tv Deutsche Welle Journal LINKTV September 6, 2012 11:00am-11:30am PDT
the voluntary association of three or more countries. one example of supranationalism is the european union-- an economic alliance designed to improve european competitiveness in the world economy. but this alliance is more than just economic. it is also europe's attempt to forge a community with common values, even as individual state identity is maintained. strasbourg is located on the border of france and germany and has endured centuries of conflict between those two nations. today, it is one seat of the european union-- a symbol of modern unity. as political boundaries become more permeable, perceptions of place change as well as deeper, more personal meanings of national identity. when state boundaries become porous, what does it mean to be french or german or european?
strasbourg serves as one of three centers for the european union. this medium-sized city of 250,000 is not a major player in europe's financial or industrial arenas. so why is it playing such an important role in europe's political future? the answer can be found in strasbourg's cultural history-- a product of its unique borderland location. strasbourg literally means "city of the roads that cross." these roads lead west to atlantic europe, east to central europe, north to great britain and south to the mediterranean world. most crucial of all, strasbourg sits on the rhine river between two of europe's strongest historical rivals-- france and germany. strasbourg really occupies a very special kind of position. of course, it's bounced back and forth a bit between german and french influence, and, in fact, 500 or 600 years ago, it was really falling within the influence of the german empire. and then as the french empire was expanding
and in conflict with the german empire along the rhine, it came under french influence. the franco-prussian war in the 1870s, however, was partly driven by german efforts to expand to the west bank of the rhine-- that's where strasbourg sits. so it became formally a part of germany at that time. and then in the 20th century, it's fallen back under french control. those original cultural and linguistic ties with germany are still there, so you have a dialect that is a germanic dialect, but it's now, of course, formally a part of france. and this particular and special situation gives it a bifurcated identity, which is really sort of special for a city of its sort. narrator: as the capital of france's alsace region, strasbourg's combination of cultures is one of its strengths. ( speaking french ) translator: we are fortunate, some would say, to be the fruit of a mixed marriage-- a marriage between a so-called "germanic" culture and a latin culture. this is alsace.
narrator: you can see this dual history in the architecture here. strasbourg is german in its 16th-century timber-framed houses. strasbourg is french in the ordered lines of the 18th-century han palace. strasbourg is german in the neoclassical architecture of emperor wilhelm ii's rhine palace. and strasbourg is french in its walls fortified by vauban in the time of louis xiv. in today's strasbourg, though, the walls that once existed between the city's two cultures are breaking down. when you cross from germany into strasbourg, you notice something unusual at the border between two countries-- no one is stopping at customs. ( speaking french ) translator: the 1st of january 1993 marked the setting up of the european internal market, freeing circulation between the 12 countries
of the european community. border crossings are no longer subject to customs controls at the point of entry to a country. all such controls take place within the borders and are supervised by mobile units. narrator: thirty kilometers south of strasbourg on the rhine river is a district called rhinau. most of rhinau is in france, but part is in germany. this is a very unusual situation left over from medieval times, but it shows how the meaning of borders is changing today. ( speaking french ) translator: i go to germany to reap the corn on my land-- a thousand hectares-- which is in the district of rhinau. when the borders were closed, i had to stop here, and the custom officers would ask what i was doing. so i would explain that i owned some land here. ( speaking french )
translator: all along the rhine, there are dozens of people who work in germany who are very happy that these openings still exist. and germans also come here to do their shopping. the formal transboundary cooperation agreements that have developed across the upper rhine have facilitated the ability of germans to come into the strasbourg area and to buy up property. and what this means, of course, is that they are living now in a different context from the one they used to live in, and that makes them think about themselves and their place in different ways, and it certainly helps to break down a sense of "this is french, and this is german," which, of course, lay behind some of the animosities that characterized this region throughout much of the 20th century. ( man speaking french ) translator: now we have come to the point that every house for sale is bought by german buyers. they even buy building sites. one of them has built his house out here. you know, the price is so much lower here
that they can buy a house and its site with the price they would pay for a site alone over there. on the down side, however, of course, is they come in in growing numbers, buy up property; this raises real estate prices. and, of course, it makes it more difficult then for locals, particularly locals of less... who are less well off, to get into the real estate market. and so there are potential resentments that can be fostered by this sort of activity as well. narrator: strasbourg's stature as an important center of european cooperation grew from a decision in 1949 to locate the council of europe here. ( speaking french ) translator: the council of europe finally became, at least to some extent, the route to a democratic europe, because all the democracies, one by one, became members. narrator: the council of europe was established in 1949 with ten countries. new members have continued to join, and since the fall of the iron curtain,
the entry of russia and most of the eastern european countries has brought the total to 41. subsequently, the so-called european communities were born. firstly the coal and steel community, then in brussels, the european community. these were the predecessors of the european union. adinolfi: all of the countries that joined the european community were, first of all, members of the council. so it can be considered as a sort of antechamber for the european union. narrator: today strasbourg is also home to the european union's legislative branch-- the european parliament. but the capital of the european union is, in a sense, split with major administrative centers in brussels and luxembourg city, as well as strasbourg. murphy: there's a little bit of a struggle about where the future of this will go. there's an enormous expense right now associated with running back and forth between brussels and strasbourg. indeed, many of the parliamentary committees meet in brussels.
