Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mr Barroso, tear down this wall

Twenty years and one day after the Berlin Wall was breached, it's sobering to read this assessment from April by Belarussian journalist Maryna Rakhlei that the wall never fell, it just moved a little to the east. The paradox is that the restrictions of movement for people on the eastern side of the divide are now primarily imposed by the authorities in the west, ie. the Schengen zone. Rakhlei cites statistics showing that visits by Belarussians to neighbouring Poland are down by 90% since that country joined the EU, and visits to the Baltic states are down by nearly as much. Twenty years ago, of course, Belarussians could travel fairly freely to the Baltic states as they were part of the same country, the Soviet Union. It seems extraordinary that, in some places, the collapse in communism has actually led to a greater physical confinement.

Belarus itself is the closest we have in Europe to a continuation of the old eastern bloc ideology. It does not style itself a communist state, but it arguably more closely resembles one (in the pre-1989 understanding of the term) than, say, the People's Republic of China. It even maintains Soviet relics such as the KGB.

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