Building Walls

BRIDGE OF SPIESI just finished watching Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies, a great spy thriller based on the account of James Donovan, a New York lawyer who represented a Soviet spy in court in 1957, and then who subsequently was the main negotiator, five years later, coordinating an exchange of that Soviet spy for an American pilot shot down over the Soviet Union. Amongst many memorable scenes, one stood out for me: Donovan is returning to West Berlin by train from East Berlin, after having spent the night in a Stasi jail cell and, as the train crosses the now-erected and newly infamous Berlin Wall, he watches in horror as several people try to climb over the Wall and are summarily shot and killed.

Hungary, fence, migrants, refugeesI don’t know whether Donovan actually witnessed this incident, but the scene made me immediately think of the wall put up by Hungary to deter the flood of migrants and refugees across the Hungarian border from Serbia. Apparently there are more walls that have been put up already by other countries (see Adam Taylor’s Washington Post article from August on walls). These walls vary in length but the intent is similar: to deal with the influx of migrants and refugees into Europe.

The scene from the movie is poignant, as people are desperate to leave the oppressive German Democratic Republic (East Germany) for the democratic West, and make every attempt to do so, even at risk of their own lives. The Wall only is a physical hindrance, and the intention of the Wall – to keep people in – can only be implemented by the use of force.

The reality of the walls being built in Europe today is the same – they will not act as deterrents unless the countries that erected the walls are willing to use force to implement the intention of the walls: to keep migrants and refugees out. One might argue that the walls are not being built to keep migrants and refugees out, that the walls are being built to better channel the human flood, but if you examine the nature of walls, it is to control the ability of people to enter and/or to leave. How far are European countries willing to go to enforce the walls that they are building?

Particularly in light of yesterday’s attack in Paris, more walls are going to be built throughout Europe: physical walls, mental walls; blockades against migrants and refugees; barriers to multiculturalism; moats to weather a modern siege of Europe. Walls have never really helped to stave off evil and, more often than not, walls become symbols of oppression: the Berlin Wall, the Warsaw Ghetto Wall, the West Bank Barrier.

It is in this moment of desperate times that we have a choice as to whether to keep raising walls, or to raise arms in welcome.

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