then they have to get on a train with their tons of documents and get on over to strasbourg for their formal parliamentary meetings. so it's an issue before europe of how much this is worth. but, of course, there are political and cultural interests vested in this. ( speaking french ) translator: strasbourg is on the border between germany and france, and for centuries, the city has been caught in the middle of conflicts between the two nations, and reconciliation between them has passed by strasbourg. since we have so few symbols in europe, strasbourg is surely an appropriate symbol of unification and peace. and the parliament would be crazy not to take advantage of the possibilities of this town as its seat. even if the european union remains simply an economic union,
it has already achieved a lot. but if it remains only economic, if it does not enter into the hearts of the people, if there is no common belief, it will run aground. narrator: these cultural foundations will be crucial to the success of the european union. translator: i am from naples, and i am completely, thoroughly neapolitan. yet i have decided to spend my life in strasbourg. i will spend all my life here. it feels good here. i have a lot of friendhe, and this environment, the european atmosphere, which is so much a part of strasbourg, suits me perfectly. narrator: further economic unification continued in 2002 with the adoption of a common currency, the euro. but, as economic, political and cultural unification proceeds, will the europeans be able to maintain their national and cultural identities? many still feel themselves to be french, and many still feel themselves to be german
on either side of the international boundary. strasbourg, as we were talking about earlier, has always had a little bit of an in-between position with respect to that. but what this does is... the recent developments help to reinforce that in-between position. and i think, probably, although it's difficult to get survey evidence to show this, it tends to make people think more in terms of, not even so much necessarily local alsatian terms, but in terms of multiple levels of identity in which europe is one of them. narrator: and how do these multiple levels of identity translate to a self-image for the people who live in border regions such as alsace? translator: we are alsatian, and we are proud to be. but we are also proud to be french, and i hope we will soon be proud to be european. narrator: as one of the capitals of a new, united europe, strasbourg symbolizes an increasingly important concept:
that of supranationalism, as embodied by the european union. it is an idea that transcends cultural and national definitions of state territory. as boundaries allow more fluid movement, perceptions of state identity may become more fluid as well. in the final analysis, europe's supranationalism seeks to enhance how european places interact with each other and how europe, as a region, can most effectively interact with the world. europe has seen increasing supranationalism through organizations like the european union. however, at the same time, certain countries in the region have split apart-- a process called "devolution." though former yugoslavia dissolved into bitter war, its neighbor, czechoslovakia, separated peacefully into the czech and slovak republics. our focus is on the slovak republic.
we'll see that this young country still struggles with border disputes, ethnic tensions and economic development issues connected to its communist past and its independent future. thirty miles east of vienna lies a nation that is barely beyond its first decade of existence. the slovak republic-- or slovakia-- only came into being on january 1, 1993, with the breakup of the old czechoslovakian federation. french geographer ewa kulesza is exploring how boundary issues have affected the people of this young east central european country. located only three miles from the austrian border, slovakia's capital, bratislava, already possesses a long frontier history which starts with the danube. it was the northern limit of the roman empire.
