On the same day the European Council gathered to discuss on the migration and refugee crisis (18th February 2016), a free public talk was held at the Swedish School of Social Science of Helsinki in Finland, entitled “Migration & the Future of National Borders”.
The room was full with the usually highly-educated local audience which expected words on the future, but got mostly a bunch of interesting facts about the past. Despite the constant audience incitement for speculation and boldness, the speakers, Pasi Saukkonen, Lena Näre and Jukka Könönen didn’t break. It was informative, necessary, but not inspiring.
Moderated by Amiirah Salleh-Hoddin, the discussion format was based on 3 speakers, each with 15 min opening remarks, followed by a Q&A session. 1,5 hours with live streaming (#dwpBorders) aimed to cover the “issues of migration and (to) offer a critical perspective on national borders”.
THE CREATION OF THE MODERN STATE
The EU has been unable to reach any decision in balancing humanity with development. Over 70.000 people already have crossed the Mediterranean this year only and over 4.000 died in 2015 attempting it, according to the 3rd speaker, Jukka Könönen, a Postdoctoral Researcher in Sociology at University of Helsinki. The first speaker, Pasi Saukkonen, a political scientist and a Senior Researcher at the City of Helsinki Urban Facts, called upon the importance to recall the past, in special, the last 350 years. The modern state can said to be tracked back to the 1648 treaty of Westphalia, where the sacrosanct borders were further enhanced by the Westphalian sovereignty model, centrally organized, geographically ordered and contained by borders. Pasi delivered a captivating opening and, despite, or maybe because of his strongest academic record among the panel, he was the only one slightly detaching himself from the over-cautiousness of academia and foreseeing a future of increased violence along the borders.
MIGRATION IS BECOMING MORE COMPLEX
Being on the move is an essential property of what it is to be a human, a property likely remnant of the pre agricultural revolution or maybe simply because we can! There have been times of more or less migration with more or less control to regulate it. The second speaker, Lena Näre, an Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of Helsinki challenged us to take a look at the history of passports. The control of the borders is a recent phenomenon added to the invention of states. It started as a temporary solution during the WWI. Before the war, train travelling was such a revolutionary fast way of travelling that such technology was not encompassed by the state bureaucracy which responded in a rather relaxed way in people’s movement within Europe. During WW1, with its need to control people’s movements with useful skills and the spread of further technologies such as photography, it led to the tightening of our movements. Today we are happy to be 24/7 tracked in sake of the social media vanity fair, far beyond any 1984 Orwell’s speculations.
Predictions on the future of borders are hard. There is little international immigration history in Europe (as it is witnessing now) which makes it difficult to conduct a rational discussion about it (Pasi). Europe had been till WW1, mostly a place of emigration towards the “new world”, South America, etc. Added to that, migration (rather migrations) became a much more complex phenomena. According to Pasi:
- The reasons are more plural (retirement in Mallorca, refugees, spiritual retreat, girl(boy)friends…)
- Today countries are both the origin and destination for migration
- There are more varied forms of forced migration
Migration to Europe has come as no surprise with the apparent rise of social inequality and wars. It will not stop within the next decades and it is difficult to see the magical formula to regulate it in opposition to the market forces interested in recruiting cheap labor as we so bluntly see it in Germany with its inhumane decade long 1 Euro jobs policies. “I don’t want to be pessimistic but I cannot see any end to people dying in coming over to Europe. The shift on border dying to border killing will happen.” (Pasi).
WELL FARE STATE Vs HUMANITARIANISM
Pasi is “a quite devoted European” as it is necessary to cooperate to survive. But Europe has set out a very ambitious program. It is trying:
- to establish a true democracy without a clear demos,
- to have foreign policy without an army,
- to create internal free movement without real control of external borders.
Despite, or again, because of globalization, Europe is a very nationalist place. To discuss the entrance of people in countries is not so much a discussion of cultural identity protection but a discussion about the well-fare state borders. That is the main question for Lena and the realistic one in her view, if we want a well fare state or not. Many politicians in Finland are saying we can no longer afford a well-fare State and there is a growing community of Finish business (wo)men supportive of the full opening of the borders (which makes the left wing parties rather confused). Something easily understood as capitalism loves to rent people for cheap labor.
