Friday, 25 January 2008


It could be any story about borders, but it serves to prompt musings on what it means to be in one country or another.

Egypt moves to seal Gaza border

The border in that case was marked out by a very physical barrier, but the boundaries of a country exist, surely, as information. If you stand here you are in Egypt. Walk a couple of yards and you are in the Gaza Strip (which, so wikipedia tells me, is "not recognized internationally as part of any sovereign country").

As a child, during the cold war, I lived for some time in West Germany and later in Berlin. You couldn't help but ponder what was going on when you looked at the East-West borders. In way, though the Berlin wall is more famous, the border in rural Germany was, for me, the most baffling. I remember walking in the Harz Mountains and coming to the border. From hill, you looked across at identical rolling woodland on either side of a couple of fences. What's different about standing on one side or the other? Well, somewhere there exist documents that say that if my coordinates are these I am under the jurisdiction (whatever that means) of the FRG, but if my coordinates are these I am under the GDR. Then what comes next depends on lots of other documents, things like passports and permits, international treaties - lots of information which determines where I am allowed to be and what can and will be done to me if I am somewhere I shouldn't be.

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