In the run-up to the conference on ‘Borders and administrative legacy’, an interdisciplinary summer school which I attended last July came to my mind. Annually, the Paris-based Centre interdisciplinaire d’études et de recherches sur l’Allemagne (CIERA), the Willy Brandt Center for German and European Studies in Wrocław and the Department of History of Eastern and Southeastern Europe of the Ludwig-Maximilian University Munich – three academic institutions located in the countries which form the Weimar Triangle – are organising a German Academic Exchange Service-summer school which is attended by students from multiple continents. This year’s edition, which focused on the topic ‘Europe from below’, took place in Paris.
Although the majority of the conference program consisted of lectures and presentations by the participating students and PhD candidates, plenty of time was allocated for reflection. One of the outcomes of the final round of reflection on the last day of the summer school was the participants’ satisfaction with the amount of opportunities to come to a halt for a moment, and try to connect the presentations in order to process the ongoing stream of information.
Re-reading summaries and reflections I wrote both during and right after the summer school took place, remind me now, several months later, on experiencing an axiom of the field of border research that week: the constructedness of borders. Examples of forced splits between ‘us’ and ‘them’ were pointed out both in many presentations and in daily life in Paris, which was undoubtedly influenced by memories on the Charlie Hebdo shooting and the terrorist attacks of November 2015. Watching a Euro 2016 football match in the evening in one of the fan zones, was not possible without being checked out twice at the entrance. Meanwhile, heavily armed soldiers observed this process. In essence, it felt like a border was created between the secure fan zone and the rest of the – as well crowded – city, in which your safety apparently could not be guaranteed.
It did not take long before discussions on Europe ‘from below’ and the related ‘from above’ were supplemented with thoughts on Europe ‘from inside’ and ‘from outside’. Students from China stated that they interpret the cooperation between former enemies in European institutions as an achievement, which should serve as an inspiration for reconciliation between China and Japan. However, an opposite process is taking place in Europe. The increasing significance of borders between EU-countries since the start of the current refugee crisis shows that, instead of closing the gaps, governments of EU-countries started to adopt Chinese- and Japanese-like rhetorics by focussing on the faults of other EU-members instead of trying to find solutions together.
In this light, the group forming process which took place that week was promising. In general, the participants’ countries of origin were only of importance when information on a particular situation was needed. However, during the group viewing of the Euro 2016 semi-final between Germany and France, what seemed to be true passion for national squads was revealed.
Reflecting on the whole summer school now, the observation I made during that football match is less surrounded by negative feelings. As long as supporting national teams, celebrating national holidays, and singing national anthems is not accompanied by despising the ‘other’, we are on the right track. Some have (utopian) thoughts on a world without borders and nationalities. However, when facing reality we should already be glad when politicians use borders just in order to define the persons who live in a certain area – both with and without a migration background – as a people, thereby not hindering – or preferably actively supporting – cooperation with the persons on the other side of the border. Let borders be borders, as long as they do not become barriers.
Jasper Klomp (The Netherlands, 1992) is a Doctoral Student at the Faculty of Arts, Department of History of the University of Ljubljana. He is doing research on the role of collective memories in the diverging policies of reunified Germany towards the various successor states of SFR Yugoslavia. In the period between finishing his MA History: German Studies at the University of Amsterdam and his move to Slovenia, he participated in a summer school in Paris. In the run-up to the conference on ‘Borders and administrative legacy’, he reflected once more on his experiences during that week.
In July 2016, an article (in Dutch) was published on the website of the Amsterdam Institute for German Studies: https://duitslandinstituut.nl/daad-sommerschule-parijs-2016