Are the borders personal?

by Yelyzaveta Monastyrova

The border is lived and the moment of crossing is merely a culmination of preceding bordering practices and a precipitation of those which are yet to follow. But how personal is the border? Increasingly digital border infrastructures, as discussed in Prof. Vollmer’s lecture, lead to the border becoming “porous” – a “filter” rather than a “wall”. So what are the implications of passing through this sieve? It is not always that one feels his or her identity to be reassembled, “performed” – indeed, for most authorised, “normal” crossings no identity-adjustment is perceived (which is not to state that such an adjustment may not be, actually, happening). The procedure, nonetheless, is always imbued with insecurity; at least, such is my subjective impression, and I am probably not unique in experiencing anxiety at any border – due to the very necessity to attest to a border officer.

At a risk of exaggerating, I dare suspect that (any) border regime is built, among other elements, on psychological violence – very subtle, normally, almost unpalpable, yet never totally fading away. Where else are we questioned in our very personality, our validity as a traveller, a citizen, a holder of our identity documents? Where else are we as much at mercy of – no matter how much digitised and algorithmic – subjective judgement of a someone assigned to classify and evaluate us? Where else are we so exposed to the public view? So much hinging on our anonymity and being “as everyone else” – acceptable, legitimate, allowed entry?..

Of course, here it may be justly argued that any such concern at the European airport border is nothing compared to the ordeal of people disembarking from float boats in Lampedusa. It is so. Yet my point has been not to compare, equalise or justify; rather, the inputs from everything heard during the school have made me reconsider the procedures I never really questioned, and to see them as part of the picture – of the global, discriminative, not always efficient and nevertheless fully normalised, routinely enforced bordering. Indeed, among the borders I have so far crossed, the strangest experience was at the point of hardly any border at all – when crossing by ferry from Northern Ireland to Scotland. There, as much as I was affected by what to me appeared an unfair inquiry in my documents, the feeling which disturbed me most was not the fact of being checked. It was a sensation of “how comes they stop me, if I am not, cannot be, suspicious; I look just like the rest of the passengers”. At that point, I – too – accepted the partiality of borders controls – since I felt they should not have applied to me, so “normal” and regular.

What I do not know is whether this internalisation of injustices is something passing, only affecting you at the border. And if not, is the border omnipresent? And what does it mean for us crossing and watching others cross?

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