Borders have the potential to enhance the relationships between neighbours and other states instead of only posing as security concerns, said an International Relations professor from the University of Tartu on Tuesday.
“Borders aren’t only separation lines, but lines of contact; they can provide gateways and contacts,” said Professor Eiki Berg at UJ’s Auckland Park Kingsway (APK) campus.
Prof. Berg was speaking during a presentation session, at the APK Library E’skia Mphahlele Room hosted by the University’s Department of Politics and International Relations, about a focal point in his research regarding parent states and secessionist entities.
He spoke about parent states as the “main actors in international politics,” while stating that secessionist entities “can be seen as illegal entities, something that cannot exist.”
Secessionist entities & parent states
Prof Berg noted that despite the non-existent of secessionist states in international politics, those countries continued to function as normal countries with normal governments.
“Secessionist entities try to set up institutions. They also seek protection and legitimacy, so usually they feel insecure because there is always a risk that a parent state will wash away their so-called independence,” Berg explained.
“There is a huge existential issue, ‘to be or not to be,’ so they are constantly under threat of extinction,” Berg added.
The Professor then gave an opposite explanation about parent states, saying that, “parent states isolate secessionist entities from political, economic, and socio-cultural activities, forcing these entities to reunify with the parent state.”
He went on to explain that being unrecognized as a state was not easy as activities like traveling and using passports or trading become problematic.
Despite these forms of isolation, he suggested that there is evidence pointing to past forms of communication that led to certain countries developing confidence to continue functioning as secessionist entities.
Berg further suggested that borders not only demarcate an area, but cross border practices deconstruct mental lines that separate nations from each other.
As a point of reference to clarify his consideration, Professor Berg used three case studies from China, Cyprus and Moldova. These states are interdependent, co-existing and integrated borderland states, respectively.
In the case of China, Professor Berg mentioned that China was divided into two states (Taiwan and Mainland China), which were in a state of war, but they have recently tried to get along. He said that there is a non-state relationship between both states, where there has been reestablishment of transport, commerce and communication relations.
Regarding Cyprus, he discussed how two states are separated by the United Nations (UN) buffer zones and that there is self-isolation of the northern counterpart. To sustain this division, UN peacekeeping is found along the EU external border to avoid further conflict.
Moldova, on the other hand, has no fixed borders and this resulted in an integrated borderland.
Question and answers
The presentation, which lasted for about 35 minutes, was an interactive, political engagement about borders as a line of contact.
After the presentation, Prof. Berg proceeded to have a question and answer session. A number of students and attendees took part in it.
There were many questions and comments about the Professor’s research in African; however, the Professor said he chose to focus on Europe.
Students and attendees responded well to The Open Journal’s question of how they felt about the presentation. Their responses are as follow:
“I found the presentation very informative. I think it would be great if someone conducted research in the African context because there are a lot of regions in the continent experiencing separation of states, and there are many ways to reconcile differences, where the established organizations can facilitate discourse amongst the affected players,” said Itumeleng Selialia, an attendee of the presentation.
“The presentation opened up a lot of conversations. It opened me up to understand how communities nationally organise themselves. It showed me how people choose to protest against injustices like cultural differences like these states separating themselves,” said a third-year Political Science student at UJ.
“My first-years are currently looking at statehood as an issue, and we’re looking at the fall of the state in terms of sovereignty: ‘Is it important as it used to be?’ And with secessionist movements alive and well today, I think this presentation is extremely relevant,” said Professor Susan Graham, UJ’s Politics and International Relations Head of Department.
The Open Journal further asked how Prof. Berg thought his presentation should have impacted students. This is what he had to say:
“First of all, it is always good to know what is going on in many other places of the world, just to get that comparative picture. That kind of presentation enables students to start thinking out of the box.
“It is not only about their own country, South Africa, which is the only thing they know and understand that this is the unique thing and look outside to see the broader perspective. They will know about other cases and draw some parallels.”
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