conquering six rival states the Qing (Ch'in) created the first united
Chinese empire in 221 BC. King Ying Zheng (When Cheng) of Qing (Ch'in)
gave himself the title of First Emperor, Shi Huangdi (Shih huang-ti),
and consolidated his empire by connecting a series of existing defence
walls, against the Huns, at the northern border into what became known
as the Wanli Chiangcheng, the 10.000 Li long wall. The wall was build
by hard labour, every third man in the huge empire was forced to work
on it. Those who protested against work conditions were strangled and
their corpses thrown in the fundaments. A wall build to protect a nation
became the grave of her sons. As the wall was build mainly of earth and
mud a millennium later almost nothing was left of it. The Great Wall we
know now (27) has
been build of stone over a period of two hundred years during the Ming
dynasty from 1400 to 1600 AD. The irony of history is that when the wall
was finally finished, in 1644, another tribe from the north, the Mongol
Manchus, conquered China without being hindered too much by this Great
Wall. Nowadays it is a gigantic fossil frontier, that is situated far
away of the actual Chinese border that lay now beyond Inner Mongolia and
Manchuria. It is part of the regular tourist visit where one can talk
lightly about this 'monument of Chinese culture' without any reference
to the system of terror that has produced it.
Empires are lost as quickly as they are build. The sweeping Great Armies of Napoleon rushed from one European theatre to the next to perform its battles. Battles, that took the adversaries months to prepare, often lasted only a few hours and decided the fate of whole nations. Battlefield and conference table are alternating surfaces on which border lines are drawn. On the 27th of September 1808 Napoleon was meeting the Russian emperor Alexander in the Prussian town of Erfurt (28) to discuss their "common rule over Europe". Fingers pointing on maps instead of cavalry charges on the field. A handy globe for checking the wider context. Both parties had something else in mind. Napoleon needed the Russians to control the Germans to give him breathing space to suppress a revolt in Spain; Alexander needed time to build up his forces after a recent lost battle against the French. Four years later Napoleon attacks Russia. What happens then repeated itself more then a century later with the 'friendship' treaty between Hitler and Stalin signed in Brest Litowsk in 1939. A treaty Hitler needed to first concentrate on the front in the West before attacking the East. A tactic that seemed to work at first. Borderlines moved eastward with the speed of horses and tanks. But elastic frontlines become traps when you push them too far, or too fast. The attacker is thrown back, even behind the point from which he started.
29 of September 1939, general Keitel brings a map of Sudetenland to an international conference in München (29). After the split up of the Austrian Habsburg empire in 1919 this region bcame part of the new Czechoslovakian state. The German population in this region, suffering an economic crisis, is dissatisfied with the Czech policy and seeks, through contacts with the German Nazi party, to secede from Czechoslovakia and become part of Germany. Provocations lead to such a tense situation that a conference with among others France and Great Britain is held that yields to the demands of Hitler for annexation. The German euphemistic word 'Anschluss' (joining) has become part of the international political vocabulary, as a tactic of expending once territory by forcing a political union with another country. But this tactic often has a backfiring effect. Six years later Sudetenland comes back to a restored Czechoslovakia. The Sudeten Germans are expelled and the region is repopulated with Czechs. This is but one of the many similar expulsions in recent history that directly link to the war in former Yugoslavia. In politics new words are created to describe old practices, obscuring our understanding of historical processes. 'Ethnic cleansing' is such a new word. Are terms like 'expulsion' or 'deportation' in combination with 'repopulation' not sufficient to describe what is happening?
It is hard to define what a nation is, let alone allocating an exclusive space to the people that make up a nation. Self-determination of one nation in one space always means another nation's subservience. Maps make it easy to carve up space, to lay claim to land and resources and to ignore existing cultural, social and political structures that are impossible to map adequately.
Tudjman's sketch for the partition of Bosnia (30) was drawn on a menu card of an official banquet he attended at the Guildhall in London, at the 6th of May 1995. It was over diner that he explained the British parliamentarian Paddy Ashdown how he would get rid of the Bosnian state by dividing it between Croatia and Serbia. What was thought to be confidential became public when Ashdown, worried by the political cynicism of his table guest, passed the president's scribbles (with Ashdwons own explicative texts) to the Times, that put it on the front page. A substantial body of citizens does not fit neatly in the tribal flocks that the politicians have chosen to lead and are thus upsetting the partition process. Heretics like the despicable 'Yugoslavia nostalgics', that appreciate certain positive features of the old borders, are hunted.
The metaphor of borders written in blood, like in the cartoon of 'the man with the scythe', the Serbian president Slobodan Milosovic (31), is an old and strong one. Blood and soil are important ingredients for lyrical descriptions of the sacred nation body that can be found in popular songs and national anthems alike.
The new 'nationalisms' in the Balkans seems to be of another order, not like in the 19th century based on demographic realities, but on changing them. Massacres, looting, gang rape and concentration camps are not accidents but wilfully created tools for redrawing the map.
Few of today borders are more then a century old. When we would animate on a map all the changes in border lines over the last few hundred years one would see a pulsing movement of expanding and contracting states, like amoebae dynamically moving in continent like formations with some smaller islands as stable spots. Is it possible to say that, there were we notice a lot of movement, one can speak of 'ill drawn borders' and there were we see only minor changes a balanced division line between nations have been found, or is every border out of order?
In the middle of a field with rye a farmer with a scythe gazes with bewilderment at a boundary mark (32) put their in accordance with a decision of a commission that detailed a correction of the German-Polish borderline in Oberschlesien (1938).
Berlin children playing 'the Berlin Wall' in West Berlin in 1962, a few months after the building of the wall had started (33). Minor and a major border devices, but both became obsolete in a few decennia. Decennia in which the mobility of persons, goods and electronic information has become so great that nowadays borders are not much more then a system of interconnecting doors in a shrinking house, that has no outside-world, save outer space.
"A fence is supposed to keep something in or out, but Christo's fence simply ran" (O.B. Hardison, Jr.). The temporary fence put up by the landscape artist Christo in 1972 was made of poles, wires and pinkish textile fabric and stretched over a length of 24,5 miles through Marin and Sonoma counties in California (34). The fence had no functional use and in the artist's opinion had to be seen in pure aesthetical terms as "a frame for the natural landscape and an assertion of linearity in contrast to the irregular natural contours of the hills through which it cuts". The fence of Christo 'writes' an idea on the surface of the landscape and I read it as follows: 'it does not matter at which side of the fence you are'.
So from here I draw a line ____________________________ and step
Tjebbe van Tijen August 1995