Wednesday, January 6, 2016

My Log 494 Dec 27 2015: Journey through Dalmatia --- 1; “Europe’s borders are a bother for them”: a voice from the past revived by experience of travelling through Europe

Schengen Agreement
Schengen Agreement (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
English: The cover design used for all treatie...
The cover design used for all treaties of the European Union. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I  remember that half a century ago I covered a British by-election in which a dear old squire of the shires, Sir Piers Debenham, memorably opposed British entry into the European Common Market, as it was then called, by waving above his head a copy of the Treaty of Rome, and crying, “The Europeans are bothered by their frontiers. We are not. We do not need this treaty, and we have to resist this old silly who governs us with his foolish policies.” The “old silly” in question was Harold Macmillan, the British Prime Minister, who was more than slightly irritated when Sir Piers’s opposition ensured the election of the local Labour Party candidate, and the defeat of the pro-European candidate.
The current news from Europe fifty years later, as they desperately try to deal with the immense numbers of displaced people from Middle Eastern wars who are struggling to reach safety in continental Europe, indicates that their borders still are a trouble to them. In 1985 the three members of the Benelux treaty --- Luxembourg, Belgium and Holland --- meeting at a town called Schengen in Luxembourg, signed with France and Germany a treaty that today guarantees free movement between 26 of the 28 members of the European Union, putting into the pages of history the many centuries of warfare and discord that had riven Europe since time immemorial.
How could anyone not support such a movement, showing the best of statesmanship, and the best intentions of humanity? The Treaty of Schengen has developed until today it is no longer something that can be accepted or rejected by candidate members of the European Union, but has become one of the requirements that must be undertaken by any nation that wants to join the Union.
That it is now under enormous pressure is known to anyone who has been following the news, as refugees in unheard of numbers have simply poured across the oceans and the frontiers of Europe’s outlying countries in an effort to find a place where they can re-establish a decent human life. Germany has accepted a million refugees, while the United Kingdom, not a member of the Schengen area, has staunchly resisted taking anything like what might be considered a fair share of these desperate people. Greece and Italy have perforce made heroic efforts to accept people, most of whom they hope will be in transit to Germany or France. But outlying countries such as Rumania and Bulgaria have become nervous as Hungary and Poland, and new-member Croatia have chosen to close their borders to any more refugees, in the process erecting highly symbolic barbed wire barricades designed to stop people in their tracks. Meantime, the nations closest to Syria, from which most of the refuges have originated, countries like Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, most of them with fragile overstretched economies already, have discovered so many newcomers among them that they have begun to wonder if they can preserve their own individual habits and customs.
For some years now I have been making almost yearly visits to Croatia to stay with a friend, and have always been struck by the irony that while most of the nations of Europe have agreed to abolish their borders, in the Balkans the people have recently fought wars designed to re-establish borders that had been all but forgotten for half a century or more.  One cannot travel far in Croatia, Bosnia, Montenegro, even Slovenia, without coming across a newly-minted border post, whose attendants seem basically indifferent to the passports that pass through their hands every day, and appear to have little interest in determining the motivations of the average traveller.
Whereas, in the old, Communist days of Yugoslavia, barriers between Croatia and Bosnia did not exist, now, a 30-mile ride out of Dubrovnik brings one to a border post, usually so vaguely delineated that you are never sure whether you are quitting one country, or entering the next. A couple of days ago I travelled from Zagreb, in the centre of Croatia, and its capital, towards Trieste, the Italian city, whose fate was determined after the Second World War when it was granted to Italy, while its close neighbour Fiume, now called Rijeka, was given to Yugoslavia, and is now in Croatia.  Since Croatia and Slovenia, former republics of the socialist state of Yugoslavia, are both now members of the European Union, one might have expected the bus to take the direct route north through Slovenia to its capital Ljubljana and then towards Italy. To my surprise, however, the bus skirted south of Slovenia all the way, moving across to Rijeka before striking north to a border crossing into Slovenia.
I am currently visiting a small town on this Slovenian coastline, Piran, situated in a piece of land just 46 kilometres wide, that is currently under arbitration between Slovenia and Croatia. So the fate of this little outlier to the coast is still up in the air.
My next move is to go on the one-hour bus ride to Trieste, but again I have been surprised to find that my expectation that buses would be plying the route every half hour or so was far from fulfilled. Only one bus goes in the morning, leaving at 6.45 am; and another in the late afternoon.  Are these small indications that the border problems between the nations of Europe are still not totally solved?

As a friend of mine says, having briefly introduced a subject: I will keep you informed.

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