I’ve been fascinated by what you call ‘borders.’ Philosophically, zoomed in, borders are such curious things. A border or a physical line to divide things does not even exist. In the past human beings have created ‘borders’ to divide lands. First claimed by powerful people, such as Dukes, Lords, Counts, and Kings, people knew who to obey when living on either side of the river. Folks gathered, communities connected, and enemies created. People attached to their ‘kind’ and labeled their identity with a flag. We started to believe in the division of land. We even built walls to prevent people from crossing these imaginary lines.
Two of our Walkers walked six kilometers to the Croatian border. They wanted to see what was going on there. What it was like. Because this is where the horror is supposed to happen. And it stunned them: flowers and corn on a quiet, sunny, peaceful day. “So, this spot is a European border! Crazy…” they thought. "This is what it’s all about."
After making a film for their people back home, they saw a police car a few hundred meters away. They went over and asked if it’s okay to walk a little further, only to be told by the officers they were already in Croatia. Therefore, they had just committed a crime: illegally crossing the border. The police took their passports and called their commanding officer. “We have to take you to the police station,” said the police. They were loaded and locked into this dark windowless van with only a dim light. They must have felt like prisoners. They ended up in a little old shed in Tavornik, which appears to be at the back of the station. The police checked all of their bags. Everything. Even the book they carried, The Dark Side of Border Regimes, by activist Marta, whom they’ve met a day before. “Look at this, this is about us,” they must have been saying. Fortunately, it did not piss off the officers. Perhaps they even felt watched somehow. The Walkers waited another hour and a half. Then the CO came to check them in the van and they were fined. They dropped them at the Croatian border, and stamped their passports: ‘left Croatia’ Then they walked 100 meters through Nomansland; the border area in between Croatia and Serbia. At the other border entry, border control officers asked them for proof of a negative PCR test. “These results are more than 48 hours old, it’s too old”, they were told. The Serbian border patrol did not want to hear their explanation at all. They were stuck… in between Croatia and Serbia.
In this moment, our Walkers experienced an inkling of the frustration all people on the move must feel: one side refuses them entry and the other side does not accept them. Stuck in the middle, in Nomansland. While our Walkers were lost in the bureaucratic system, it hit them: “We never really have to worry. Our passports secure us with dignified, humanitarian normal treatment. How strange the power this tiny document holds. If we were in trouble, our country, the Netherlands, would come to our rescue, all because of our citizenship, our Dutch nationality.”
Another of our Walkers reveals how this privilege makes her feel “dirty.” In camps, whenever asked by officials, she can say: “I am Italian.” Their response is always: “Oh alright then…” Again, the question is why and how could such a fabricated constructed label we were given by birth grant us such a safe feeling, while others who never received a ‘suitable’ one get quite a different response.
The two Walkers stuck at the border, headed back to the Croatian border with a document in their hands ‘refused’ and a stamp in their passport ‘refused entry in Serbia’. Dubiously, the first border patrol officer calls them: “Free taxi!” Apparently, they decided it was better to help our Walkers out; being white and European and all… So, our Walkers got a ride and were dropped off at some dirt road, from where they had to cross the border illegally once more. This man appeared friendly; he was their contact. He explained while checking their bags: “This is normal procedure.” We do this with everyone. We know this is not true. What actually happens at the Croatian-Serbian border is that people are caught and pushed back when they try to cross it. They get molested, robbed; there are even reports of rape. This ‘pleasant’ man should be aware of the horrific pushbacks. His job is to catch people who go on Game.
Our Walkers are safe. But the ‘Games’ continue, and so do the pushbacks. European borders are fortified with high razor blade fences. Newly developed sound cannons worth millions of euros are tested as we speak. Another new weapon in this ‘war on migrants.’ Still, razor bladed fences do not stop many desperate refugees from trying; they keep trying, even as often as forty times.
One of the border stories is that of Z. He has been part of the Walk of Shame network for a long time already. It was a great pleasure for the Walkers and for Z that they could meet in Serbia. He fell when trying to climb the fence to cross the border, playing the Game. He sprained his ankle badly, and returned to camp in Serbia to heal. Waiting to be fit enough to try again.
All this to prevent people from crossing an imaginary line. All this because people do not have a piece of paper with the right words, colours, and stamps. All this because people forget that we simply made up that line and we can print these papers. It’s all imaginary. People have forgotten we can allow everyone to this side of the line.