|Subject: Border stories|
on May 1st ten new countries will join the European Union, which will then extend from Hungary in the east to Scotland in the west, and from the Polar Circle to the southern beaches of Cyprus, for a total population of over 400 millions. While I, as a traveller and a citizen of the world, am happy to welcome our new fellow citizens, there's a note of melancholy in it. Tomorrow will be the last day of the border with which I've lived all my life, never more far than 5 miles from it, except on holidays.
Trieste, tucked into the northernmost tip of the Adriatic sea, is almost surrounded by the state border with former Yugoslavia, now Slovenia. The border runs less than 5 miles from the sea, across the wooden hills just off the outskirts of town. Following the European modern history after 1945, the border was first the last outpost of Western civilization against the so-called red hordes. Half the Italian army was within 50 miles from it then, and NATO put heavy air forces within close reach. Things softened after Yugoslavia becoming neutral, but till the 70's we lived in a sort of limbo, as Yugoslavia had no dispute against Italy then, but with an ever-present sensation of uneasiness and no clear vision of the future. Due to the history and the WWII atrocities, it was always us and them, even when the economy did the miracle and the border was perforated by a myriad of little trades: we crossed the line to buy there meat products and car fuel, cheaper than in Italy, they came to Trieste in their funny cars shopping for goods not available in their country, like coffee and jeans. The language barrier became less rigid, as the laws of trade forced to learn and to speak to make business. On Saturdays the streets of my town were lined by foreign-plated cars and crowds of people coming as far as Bosnia and Montenegro filled the cheap open-air markets.
But the border was still there, even if crisscrossed by thousands of people; you still could get arrested, or even shot, for stepping over the line in the neck of the woods or on a grassy field. I regret not having made it to Cold-War Berlin to see the Wall and Checkpoint Charlie before the fall, but I vividly remember myself, on an icy and sunny winter Sunday on the top of a steep hill, sitting this side of the line, while a bored-looking young Yugoslavian soldier, toting an AK47 machine gun, was eyeing me from a few feet, maybe hoping I'd jump across (it was told they would had got a home leave if they had caught someone). Borders are fascinating though, the only idea of a line drawn across an even countryside to separe two countries, two peoples and, in our case, two opposite political systems.
Then, in 1991, we discovered nothing was going to be like before anymore: Yugoslavia sent its tanks to the border (we saw and heard them) to fight Slovenia's independence, then dissolved in a heartbeat. The Balkans retroceded more than 500 kms from here, and we discovered out of our door the Slovenians, an European population just like us, with modern technologies and late-model cars, money to spend in our fashion shops and a fast-growing economy. The the border became just a nuisance, a place to queue up on your way to better things, the document checking no more than a quick glance and a wave from the once-feared policeman. Now this border will remain for a couple of years, pending the full integration into Schengen's agreement for free circulation, but it has lost its meaning of barrier and place of imagination. A sweet price to pay for integration, but please let me keep my memories of us border people, strangers even to our fellow Italians.
Bye Paolo Trieste, Italy, Europe