Berlin does not teach: 170 walls in the world
Elegance of a very high wall. Powerful verses of Mustapha Benfodil. Fifty-year-old poet, playwright, writer. He went to Palestine. He saw. He suffered. He metabolized anger. Indignation. Sadness. "Cement is a barbaric language / The wall is an irrational country". He was twenty when the Berlin Wall was torn to pieces on November 9, 1989. It was a long, epochal, happy, dramatic night. Did Mustapha, born in Algeria, share the euphoria and hopes of all of us?
"The wall and the tears and the urine and the sperm and the blood and the time and the dying / and the shit and the pride and the blood and the wall and the tears and the urine and the sperm ...". The singing of Benfodil is a wall of painful words, a curtain of broken lives, of divided peoples, of hatred, of fear. In the shadow of the wall that divides Israel from Gaza. From Jerusalem. An infinite palisade of the spirit.
"The wall is the mother tongue of the hawks / (or of the balls!)", Benfodil urges. The walls are like black holes. Stronger than memory. More atrocious than exile. Alphabet of power, symbol of strength and authority. Bastion of sovereignties. Testimony of impotence and impossible dialogues. We naively believed, that night of joy and liberation, that after the collapse of the Berlin Wall, others would fall, as if in a sort of domino game. The leaders of the so-called free world promised it. Gorbachev. The Pope. The fall of the Wall represented, with its ruins, the ruin of an ideological as well as geopolitical conflict. It was a "bad" wall. Cold War emblem. Of the Communist Evil. The West was buried by a delusion of bombastic and optimistic promises. There will be no more walls!
All bales. Since then the walls have multiplied. It was sixteen, thirty years ago. Today they are ten times more. One hundred and seventy, according to Antonio Polito's calculation (The wall that fell twice, ed. Solforino, 2019). Concrete walls. In steel. In electrified barbed wires. Cybernetic walls. Insurmountable barriers. Thousands and thousands of kilometers. Between 1990 and 2001, 6 "security" walls were built against the potential danger of terrorists: Israel / Gaza, Kuwait / Iraq, India / Bangladesh, Uzbekistan / Afghanistan, Uzbekistan / Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan / Uzbekistan. In the same period the United States began to set up its anti-immigration wall (4,300 km long, of which one thousand in iron), imitated by Spain which isolated Ceuta and Melilla, the two enclaves it has in Morocco. After September 11, wall fever has infected other nations that have built 15 new walls and barriers to counter Islamic terrorists. Saudi Arabia, for example, has partially isolated its territory from Iraq, the Emirates, Oman, Qatar, Jordan and Yemen with 885 kilometers of walls and electronic barriers. In 2003 even Botswana did it, an electrified barrier along its border with Zimbabwe. India has doubled its anti-invasion structures on the Bangladesh border.
And in Europe? The lesson of the Berlin Wall had no students. It was casted. The Balkan wars. The new nationalisms. The migrant crisis. All this has led several nations to entrench themselves. Against "others". Against ISIS. Against Moscow: Putin's mistrust of Russia has forced small Baltic countries to take onerous measures to secure their borders. Even Swedes, Norwegians and Finns equip themselves. Europe without borders has turned into the Europe of the Walls.
Here are the barriers between Macedonia and Greece which together with Bulgaria strengthened the borders with Erdogan's Turkey. Orban sovereign Hungary has banned migrants with a 175km barrier along the border with Serbia and another 350km barrier with Croatia. Ditto Slovakia that will encircle the borders with Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. In short, the Balkans have become a labyrinth of lattices, walls and barriers, in turn connected with power plants that collect and store videos and Id data. In this Great Game of surveillance and repression, in the name of the "just war" on terrorism and rejection policy, Brexit appeared. London, in fact, financed a four-meter high barrier around the port of Calais, France, to stop the influx of refugees and migrants bound for England. A panacea: migrants arrive by other routes. Even from the dead. The latest massacre, the 39 Chinese corpses discovered inside a truck in Essex, England.
