Monday, November 9, 2009

Window on Eurasia: Moscow Urged to ‘Tear Down’ Barbed Wire Border Barriers Left Over from Soviet Times

Paul Goble

Vienna, November 9 – On the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall, the editor of the Barents Observer news portal is calling on Moscow to “tear down the barbed wire fences,” barriers that he calls “the last symbol of the Cold War,” from its borders with Finland and Norway as well as along its frontiers with China, Mongolia and North Korea.
In an editorial today, Thomas Nilsen says that relations “between east and west” have come a long way since the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, but given that, he asks, “why is it so often the case that a barbed wire fence still divides the people in the Barents region?” (
Nilsen recalls the heady days after the fall of the Wall when people on both sides of what had been a key divide experienced a sense of almost infinite possibility for change and hope. In February 1990, two months after the fall of the wall, the future Barents Observer editor crossed from Norway into the Soviet Union “at Europe’s northernmost east-west border crossing point.”
“One of the first things to see along the road on the Soviet side of the border,” he recalls, was the barbed wire fence,” a structure that “had the same aim as the Berlin Wall – to keep the population inside the borders” of the Soviet Union. But both he and the young Russians he met with felt that “the future belonged to us, the new generation of cross-border Europeans.”
“But,” Nilsen said, “I can’t help stop wondering why the barbed wire fence still is standing along our border? A last symbol of the Iron Curtain? Why does it still act as a separation barrier when both the Norwegian and Russian foreign ministers agree that the relations between our two countries are better than ever?”
Russia’s border with Norway and Finland, the editor continues, is the only part of Russia’s borders with Europe “where the barbed wire fence is standing as a separation barrier. There is no such barrier on Russian territory along the border with Estonia, Latvia, Belarus or Ukraine.” But there still is such a fence on its borders with China, Mongolia, and North Korea
What makes the continued existence of this type of “separation barrier” so anomalous, he says, is that “Norway, Russia and the EU are removing many of the barriers hampering cross-border travel,” a freeing up of the border that is allowing “hundreds of thousands” to cross the borders between Finland and Norway and the Russian Federation each year.
“In today’s world,” Nilsen points out, “electronic surveillance and cooperation between the guards on each side of the border can effectively stop criminals and illegal immigrants. The barbed wire is mainly a symbol – a symbol of a time [those on both sides of the border] don’t want to have back.”
And consequently, he concludes, “today, 20 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall,” it may be “wise to raise our voice” and say to the current Russian leaders in words that recall those US President Ronald Reagan addressed to Mikhail Gorbachev so long ago, “tear this barbed wire fence down” in order to allow Europe to be whole and free.

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