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Updated August 14, 2022

European Borders Are Poland, Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic

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European Borders Are Poland, Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic essay
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Introduction

For my annotated bibliography, I chose sources that either directly wrote about national identity and imagined communities in European borderlands or sources that addressed ideas and theories that apply to the construction of said identities and communities generally. The specific countries I am focusing on are Poland, Germany, Russia, and Czechia. Within those countries, the specific borderland communities I examined are Silesia (Poland, Germany, and Czechia), Kaliningrad (Russia), and Görlitz/Zgorzelec (Germany/Poland). My research was to find literature that examines or helps explain the complex relationship of European borderlands, their histories, their governments, and their citizens.

All of these borderlands have faced government mandated expulsion, repatriation, homogenization, and/or genocide. The people who are moved into a different borderland do not have a shared history with the city or town itself, and the government (either local, provincial, or national) will usually push a narrative that “claims” the borderland– even if it isn’t historically accurate. This is done especially if the population still contains citizens of the country that the borderland was in before.

In some cases, citizens of the borderlands will take elements from both the former and current nations of their land and create a culture that is a mix. Other times, especially in areas more affected by repatriation and expulsion, resentment is bred from the former inhabitants to the currents ones. The resentment unfortunately often takes the form of xenophobia. On the other hand, expelled peoples returning to visit their old cities and meeting the new inhabitants can lead to a better understanding of the other group and an acceptance of them. Mutual understanding of this kind is more common in areas where the resettled peoples had also been expelled from their former homes, which gave both former and current inhabitants a common struggle.

Old cities, new pasts: Heritage planning in selected cities of Central Europe

In this paper, Ashworth and Tunbridge examine how heritage planning in Central Europe has become a complex task with many purposes and pitfalls: from neglecting buildings while tracing original owners, to creating a “constrained nationalism”, to reconciling the past historical trauma from the Holocaust, to asking ““[w]hat exactly, and how much, of such heritage should be removed?’ and, even less certain, ‘With what should it be replaced?”” when referring to the common Soviet monuments and dedications in no longer Soviet cities. When discussing heritage planning, specifically the rebuilding or preservation of Jewish synagogues and towns, there is also the stark reminder that most of the original owners are no longer in Europe. Whether it be due to death or fleeing violence, surviving owners/community members or their families are not around to directly claim their heritage. This leads to a fair amount of foreign money being given to the heritage planning efforts, mainly from Israel and the U.S.. When specifically mentioning Kaliningrad, Ashworth and Tunbridge explain that “700 years” of “unambiguous” German heritage were wiped out after the annexation by the USSR in 1946. Upon the fall of the USSR and the reemergence of its history, “Kaliningrad [is] a case of attempted total displacement of an entirely German heritage, now paradoxically showing aspirations towards a total reversion” despite the lack of ethnic Germans living there

Europe and the identity challenge: who are “we”?

As the European Union continues to take on challenges, Thierry Chopin writes about the “duality at the heart of European identity, between the existence of a common culture and the political fragmentation that goes with it”. Due to Europe’s borders being so complex and fluid from the time after the Roman Empire until the fall of the USSR, with sporadic times of relative peace and stability, proponents of the EU believe the best way to go about teaching Europe’s intertwined past is by telling the whole truth. This is not to “replac[e] national narratives” but to “complement [them] with a “specifically European narrative””. As for borders, the idea of loosening the influence of nation states in favor of a stronger, more collective Europe is cause for concern amongst nations like the Baltics due to past aggression of Russia and their lack of faith in the EU and NATO to mobilize in defense of their territory if needed.

