Borders

 

blue and white planet display

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that our beautiful planet appears from space as a mostly blue ball, surrounded by white clouds.

It’s a poetic view: a cosy and hospitable planet. No borders are visible, not one of the about 200 fragments called states that we humans have created in the last few centuries. Yet, one old boundary is visible, the Great Wall of China. Big walls are not something new, as we can see, and yes, they get outdated soon or late.

There are many kinds of borders.

Yet, speaking about borders, the first which come to mind are the borders between states. They have multiple functions, here are the main ones: safety from external threats such as invasions; delimitation of rights for the conferral to the insiders of some special status (as citizens or residents); source of income as goods and services can be taxed when they cross that line; stop of unwanted people or unwanted goods.

States and societies are more or less open. As Popper taught, the more a society is democratic, the more it is expected to be open. An open society accepts the exchange with the outside on the economic as well as on the cultural level. The more it exchanges, the more it flourishes. History has proven this to be true in all ages.

Nonetheless, even for democratic countries, borders are a challenging topic. It took about 50 years to Europe to dismantle them; first came down the customs barriers and the limitation to circulate for workers, then the police controls, finally they became totally invisible. The European Court of Justice, one decision after the other, deleted tons of hidden obstacles to the free movement of people, goods, services and capitals and removed all the discriminations brought to its attention. Free circulation became a fundamental right. EU contributed to reducing borders with the other countries too, as this was the main goal of hundreds (or even thousands) of international agreements concluded in the last half-century.

Many borders went down thanks to technological advancement. Internet was a powerful tool for overcoming cultural borders. Low-cost flights made the movement of people easier. Yet, borders are now rising again.

Borders are constructs of fear. And fear is rising

Even within borders, there are often other borders. Many ancient towns have walls around them, yet they were inside kingdoms or even empires. Nonetheless, they feared near towns, or just near towns’ products in the market, they kept guarded gates to keep outside unwanted travellers and to close inside at night.

Even within towns, there were often other borders. Ghettos are old phenomena, they had real barriers around them.

Now that many physical barriers are collapsed, and others are more permeable than they were 50 years ago, the political debate seems polarized on how to raise them again.

In Europe, after a long season without internal borders that attracted 28 countries from the initial 6, confusion and uncertainty dominate the political scene on how to rebuild the border with Britain (and even more unfortunately across Ireland).

In the US, “the wall” seems to be the reason for an unprecedented shutdown costing billions to the American economy.

The international relations appear dominated by debates about trade wars and trade deals on customs duties.

But the worst borders are the invisible ones, those within the mind of people. In Italy, as well as in several European countries, nationalism and racism are menacingly reappearing. This resurgent division between us and them – be them the strangers, the refugees, the poor, even those living in another region of the same country – are my main concern.

Once again, it is nothing but a construct of fear, and it generates even more fear. Even those resisting this wave and trying to keep mind and heart open could start thinking in terms of us and them – being them, this time, the racist, the fascist, the “bad ones”. This is falling in the same trap of separation.

If we want to resist all this, we cannot but think in terms of humanity. We cannot but express compassion for the reasoning we cannot accept nor legitimize. We can see and acknowledge the fear behind it.  Then we can play our little role in dismantling inner and outer borders in politics as well as in daily life.

 

Identity, Nationality, Citizenship.

Who are we? 

Does our nationality or citizenship define us in some way?

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There is much confusion around and it’s about time to clarify the meaning of some words much used and sometimes abused.

These three words communicate different concepts answering to three very different questions:

Who am I? (Identity)

Where are my roots? (Nationality)

To Which Community I belong? (Citizenship)

Of course, the most difficult question – and the most important – is the first one. And we are totally free to answer as we like and we feel. No objective data, no other person can answer for us. Our choices, our purpose in life, our beliefs, our personality traits are important clues, but ultimately we decide about their priority in defining who we are. Our nationality – our culture, religion, language – adds to our identity, but there is so much more at stake.

