Where borders are blurred

From Frankfurt/Oder it is only a short walk to the Polish town of Słubice. This is perhaps the best place there is for sensing what Europe means. Out and about with international guests.

On the “beach” on the banks of the River Oder there are loungers and a screen, on which in the evening the quarter final of the European Championship is being shown. Portugal against Wales. Europe is currently playing out national rivalries on the football pitch. In real life there is for the most part considerably more partnership, and borders can no longer be clearly made out. The international guests on the themed trip “Germany in Europe – European Germany”, who as part of the Visitors’ Programme of the Federal Republic of Germany are spending a week in Berlin, Frankfurt/Main and Frankfurt/Oder, notice this. Deep in conversation they have just walked across the bridge spanning the River Oder – and all of a sudden are now on Polish territory. If it weren’t for the signs in Polish and the large banner of the town of Słubice, you would hardly know you had just crossed a national border.

Polonicum

Polonicum

Krzysztof Wojciechowski has crossed the bridge many times. The 59-year old is Executive Director of Collegium Polonicum, a cross-border academic institution maintained by the European University Viadrina in Frankfurt/Oder and Adam Mickiewicz University in the Polish city of Poznań. In the early 1990s Wojciechowski worked in the office that established the Viadrina, on the other side of the river, where he later ran the International Office. Back then hardly anyone would have predicted that today there would be a German-Polish university project, a mini educational world on both sides of the river. “25 years ago I wouldn’t have believed it possible,” Wojciechowski says, having shown his guests to the Collegium Polonicum viewing platform. “It’s a small miracle.”

Aussichtsplattform auf dem Polonicum

On the rooftop of Collegium Polonicum with Krzysztof Wojciechowski

What happens now, post-Brexit?

And indeed, from up here, with its view across to Frankfurt/Oder and to the bridge, where there is a continuous stream of pedestrians, cars, and busses in both directions, Europe seems very close. Omar Cabrera looks pensively across the river to the German side. The European model is interesting for the journalist from El Salvador as well. “As a small country we are of course frequently being advised to establish partnerships.” With regard to certain aspects there is already close cooperation in Central America as well. And if he travels to Honduras or Guatemala, Cabrera now only has to show his ID card, no longer his passport. But the region is still a long way off such intensive communitisation as in Europe.

Bridge_1024px

Višnja Starešina and Omar Cabrera

But nor is it as if everything is currently coming up roses in the EU. In particular those on the trip whose countries are candidate countries, or for which, as young Member States, transitional arrangements still apply, are unsettled by the Brexit referendum to take Great Britain out of the EU. “We ask ourselves what is to become of European integration,” the Croatian journalist Višnja Starešina says. Vera Didanovic, a foreign policy expert for a Serbian weekly newspaper, nods emphatically. And Krzysztof Wojciechowski, who was just enthusing about the small European miracle, also admits that he is worried about Europe’s future. He mentions recent marches by Polish nationalists, and the refugee crisis, which is presenting enormous challenges to the countries of Europe.

An insight into refugee accommodation

The day before, those on the trip had an opportunity to see for themselves how Germany is dealing with this challenge. In Berlin they met a representative of the Federal Ministry of the Interior, visited refugee accommodation, spoke to the facility manager, the district mayor, a representative of the local job centre and a volunteer helper. “I was amazed by how many different authorities are entrusted with the refugee question,” says Fahad Alhomoudi. The Associate Professor of Islamic Law heads a think tank in Saudi Arabia. He is annoyed by the fact that it is often said that the Gulf States are not taking any refugees. There are probably more Syrians living in Saudi Arabia than in Germany, Alhomoudi says, but there is no organised care. “In Saudi Arabia the Syrian community looks after the refugees, in Germany the government.” For both countries with their different languages, societies, and labour markets, the solution is in each case the right one, Alhomoudi. The situation cannot be compared.