Nationalism is often discredited as a sign of immaturity, but at the same time it produced the most effective system to organize solidarity. Nation states have produced the largest scale of socially balanced societies.
TEACH REFUGEES ENGLISH, NOT FINNISH
Most people joining Nordic countries come with low level of education and low linguistic skills. These encounter very small job opportunities in a highly skilled society. The strategy so far is to invest on language teaching. But learning Finnish? Can you imagine all the confused Iraqis or Albanians (some of them with whom I play football or Oud in Kallio) who arrive here and are faced to learn Finnish, a grammatically difficult language, spoken by less than 6 million people worldwide?
Put Finnish aside (or Swedish), I suggest to give them full on English courses. Integrate them in the world market. This will increase their motivation and odds in getting around here in Finland or in neighboring countries. This also makes the whole national policy more relaxed. This is an urgent topic as Finland is currently planning a massive deportation of iraqi refugees. Understandably, many of them are even going voluntarily back as they are more distressed here among the socially awkward Nordic society then in the constant warm social life of Baghdad with the occasional bombings!
CAN WE IMAGINE A WORLD WITHOUT BORDERS?
There has been throughout history many different kinds of organizing lives and it is not possible to predict the full eradication of borders. The literature is vast and there is not an agreement if such is beneficial or not, as Pasi wisely remarked.
The most recurrent topic raised from the audience was the possibility of no borders. Some said, me included, that the trend is seen by the increased mobility of people (flights, etc), free flow of capital (seen by the tax havens strategies), information (internet), universal currencies (bitcoin), free trade agreements (TTIP), etc. The panel disagreed. For them, capitalism needs borders. But of course, borders are moving in time and space, so its definition is a changing one. Where it starts? At the visa emission? Is a visa permit a temporary border?
There was simply not enough time to go through so many hot topics. Many more questions arose then those answered and that is a good sign for such gathering.
- Are borders a human necessity? A sort of ontological mapping of where one belongs to?
- Are the making of borders, such as in the shameful Sykes Picot agreement, a reasoning to contest the existence of borders in general, especially our own?
- How does one see nationalist movements such as of Rojava and Catalonia?
- Are borders not a scale driven issue?
To speed up the process in making borders and state monopoly of violence weaker, we ought to fake the appearance of an alien enemy to unite us, dissipating our differences and strengthen the resemblances. The alternative is called education.
I wrote this article on a boat to Tallinn after teaching in Mexico and China. I am picking up my 9 year old son flying alone from Norway with whom I, a Portuguese, communicate with him in German.
Also published in spanish in "El Communista"
Pedro Aibéo is a trained Design Architect (M.Sc., Dipl. Ing., TU Darmstadt, Germany) and Civil Engineer (M.Sc., Licenciatura, FEUP, Porto) with over 50 buildings designed and built on 15 countries. He is also a Visiting Associate Professor at UNAM University, Mexico and at Wuhan University of Technology, China, and a Lecturer, Research Assistant and Doctoral Candidate at Aalto University, Finland on "Architectural Democracy". He is the founder and Artistic Director of “Cidadania” theatre+games group, Germany, with written and directed theater plays at the United Nations and the Staatstheater Darmstadt on urban slavery and astronomy. He is a professional Musician at "Homebound" and the founder and Artistic Director of the "World Music School”. He is a drawing teacher at the croquis nights in Helsinki and a comic novel writer on mathematics. He is a published current affairs author in several newspapers.
 “…the European Council will look at the implementation of the decisions already taken and prepare the ground for future decisions to be taken at its next meeting in March. Discussions will focus on humanitarian assistance, external border management, the implementation of the EU-Turkey Action Plan and the operation of hotspots.” Retrieved from http://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/meetings/european-council/2016/02/18-19/
 Framed within the group “Discussing World Politics”. An organization that was started by a couple of students at the University of Helsinki in 2013. Organized by Amiirah Salleh-Hoddin and Jana Turk
 graduate student in Social Psychology https://www.linkedin.com/in/amiirah
 Has stated on their Facebook event site: https://www.facebook.com/events/999988596725525/
 Confront http://time.com/4213676/migrants-crossing-mediterranean-death/ Pasi spoke of 82 637 people, a number I could not confirm.
 For his short bio: http://challenge.helsinki.fi/articles/meet-seminar-speaker-pasi-saukkonen