then, having fallen under hungarian domination during the ninth century, bratislava, then named pozsony, lay at the limits of the territory. later, pozsony became pressburg and marked the border of the two halves of the austro-hungarian empire. finally, pressburg became bratislava when, in 1918, the first czechoslovakian state was forged. but one war and a few years later, the old castle still saw another frontier pass at its feet-- the iron curtain. then, in its turn, this last empire fell in 1989. ( man speaking slovak ) translator: at a certain point, the czech political class decided that it would suit them better if slovakia became independent, thus to create a barrier to the ukraine and the balkans. they thought that this would allow their economy
to conform more easily to western european norms. concurrently, a group of slovak leaders felt that the economic restructuring program proposed by the czechs was not very advantageous for slovakia. this was how, following the 1992 elections, the new prime ministers, vaclav klaus for the czech republic and vladimir meciar for slovakia, decided that the two federal states must separate peacefully. ( speaking slovak ) ( cheers and applause ) the slovaks always felt that they were treated as second-class citizens within czechoslovakia. they thought it was supposed to be an equal union, and they felt that the czechs looked down upon them, and th didn't like that. that's part of the driving force for separating. it became... it helped slovak national self-esteem
by having their own country and feeling like they had total governance over themselves. narrator: the so-called "velvet divorce" announced, the territory still had to be divided. for two years, a bilateral commission worked to determine the true line of the border. this line follows approximately the historic limitations of the ancient czech and slovak federal republics. ( speaking french ) translator: so, there's the border. kulesza ( translated ): this border corresponds more or less to an ancient historic line. but, you can see that a border is a physical reality that is set out meter by meter, with very real consequences for people. borders are where we as human beings decide that we want to place them. and we change them and we change them every so often-- decades, sometimes it takes centuries-- but they're not what often people think as natural,
you know, that somehow... that they're supposed to be there. borders are really human constructs. narrator: in the village of sidonia, the little stream which defines the border meanders so much that it was decided to use the road as the dividing line. ( speaking slovak ) translator: here, for example, the border takes the center line of the road. the family's house lies on the czech side of the road, while their outhouses are located on the slovak side. but you must understand that this situation arose as a result of a will to compromise in order to facilitate the lives of the village people. ( woman speaking czech ) translator: i've lived on the czech side. i've always lived there, and when i saw barriers at the end of the road, i cried. why is it like this? who wanted it? why did those people up there decide to separate the people?
it's really awful! narrator: along with such local concerns, larger economic and political challenges are to be found along slovakia's borders. the gabcikovo dam rises over the danube river on the boundary between slovakia and its southern neighbor, hungary. begun in 1977, this was one of the last gigantic construction projects undertaken by the communist regime. a joint venture between hungary and czechoslovakia, this immense hydroelectric project has become an inherited source of conflict. white: the idea was that they would divert water from the danube river through turbines to generate hydroelectric energy. but at the same time, it was potentially environmentally destructive. it would move 97% of the water from the danube river through a concrete channel that could then be run through the turbines.
hungarian scientists began to realize that there would be vast environmental consequences-- pollution of groundwater tables, even surface water would be polluted. it could potentially destroy habitat for animals. and there was another issue that downriver from the dam is budapest, a city of 2 1/2 million people. in time, hunrians, through street protests, et cetera pressured their own government to slow down on their... their half of the project, so that by late 1980s, the hungarians only had completed roughly ten percent of their project, where the slovaks had pushed ahead, actually, and were almost 90% done. so this started to cate tensions between the two countries. with the hungarians not wanting it to go through and... and stopping, the slovaks came up with an option to just completely finish the dam and the whole project on their side of the boundary.
