Wire Fences, Revival of 'Berlin Wall' Psychosis?
By Genc Mlloja
Albanian Daily News
Published May 25, 2018
When the Berlin Wall fell on November 9, 1989, its destruction was nearly as instantaneous as its creation on August 13, 1961 which divided physically West Berlin and East Germany standing as a symbol of the Cold War and the Iron Curtain between Soviet-led Communism and the democracies of the West for 28 years. Its fall, which was followed by the reunification of East and West Germany into a single German state on October 3, 1990, was celebrated around the world rising expectations even in the self-isolated communist Albania for its opening to the world which was followed by a mass exodus of its citizens to different Western countries, mainly to Italy and Greece. After the 1990s the communist government could not keep its citizens from leaving this Balkan country, where pluralism was introduced marking the full opening up to the world, which climaxed with the establishment of diplomatic relations with all Western powers, including the United States on March 15, 1991.
For more than four decades, Albanians were kept inside their small Balkan state, Europe's last bastion of Stalinism, with barbed wire fences along its borders with former Yugoslavia in the north, northeastern and eastern areas, and Greece in the south. The only 'window' to the world were neighboring countries TV stations that were watched by Albanians thanks to 'hard work' to get them. But a Montenegrin TV station could be watched very well especially by citizens in the northern and central areas of the country during the 1980s. For Albanian northern areas the Lake of Shkodra, the Taraboshi mountain and the Buna River were geographical barriers to local citizens to see what happened behind them - in Montenegro, which was one of the six republics of the former Yugoslavia part of which were also two autonomous provinces, Vojvodina and Kosovo, the first part of Serbia, while the latter is an independent country like the rest of the ex- Yugoslavian republics.
Some Albanians dared to challenge the fortified barbed fences and the geographical barriers making it to flee to Montenegro, Macedonia or Greece, and then go to the West, mainly to the United States, but dozens of them were killed or seized by border military forces. The Shkodra Lake has been a grave for many being drowned in their desperate 'Go West' attempt.
Again Barbed Wire for Albania...
After the fall of the communist rule, Montenegro, especially the towns of Ulcinj and Budva, became the attraction of Shkodra citizens, but also of Tirana, Albania's Capital, given also the fact that a large number of Albanians resided there. About 6 percent of the population of Montenegro, the majority of which is of Slavic origin, are Albanians, but their role has been crucial in historical moments of that country, especially in its pro-Western endeavors.
It is a paradox to speak to Albanians on walls or fences as these infamous barriers belong to the past for them and their country, which is also part of the Schengen visa free regime, and so it has seemed as a blunder what a senior border official of Podgorica announced on the eventual erection of a razor wire fence along the border with Albania a few days ago.
"In the case of a greater influx of migrants, we may raise a razor wire fence on the border with Albania," Vojislav Dragovic, the head of Montenegro's department for state border supervision, told state television on May 20, 2018. Further on, he claimed that Albanian authorities had often refused to accept migrants turned back from Montenegro under their bilateral re-admission agreement. But it is reported that official Tirana had retorted saying that there had been no evidence proving that migrants would have come from Albania. Nevertheless Albania's foreign ministry was reluctant to make any comments on the issue when it was asked by Albanian Daily News on Wednesday. The border between Albania and Montenegro has a length of 172 km.
A Reuters' dispatch noted on May 20 this year that thousands of migrants from the Middle East and North Africa are taking their chance to reach wealthier European countries after smugglers created a new Balkan route running from Greece via Albania, Montenegro and Bosnia to EU member Croatia.
Hungary Ready to Help Montenegro to Erect Fence
The intention of Montenegro to build a fence on border with Albania has taken international attention and dimensions. So the first to react has been Hungary, which put up a razor wire fence on its borders with Serbia and Croatia during the crisis in 2015, when more than a million migrants came to Europe; Budapest has declared its immediate offer to Montenegro to build a 25 km border fence with Albania. The news was broken by the portal VPost (www.visegradpost.com) on May 22, 2018.
Under the headline "Will Montenegro build a fence at the Albanian border? Hungary is ready to help", the VPost, a news portal of Visegrad Group, which is made of Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary, said: "Vojislav Dragovi, chief of the border police department at the ministry of Interior of Montenegro, declared on the national TV that the erection of a border fence at the Albanian border was to be considered in the case the migratory pressure would increase on Montenegro. All the more so as Albania does not seem to be disposed to accept the migrants back after they arrived in Montenegro, despite bilateral agreements between Montenegro and Albania, under the pretext that there would be no evidence that they might have come from Albania."
In the meantime, Bulgarian Premier Boyko Borissov told a group of journalists on May 18 this year in Sofia after an EU-Western Balkans summit he hosted the day before there could not be asylum reform without stronger borders. Bulgaria's border fence, Borissov said, "is much more sophisticated, maybe even bigger than Orban's." The 'concrete' for him is stronger borders for the EU, and Bulgaria is leading the way, "without making too much noise about what we're doing, unlike my (Hungarian) colleague (Viktor) Orban." The construction of a fence by Bulgaria along its border with Turkey was completed in June of 2017. Its total length is 201 kilometers.
Borisov said that he proposed to his EU fellow leaders to take model on the US, Canada or Australia. "If we were able to support some of the ideas that I put forward for solid border management and controls, I think colleagues from the Visegrad Four would be reassured," he said, referring to Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic - the countries that are the most opposed to the plan to relocate asylum seekers from Greece and Italy.
But Greece's border fence with Turkey was one of the first built to check illegal migrants. In 2012, Greece built a fence and electronic surveillance system along its border with Turkey. The cement and barbed-wire barrier and nearly 2,000 extra guards were designed to stop a sharp rise in illegal immigrants at that time.
