By Teboho Fumbeza & Sinenhlanhla Ngwenya
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 as 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 the 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.