It is heavily virtual in the sense that the interpretations of it across the country, the ritual of tackling it come predefined from the upper hierarchical level.

A poster on the bank of Oder in Frankfurt with a message voiced also by Schlögel

In Greater ‘Slubfurt’, sentiments and identity feelings usually being acute in the brim zone, local actors actively engage in the immediate border space production. Naturally, the Oder River marks also the separation of the economic (commercial) and political dimensions of those practices with counter-directed vectors. Thus, on my first stroll westwards I passed a realm of marketing calls in German and was welcomed by the ‘Kein Pass – kein Eintritt!’ electoral poster at the end of the bridge. Let us turn to a less superficial connotation of the poster: both sides of the river are sprinkled with boundary objects of various kinds. They may belong with the Lebenswelten of both Slubiceans and Frankfurters, but bear different meanings and have diverse effects on Germans and Poles. Eventually, they contain an invitation to transgress to the other town, necessary conflict looms over them, but their semiotic flexibility makes them convenient launching sites for negotiation. Bearing in mind that the heap of problematique next to the border stack has always been attractive for both aspiring benefactors and maleficents, I suggest that a Freudian slip, a mesmerizingly insightful idea, but also a phrase capturing together all the threads of Viadrinicum 2017 to take home is ‘problem curation’.

by Daria Voyloshnikova

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