As Germany's capital, Berlin, will remember the 57th anniversary of the initial laying of the foundations of the Berlin Wall onAugust 13, an overview reveals that since its fall, European countries have built or started 1,200 km (750 miles) of anti-immigrant fencing at a cost of at least 500 million euros ($570 million). A Reuters analysis of public data shows that the distance is almost 40 percent of the length of America's border with Mexico. Many of these walls separate EU nations from states outside the bloc, but some are between EU states, including members of Europe's passport-free zone like Albania and Montenegro. Most of the building was started in 2015.
Concern Is Right But Solution Wrong
In early March 2016, Europe's migration chief Dimitris Avramopoulos was quoted by Reuters as saying: "By building fences, by deploying barbed wire it is not a solution." In late May 2018 following the latest warning by Vojislav Dragovic, the head of Montenegro's department for state border supervision, of the eventual raising of a razor wire fence on the border with Albania, Albanian Daily News asked some Albanian politicians and political analysts on the impact of such a move on Albanian-Montenegrin relations but also on a regional scale. Below are their comments:
Prof. Dr. Arben Malaj,
President of IPPM
The common European future of the countries of the Eastern Europe has been inspired by the fall of the Berlin Wall. The EU is not a geographical concept in its core, but a community based on the promotion of political and economic freedoms. Due to European integration projects the Western Balkan countries have achieved peace and they are cooperating for the growth of prosperity through the creation of a common Balkan market. The border management projects for the increase of security have been a priority of the European Union. In this aspect the European countries of the Schengen zone have surrendered a part of their sovereignty for the facilitation of free movement.
In this aspect even the WB countries can boost the security of their countries through cooperating with the homologous structures of neighboring countries and European ones rather than by erecting walls or wire fences. Currently, their building is being justified by the flux of refugees from countries of the Middle East or countries which have been gripped by grave civil conflicts. The concern is right but the solution is wrong.
My worry as a researcher of the EU history is not the building of the wall by Montenegro but the mentality, which can become ever more dominant, that for any social challenge creating electoral costs Balkan leaders might offer the erection of walls or fences as a solution. In this race the Balkan political leaders might risk themselves of becoming populists or nationalists whose impact has been paid dearly by ethnic conflicts and wars which have produced only poverty.
The Western Balkans is in its best historical moment as all the countries are in different stages of membership in NATO and EU. The biggest and highest "wall" with regard to the risks of illegal migrants and smuggling is the well functioning of the domestic control of the territory and the speed and quality of cooperation among neighbors and with the Euro-Atlantic structures in the field of border management.
It is easy for a small country like Montenegro to identify on real time any flux of illegal migrants. It is better that the budgetary funds for fences and walls could be allocated for poverty alleviation or increase of public investments.
The race for physical or psychological walls should not be stimulated in the Western Balkans. Instead, the demolition of any wall, which impedes even a little the cooperation among the countries of the Western Balkans, should be encouraged for their common future.
Albanian Center for Economic Research
It has been spoken much on the eventual erection of a fence by the Montenegrin side on its border with Albania to check migratory flux from Northern Africa or Middle East countries via Turkey and Greece towards EU countries, mainly Germany and Austria. I think that this is a personal stance of a senior border official at the Interior Ministry of Montenegro rather than an official stance of the state authorities of that country.
First, the so far developments do not testify that there would be a rising migratory flux, at least in the near future. Secondly, the EU host countries have changed their previous politics which favored the legal migration, namely serving as promoter of the flux through the Western Balkan countries including Montenegro. Thirdly, even if it happens that Turkey opens its borders allowing migrants to rush to Central Europe due to the rising conflicts with the EU and the latter will be ready to admit them, the Albanian territory is not preferred as a passing route. It is so because Albania lacks railways and its connections with the other regional countries. So, Albania is not a favorable passing route of the informal and criminal networks which encourage migration and profit from it. Having said the above, the erection of a fence between Montenegro and Albania seems meaningless.
The latest statement of Montenegrin authorities comes as a surprise for Albania as there is no sign of any crisis resembling to that of two years ago in Europe. Besides some sporadic groups or individuals even at that time Albania was not seen as a producing country of the crisis being almost unaffected as compared with its Greek, Serb, Macedonian neighbors followed by Croatia, Slovenia and the most affected country - Hungary. Probably, the phenomena has been renewed for unknown reasons, which might have put in motion the authorities of the neighboring country, but the threat made by them seems completely out of the current context.
Both countries are in an intensive phase of negotiations with the EU in the integration drive which is so much wished by Tirana and Podgorica. On the other hand, both countries do not seem to have any unresolved questions in the bilateral relations, rather since long their ties have been considered as very good and friendly.
Official Tirana which is busy with internal political matters, dominated by vetting and integration, seems to not have in mind to put this matter in the immediate actions agenda, and it is apparent that even the opposition and media have not made any effort to discover more why such a move by Podgorica was prompted. So it remains to wait and see if such an unilateral action of Montenegro is undertaken, and then learn for sure the reaction of Tirana, which, in such circumstances, will be forced to review afterwards not only the management of the illegal migratory groups that can penetrate to Montenegro from its territory, but also find an adequate answer towards such an archaic measure that is also harmful for the objectives of the two countries. It should be added that there is an Albanian community living in Montenegro which is very meaningful for the relations between the two countries and the European perspective of their country. A part of Montenegrin political class was ready to abandon the European perspective in the past.
The wish is that the 'idea of the Berlin Wall' will come to end after its revival during the crisis having Hungary as its launcher two years ago. In the meantime, it is expected that Brussels will address this problem drawing the attention to the two countries to take adequate measures, which would make impossible such a move causing an impact on the two countries.