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Monday, November 9, 2009

Twenty years after the Wall...another wall

Horgos border crossing between Serbia and Hungary

I don't remember much about the fall of the Berlin Wall, and I don't think it has anything to do with my age.

Although I was only twelve, I have clear recollections of the Romanian revolution just a month later and seeing the execution of Ceausescu on public television. It was shocking, it was closer to home, and it was the real end of socialism (bloody, controversial and a portent of things to come on our side of the border).

I don't remember any of the adults in my life being euphoric about bringing down the Wall, because the Wall has never really been about us. Yugoslavia was nested comfortably in some artificial middle ground, neither East nor West, complacent in its home-grown brand of socialism (or "socialism") fuelled by Western money. The generation of my parents had much more freedom than their peers in Hungary, East Germany or Bulgaria, at least when it came to travel. And people did travel, if only for shopping tours to places like Trieste and Munich--silly, maybe, but they could do it. They might have felt all kinds of things, but "walled-in" was hardly one of them.

Fast forward twenty years and Europe is a whole different place. In two hours you can drive from Budapest to Vienna, passing by the old border post which has no function anymore, except as a reminder of the old times. No one will stop you to ask for your passport, check your visa, count your money, rummage through your luggage, ask about where you are going and how long you plan to stay. If you catch a train from Budapest to Bratislava the only way you know you have changed countries is that the information voice coming from the speakers suddenly stops speaking Hungarian and switches to Slovak. It's only been two years that countries like Hungary and Slovakia joined the no-border zone but you get used to it so quickly.

It is easy to forget that things could be any different--until you reach Horgos, the border crossing between Hungary and Serbia, the end of the no-border zone and beginning of the twilight zone. Maybe you are not aware of it, but Berlin Wall has simply moved a little bit more east and nowadays it goes by the name of Schengen Agreement.

Horgos is where Europe without borders abruptly ends and a nightmare called "applying for a Schengen visa" begins. True, there is no barbed wire and grumpy East German soldiers around (just a bunch of grumpy Hungarians and ever-so-laid-back Serbians) but that's because the Wall now has a more subtle face--that of an embassy clerk processing your visa application, deciding if you merit being allowed in. If you happen to be Serbian, Albanian, Macedonian (not to mention hailing from further east) Europe without borders is something that happens to other (more deserving?) Europeans.

I am now living on the "right" side of the border and, boy, am I happy about that. But until my sister can come visit from Belgrade any time she damned well pleases, and just because she feels like it, without having to plan half a year in advance and collect a million papers to prove something to someone--until then, the Wall is not down yet. Not for all of us.


kristina said...

It's so easy to forget that there are many walls and borders that are still nowhere near open. Thanks Jelica for your post!

uncafediarte said...

Great Wall Of China for getting visa application in Serbia was built by western countries and EU.If they wanted to stop barriers between Serbia and the other countries,they'll shold(but they didn't).They have only dictated false terms for Serbian citizens.It is realy only false propaganda by EU.

Delwyn said...

Hi Jelica

thank you for that interesting piece.
There has been great changes in your part of the world over the last 30 years - some good and some not so...
Did you have trouble leaving Yugoslavia when you did?

Happy days

Jelica said...

uncafediarte--it's not just for Serbia, other countries suffer the same fate. Let's see if the promise of "white Schengen" will materialise any time soon.

Delwyn--I left in 1997 to study and I went east, to Bulgaria, which was easy (no visas). I didn't leave as an emigrant, I thought I would eventually come back, but a lot of things conspired to prevent that :)

kristina, thanks for you kind words!

MissBuckle said...

You're so right, Jelica. Thank you for reminding us.

Merisi said...

I remember well how long it took for Austria (!) to be accepted into the European Union. After all, the EU did not happen overnight either and it did take great efforts for the various countries to make it work and come as far as they have today.

Jelica said...

That's true, Merisi--it joined in 1995, if I am correct, so not so long ago you might say.

B said...

Thanks for this reminder. It's so easy to forget about these things from our side of the wall.

Dina said...

Really interesting Jelica. It was so strange for me as a US citizen to be able to go back and forth to Greece when I lived in BG, but not to be able to take Bulgarian friends. When we returned to the states Bebe and Maggie were surprised that we didn't have to show our passports in between states:)

Jelica said...

I never felt it so much at AUBG because we were all in the same boat. But when I was at CEU and all my classmates were making weekend trips to Vienna, or Prague, and I couldn't move out of Hungary (except back to Serbia) that's when I felt "walled in."

Red Whortleberry said...

It reminds me that somebody asked recently when do Eastern and Western Germany finally get together? And the answer was "never".