He finds the EU as a haven of cooperation exciting nonetheless, but it cannot be a blueprint for cooperation between the Gulf States. Efforts had been made for a long time to introduce a joint currency, for example, but the idea was ultimately rejected. In other areas the states in the region work closely together through the Gulf Cooperation Council. “That primarily affects foreign and defence policy and the economy.” There is also a lot happening with regard to cooperation between universities, says Alhomoudi, who advises the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Education. “There are clear, simple rules governing the recognition of credits within the Gulf States.” With their cross-border learning, for him Europe and Frankfurt/Oder were not far away at all, he added.

More about the Visitors Programme of the Federal Republic of Germany

www.auswaertiges-amt.de/EN/AAmt/ZuGastimAA/Besucherprogramm-node.html

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3 Comments

on Where borders are blurred.
  1. Peter Golias
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    Visiting Frankfurt/Oder and Słubice reminded me of the Slovak town Štúrovo (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/%C5%A0t%C3%BArovo) and Hungarian Esztergom (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esztergom). Just like in German-Polish case, both towns are separated by a river. In Slovak-Hungarian case it is the river Danube. Both towns have been connected by a bridge destroyed in 1944 during World War II, but reconstructed in 2001. Exactly the same example of re-unification. Nowadays, thanks to the EU and Schengen, people can cross the bridge freely. The European integration is a win-win project that many times overcomes artificial barriers raised during facsism and/or communism.

    During our visit to the Ministry of Interior, refugee camp in Berlin and leading representatives of Zehlendorf Town Hall, I recalled my memories of Western Germany as an open country tolerating and welcoming other cultures. I was glad to see the same in Berlin. When I asked one ordinary German woman in her 50-ies how does it come that German people turned to be so open to other nations and cultures, she gave me a brilliant answer: “Tolerance is the only way how you can achieve anything.”

    I wish that all Germany and all the EU hold the same attitude. It is not always easy to be tolerant. Especially not in times of terrorist attacks and growing migration from Asia and Africa. Currently, most people in Slovakia are afraid and refuse any immigration. Todays´Germany offers a good example that it can go also the other way round. And that it actually works. My perception, confirmed by another German colleague accompanying us on this trip, is that the German openess is in fact one of the root causes of its economic sucess.

    Peter Golias, Director at INEKO institute, economic think-tank based in Slovakia

  2. Igor Subbotin
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    Hello! I am from Moscow-based newspaper ‘Moskovsky komsomolets’. It was a great pleasure to visit Germany and to participate in this tour. Topics I deal with are international relations, diplomacy and foreign politics. Sometimes I write about Germany and EU, that’s why this press-tour was very useful for me. I was pleased to see German Foreign Office and to have conversation with Mr Kotthaus, because my job is linked to foreign ministries of different countries, including FRG. Besides, it was a great opportunity to visit refugee accomodation. I couldn’t imagine that Germany is so hospitable to refugees.
    Thanks a lot!
    Igor Subbotin, foreign desk correspondent in the ‘Moskovsky komsomolets’ newspaper

  3. Fahad Alhomoudi
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    Most of the times, unfortunately, Borders are affiliated with wars, crimes, problems and difficulties. However, my experience when crossing the German-Poland boarder was a pleasant experience with group of colleagues. The border becomes a bridge to transfer knowledge, literally and physically, where students and professors cross the border daily. It was fun when at one point I stood up with my Serbian colleague right next to each other, yet each one of us in a different country. On the bridge, I had a lengthy discussion with Maja Bobic, and I was telling her how surprised I am when seeing her with our friend Damir from Bosnia knowing that there was a war between their countries couple of decades ago, then she explained how European are working hard to get closer to each other for the benefit of all. Although Serbia is not a member of the EU yet and they seem to have long time to wait but they are making all the effort to be part of EU. From massacre wars to pleasant crossing borders is where European countries are trying to reach. It is not only, the knowledge transfer, but more importantly for Europe is the economy in with which the whole story begun with.
    Fahad Alhomoudi, president and founder of the Western Studies Institute, Saudi Arabia

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