Polish Borderlands in the Process of Change

This abridged transcript of recent borderland cooperation negotiations gives a view into how it’s imperative for both sides of borderland communities to meet and come to agreements on what is best for the citizens, and what concerns their citizens may have. The push to label borderlands as inherently multicultural was debated, because in certain borderlands– namely parts of Silesia– the amount of influence the former country has on the citizens or area is seen as a negative thing. In other areas, such as Slubice and Frankfurt, “bottom-up” integration of the two communities is seen through the unofficial “art” town called “Slubfurt” by the locals. There is also the juxtaposition between German-Polish and Belarusian-Polish or Ukrainian-Polish borderlands– Germany is part of the EU (which, at the time, Poland had not joined) while Ukraine and Belarus share a border with Russia, which Poland sees as a possible threat to its territory.

Shopping for a new identity: Constructions of the Polish-German border in a Polish border community

This paper compares the lives of the older Germans in Görlitz and older Poles in Zgorzelec against the lives of the younger people in their respective towns. While the older generations have a shared experience with repatriation, communism, and displacement, the younger generations mainly interact in a “cultural-economic context”. Galasińska and Galasiński speak about how the Polish side has been seen as more inherently criminal than the German side because of the smugglers that bring cheaper goods into Germany, how the interactions between the two towns have gone from being pushed to be confrontational to being pushed towards cohesion post-1990. They also explain how “up until 1970, the Polish-German border… was closed and crossing it was almost impossible” yet within only 20 years the border was much more open, and even more recently Poland had been angling to join the EU. Galasińska and Galasiński give examples of how so much has changed in such a short amount of time, giving the older residents some cultural whiplash that may manifest in distaste for the openness the younger generations exhibit.

Cultural Conflict and Political Accommodation at European Borderlands

The reasons for tensions at international frontiers are many, ranging from traditional security issues to oppositional territorial identities, from economic disparities to differences in political culture. While territorial violations have become rare in Europe, due to the progressive course of integration and inclusive policy-making by the European Union, tensions relating to boundaries still commonly exist. The articles in this special issue assess some of these tensions, focusing mainly on issues arising from the culturally and socially deep-seated proc- esses of collective territorial identification. The consolidation of the European nation-state system between the seventeenth and the twentieth centuries created a geopolitical environment that mostly reflected the goals and aspirations of nation- al majorities. For many of these putative ‘nation- states’ linguistic and cultural minorities were an uncomfortable reminder of a prior age of socio- spatial disorganisation and ethnic diversity.

In the spirit of the state ideal, progress meant the growing role of the state as a regulator of the economy and as a designer of social policies that addressed the ‘citizen’ irrespective of religion, social status or cultural background. State boundaries became crisp lines of division between mutually exclusive societies: the ‘insides’ of nation-states. Linguistic, cultural and regional minorities had no role to play in this political organisation, and instead depended on the tolerance of central governments. For example, by the mid twentieth century Finland had made significant concessions to secure the rights of the Swedish-speaking minority, but Spain enacted a more strictly nationalising policy towards the minority Basques and Catalans. Much of this changed after the Second World War and the ensuing steps towards securing peace in Europe. Integration across national boundaries in the form of regional cooperation, economic interaction and policy-making at the European Union level has given increasing latitude to regional and ethnic minorities.

Historical Representation and the Politics of Memory in Kaliningrad, Former Königsberg

Sezneva examines the stark disconnect between Kaliningrad’s current citizens and the city’s past. However, the history has slowly become more accepted by Kaliningraders as the years go on. Since the early to mid-1990s, businesses have adopted Germanized names and the Museum has brought on more researchers and historians to create the Department of East Prussian History. Though this is an improvement, the Russians still hold Kaliningrad in a tight grip and any notions of the small exclave leaving are shut down quickly. Perhaps the lack of attachment to the land has made any attempts at leaving Russia halfhearted at best, along with the fact that the German right-wing has co-opted the small movement advocating for the return of Germans to all previously German territories, including but not limited to Kaliningrad and Silesia.

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European Borders Are Poland, Germany, Russia and the Czech Republic. (2022, Aug 14). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/european-borders-are-poland-germany-russia-and-the-czech-republic/

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