Nationality, so, is only a part of our identity. It is the place where we are born or the nationality of our parents. It is where we feel at home or where our roots are. It is our language, often our religion too. It is our food, our traditions. Could even be our football team. We can choose to identify totally with it or not, we can even feel disconnected, as it may happen in a dysfunctional family.

Citizenship, instead, is a political concept. It is the community we belong to, where we enjoy political rights, where we vote or participate in some way.

Citizenship can be acquired and can be lost. Multiple citizenships are possible.

Even if usually nationality and citizenship go together, it may not be so (as for Albert Einstein) or we could have a citizenship without a state, as it is the case for European citizenship, or a  citizenship beyond the borders, as Estonian e-citizenship. If nationality may be an accident, citizenship may be a choice.

In the end, as social animals, we humans need identity, roots, belonging. We also need to be aware that circumstances of our life do not define who we are, we do.

And we could also accept the idea that all these definitions can be dynamic: identity evolves as we grow and deepen our understanding of ourselves; nationality, as the tree’ s roots, expands as we learn more about our culture and its interconnectedness with other cultures; citizenship can change as we progress in our life path and I bet that we are going to experiment new more kind of citizenships, as legal creations giving us rights and access. We, humans, are a work in progress.

Whatever the nationality and the citizenship, the broader is the definition we give of ourselves, the larger is our circle of compassion. Defining ourselves as human beings mean we choose to feel connected to the human family.

As Einstein beautifully said, “Nationalism is an infantile disease. It is the measles of mankind”

It happens when the three, identity, nationality and citizenship, just overlap and adhere to each other in the illusion of exclusivity and superiority.

We had that disease already. If we can keep that memory alive next generations will be immune.

Why Democracy is Declining

It’s no surprise that democracy is in a deep crisis, a glance at the democracy index by the Economist’s Intelligence Unit shows it clearly. According to it, only 4.5% of the world’s population lives nowadays in a “full democracy”. It was 9% only few years ago.

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This is even more evident in the very countries we always regarded as examples and bulwarks of democracy – Britain, France, US – the cradles of parliamentarism and of the rule of law.

I don’t say that these countries are not democratic anymore, I just worry about the amazing rise of populism and nationalism there, which are testing the democratic institutions as never before.

We can give so many different explanations for that: sociological, psicological, cultural… the liquid society and the solipsism and egotism of the modern human, the globalisation and rise of technology, the circulation of capitals and the social dumping, but I think that all this is just the background picture.

The real problem is in the dimension of the issues we face nowadays: migration waves, financial crises, global warming, terrorism…

Not one of these problems can be faced by a country alone, hardly by a group of countries acting together, even the European Union is struggling.

Citizens feel insecure, unsupported, and they expect answers from their political leaders, and from their governments. After all, this was the reason why the modern state was created in the first place: to offer security. Unfortunately, no state can offer this, not anymore.

Only populist politicians still offer promises and guarantees, do they know how illusory these are? Do their electors know?

And the easiest promise of all is the nationalist one: shutting the world out of the door, raising walls, guarding borders,  stopping people. Our country first… and only.

I understand the fear which originates these reactions and I am not here to add judgment and blame on the already excessive amount of judgment and blame we see around. I just don’t think this will work… if not to buy some time before the same problems knock to our doors again and again.

The solutions to these problems are difficult to imagine and hard to communicate. Nonetheless they do exist.

Just have a look at the agenda for Sustainable Development Goals  and at the countless initiatives started by private citizens to improve the state of the world, such as Geoversive, SimPol, the Good Country, ICRCCEN, Global Citizen, Business Fights Poverty,  and my list could go on and on…. Other solutions are possible and – even if we don’t see them on TV shows or in the news- other people are already thinking of them.

The decline of democracy can be stopped in two ways: one is in the hands of governments and it is the cooperation for the common good, the other is in our hands as citizens and it is in owning the awareness that we are global citizens and claiming for solutions at national and at global level.

Only stepping into our power, supporting and joining the initiatives and the causes aimed at solving our common problems we can still feel proud citizens of our state and and of this world.