kulesza ( translated ): it has produced a tangled web of unresolved ecological, political and legal problems with the southern neighbor. the two countries have applied to the international court of justice at the hague to resolve this dispute by peaceful means. this is not the balkans, this is central europe. the hungarians accuse the slovaks of having displaced the border between the two countries by a few hundred meters. narrator: in 1997, the court ruled that both parties must work to negotiate a new solution to their conflict. the gabcikovo hydropower plant is operational, but issues of water control along the border continue to be a hostile point between the two countries. another legacy of slovakia's communist past is its flagging economy. as part of czechoslovakia, its orientation was east, its economy tied to the soviet union. since separation, slovakia has lagged behind the czech republic, due in part to its eastern location
and lack of infrastructure. the czech half of the country was more industrialized. and without that half, the slovak part of it has languished more economically, especially since the czech part of the country, if you look at a map of europe, is much closer to the industrialized part of western europe. the czech republic is in a good position in terms of import and export. the distances are quite short. slovakia ends up being farther away. bratislava is very close to vienna and budapest, and is probably prospering more than the eastern parts of the country, which now seem very far away for ankind of german investment or french investment. just... they... they won't invest in factories in the eastern part of slovakia just because of transportation problems, communication problems, lack of infrastructure. countries bordering, you know, countries of the european union-- very industrialized-- have prospered quite nicely, but the eastern halves of the country
haven't received the kind of investment that the western portions of the country have. narrator: slovakia initially applied for european union membership in 1995, eager for the economic and political benefits this alliance provides. membership approval is expected early this century. the e delay in membership can be attributed in part to both slovakia's languishing economy and ongoing ethnic tensions. the area north of the danube is home to 560,000 hungarians, about ten percent of slovakia's population. generally speaking, the two ethnic groups get along on a local level. ( speaking slovak ) translator: actually, the population of the village is 63% hungarian and 37% slovak. there are no problems of coexistence between these simple people. here, primary schools exist for each community. the parents are free to choose, but two-thirds of the children go to the slovak school.
( speaking hungarian ) translator: i am hungarian with some german blood as well. we hungarians do not have any problems with the slovaks. it is the politicians who want to turn us against one another. ( speaking slovak ) translator: i've got nothing against the hungarians, even if i am a slovak. narrator: however, differences, both political and cultural, do exist. when the hungarian minority go to the polls, it unanimously votes for more or less independent leaders. one of them provides this assessment of the problems of slovak hungarians. only 2.9% of hungarians in slovakia have higher education, and with... with such a small intelligentsia, you can... you cannot build your future in the long run.
narrator: there are also mixed signals from the local slovak populace. ( speaking slovak ) translator: i have a cousin who emigrated to the united states. his children were born in america, and so they are american. when one is born in a country, one takes the nationality of that country, no? so why are the hungarians who were born in slovakia not slovaks? they were born in slovakia, they are slovaks, and that's the end of it! independent slovakia made many hungarians nervous within slovakia. they felt better in a bigger czechoslovak state, where they felt that the government in prague, which was the government for czechoslovakia-- they would be treated more fairly in that kind of government. in a newly independent slovakia, they felt like they were a minority in a country where the dominant people, now the slovaks, had historical grievances against them and they didn't have the czechs anymore to appeal to.
narrator: during the communist era, the totalitarian system tried to deal with nationality problems by denying them. but they never went away. in a country in the process of adapting to a market economy, there is often the temptation to designate scapegoats in order to mask real problems. ( speaking slovak ) translator: it doesn't make any difference if you're hungarian or slovak. that's not the problem. the real problem-- i'll tell you what it is. it's the gypsies! ( speaking slovak ) translator: miss, i'm going to tell you the truth. we have nothing! we are slovakian gypsies, and here, everybody hates us! white: it's hard, once you have conflict. one issue leads into another issue-- old competitions between people, such as slovaks not having been happy living in hungary finally get their own country, and you think there's going to be peace-- although, of course, boundaries weren't drawn to people's satisfaction,
so there's a lingering antagonism there. majorities that become minorities and minorities that become majorities, the tables become turned, and it's hard for people to let bygones be bygones, so discrimination might now... might continue but in reverse. and then you get modern issues coming along like building a dam, which you would think should be around the issues of energy and... and self-sufficiency in energy. but in europe, they get wrapped up in these old ethnic disputes, where one group feels that they never really received justice, and now a new issue is coming along, and they see this not only as a contemporary problem of building a dam, but a... a way of the other side grinding an ax or getting back at them. narrator: resolving these ethnic difficulties will be of vital importance in slovakia's future. ( speaking french ) translator: the most remarkable impression this journey leaves is of the strength of the slovak national sentiment. it remains for this national sentiment
to find its balance in the fast-changing europe left by the collapse of the communist regimes. narrator: since independence, slovakia has struggled with a number of difficult questions stemming from its communist past. these include: born of the forces of devolution, slovakia is poised to reap the benefits of supranationalism as it makes its way through the 21st century.