In this barred world, Europe is increasingly inactive, xenophobic. Made cruel by regional conflicts and territorial disputes. In a riot of nationalist concerns and patriotic impulses, the Estonians plan with Latvia and Lithuania borders that keep the Russians away, who enjoy a strategic enclave, that of Kaliningrad. Between ramps of missiles, satellite spies, eyed drones and no-man's-land transformed into lethal traps, the values of the Old Continent deal with the realpolitik: Latvia takes precautions against Belarus which it considers faithful ally of Moscow, therefore potential enemy. Poland, more cautious, fears Ukraine, which, in turn, must watch out for the intrusive Russia that has stolen Crimea. A return to the past that has cost us two World Wars. Europe has forty "small homelands". And as many claims. Territorial identities clash with the connected world, and the wind that passed through our souls as citizens of the world has become weaker.
We will celebrate, as it is right, the fall of the most famous wall, after the Hadrian's Wall and the incredible Chinese Wall. A wall (fortunately) among the most fleeting. What divides Cyprus in two has been standing since 1974. For 45 years. The UN's blue helmets monitor him, without illusions. Those who criticized Berlin's "Wall of Shame" (today the guided tour of the remains of the Wall costs 16 Euros ...), has set up a much more disturbing one with Mexico. Justified to prevent wild immigration and limit drug trafficking (but this does not happen ...). In fact, building walls is a colossal business. According to Victoria Vernon, a professor at the University of New York, and Klaus Zimmermann of the Global Labor Organization (Walls and Fences: A Journey Through History and Economics, March 2019) is worth billions of dollars. The ultra-technological militarization of borders is a formidable flywheel of profits. For example, between 2002 and 2017, the export of Israeli companies specializing in high-tech border security recorded a 22 percent increase. The paradox is that the Trump wall will also bring benefits to Mexican companies, such as Cemex. Or that hundreds of illegal workers are hired to carry out the necessary work. So it happens that the workers between Mexico and the United States are mainly miserable workers who raise the wall between Mexico and the United States. The other side of the coin is that the walls have very heavy costs, not only related to their elaborate construction: commercial isolation of the border areas; breaking of intercultural ties; farmland sacrificed; ecological disruption of flora and fauna.
And yet, conclude Vernon and Zimmermann, "like the ancient valleys, modern walls partially manage to achieve their objectives": no physical barrier can prevent effective protection against terrorism and the most advanced weapons. No fortification can prevent migrants from reaching land by using boats or planes. No wall can reduce drug trafficking or the illegal entry of illegal immigrants. The Swiss, for example, use drones in the Canton of Ticino which are specialized in identifying those who enter illegally, using infrared. But the flow from Italy continues the same. Some time ago, Janet Napolitano, American secretary of state for internal security, declared resignedly: “Build walls even 15 meters high. Sooner or later we will see stairs 16 meters high ... ".
In truth, the walls work in the beginning. The Berlin one has almost eliminated the flight of East Germans to the West, slowing down the penetration of Western values into the monitored society of Pankow Germany. In the long run, according to analysts, they lose effectiveness. As observed by Frederyk Taylor, author of The Berlin Wall. A World Divide, 1961-1989 (2006): “You can also arrest people; you can also impose limits, but they will still find other ways ... The walls show that politicians have come to the end of their ideas to deal with a difficult situation with their neighbors and cannot think of other means ". The walls have historically been condemned, symbolizing closure against opening, immobility against movement, death against life. The walls falter. They invite you to find ways to overcome them. To get around them. To discover its weak points.
The Egyptians well know that they discovered several tunnels under the wall that divides the Gaza Strip from Sinai: in March 2007 the Palestinians organized mass action by partially destroying the wall. What about the North Koreans? They dug massive tunnels under one of the most militarized borders on Earth, to pass armored regiments. In Northern Ireland, in Belfast, they called it the Wall of Peace. Once again very fragile. Whoever raises walls does not know that it strengthens transgression. And resistance.