How to explain the sudden return of an obsession with borders in our globalized world? And what is the concept of borders today?
The first border wall ever built was that of Wan Li Chang Cheng (“the wall of 10,000 li,” or 5,000 kilometers), better known as the Great Wall of China. It is still considered today the greatest man-made structure in history. Other early walls were the ancient Roman limes, which sought to protect the Empire against invasions from the Northern barbarians.
In a world undergoing rapid globalization, these bulwarks are multiplying like so many solutions to the problem of the loss of identity.
Europe is barricading itself. There are now anti-migrant border fences in Greece, Bulgaria, and Hungary. Even France is trying to prevent them from reaching the UK. Although Laurent Fabius, a French Socialist politician, in 2015 condemned the fence erected by Hungary on its border with Serbia as being “contrary to the values of Europe,” is now leading a similar policy, calling for a 4-meter high wall to extend an existing fence in Calais, where migrants attempt to illegally depart for the UK. Likewise, the European Union is no longer afraid to build walls on its borders in Greece and Bulgaria with Turkey. The idea of border walls has thus become socially acceptable.
The majority of the world’s political walls are intended to act as brakes on migration. This is what Elisabeth Vallet, a researcher at Québec University, called “the great wall of civilization: a wall between a certain North and a certain South.” Unlike the Great Wall of China or the limes, which protected against invasions from the North, it is now a question of protecting territories from invasions from the South.
A reaffirmation of borders was inevitable: a new security problem has arisen, so there is a demand for protection. And the first line of defense is the border.