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Uncertain Borders in the Post-Soviet Space

Introduction
Anna Colin Lebedev, Amandine Regamey and Ioulia Shukan

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  • 1 R. Synovitz, “Explainer: The Budapest Memorandum And Its Relevance To Crimea”, Radio Free Europe/Ra (...)

1"Ukraine's border is sacred and untouchable," reads a sign in a border garrison in the Chernivtsy region of western Ukraine. Sacred and untouchable? The news coming out of Ukraine seems to indicate the opposite. Though protected by a specific international agreement1, the Ukrainian border was brutally redrawn with the annexation of Crimea by Russia in March 2014. Immediately after, the armed conflict that erupted in Donbass deprived Kyiv of its control on almost four hundred kilometres of borders in eastern Ukraine.

2The Ukrainian situation is not unique in the region. Post-Soviet borders offer a particularly rich and complex picture, rooted in Russian and Austro-Hungarian imperial history, as well as in the consequences of the two world Wars and of Soviet Union’s foreign policy. With the disintegration of the Soviet Union, local wars on the periphery led to the formation of unrecognized states and disputed borders. More recently, with the EU’s eastward enlargement, these problematic boundaries have become the external borders of the European Union.

  • 2 S. Dullin, La frontière épaisse. Aux origines des politiques soviétiques (1920-1940), Paris, Éditio (...)

3The management of these borders currently involves multiple actors at different levels: international organizations, nation-states, the administrative authorities of de facto states, regional and local authorities, and informal actors. Indeed, behind a seemingly fixed line of separation, these boundaries are, in fact, living entities and producers of social dynamics. These frontiers remain "thick borders", to use a term coined by Sabine Dullin2, who insists that Soviet borders were not mere lines, but invested spaces, places of confrontation and cooperation between different actors.

  • 3 C. Gousseff, Échanger les peuples : le déplacement des minorités aux confins polono-soviétiques, Pa (...)
  • 4 FIDH, Assessing human rights protection in Eastern European disputed and conflict entities, 2014, h (...)

4These borders are also part of peoples’ experiences, often painful historical experiences. Over the last several centuries, an inhabitant of Eastern Europe could be born in one country, grow up in another, die in a third, and yet never leave home. These shifting borders shaped not only place names and memories, but also everyday lives and practices. Establishing, challenging, and guarding borders was inseparable from war, deportation, confinement, imprisonment, population exchanges, as Catherine Gousseff shows in her recent book Echanger les peuples3. The daily life around uncertain borders tells the story of the particular vulnerability of populations, as shown by several recent reports on human rights violations in disputed territories4. In other words, these uncertain borders have an impact on societies and how they are managed by political and power institutions on multiple levels.

5In their empirical study of the formerly Finnish now Russian town of Vyborg and its castle, Jani Karhu and Cloe Wells look at imagined borders of Finland. Situated in the trans-border Karelia region that Finland had to cede to the Soviet Union after World War II, the city and its castle are extremely important to Finnish national narratives, as an outpost of “the Western world against the East” or as “a long-standing symbol of lost Karelia”. The authors trace back the history of Vyborg, analyze its memorialization in Finnish culture, and bring to light a memorial gap between wartime and younger generations.

6In his article, Bastian Sendhardt analyses the impact of the Karta Polaka, a program directed at Polish minorities in the neighbouring Post-Soviet States, and offering them partial yet real inclusion into the Polish welfare state. After having recalled the historical context, he draws on legal documents and minutes of the Polish parliament to explain the rationales behind this program. Such kin-state laws, he argues, redraw boundaries between the categories of “citizenship”, “territory” and “nation”, but also have an impact on the re-definition of both Polish and Schengen borders.

7Ariane Bachelet, Laura-Jane Duquesney and Thomas Merle's article offers a comparative approach of post-Soviet de facto states from the perspective of their borders. The authors emphasize the gap between the formal non-existence of these borders, unrecognized at the international level or at the level of the central state, and their pervasiveness in daily local practices. Fragile but politically and economically structuring, new but often carrying a memory of the old borders, claiming state status but operating on an everyday level without the state, these contested borders that are solidifying in the long term, shape new local dynamics and practices of power.

8In an interview with the issue’s editors, Ukrainian historian Andriï Portnov reflects on the consequences of the 2014 events, the loss of Crimea and the war in the East, for Ukraine. He wonders whether these changes created new divisions within Ukraine and within its society, and analyses their impact on perceived identities, including the representations of Ukrainian regions, and on “imagined borders”. He focuses on the representations of Crimea, clarifies the different meanings of Novorossia, reflects on the Dnipro region and offers an explanation of why certain regions slid into separatism while others did not.

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Notes

1 R. Synovitz, “Explainer: The Budapest Memorandum And Its Relevance To Crimea”, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 28 February 2014, https://www.rferl.org/a/ukraine-explainer-budapest-memorandum/25280502.html (accessed 15 January 2018).

2 S. Dullin, La frontière épaisse. Aux origines des politiques soviétiques (1920-1940), Paris, Éditions de l’EHESS, 2014.

3 C. Gousseff, Échanger les peuples : le déplacement des minorités aux confins polono-soviétiques, Paris, Fayard, 2015.

4 FIDH, Assessing human rights protection in Eastern European disputed and conflict entities, 2014, https://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/rapport_disputed_entities_uk-ld3.pdf (accessed 15 January 2018) ; European Parliament, The frozen conflicts of the EU's Eastern neighbourhood and their impact on the respect of human rights, 2016, http://www.europarl.europa.eu/RegData/etudes/STUD/2016/578001/EXPO_STU%282016%29578001_EN.pdf (accessed 15 January 2018) ; LDH, « États non reconnus, état de fragmentation », Les droits de l'Homme en Europe orientale et dans l’espace post-soviétique, 2017, https://www.ldh-france.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/01/Lettre-Europe_25DEF.pdfn (accessed 15 January 2018).

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References

Electronic reference

Anna Colin Lebedev, Amandine Regamey and Ioulia Shukan, « Uncertain Borders in the Post-Soviet Space », The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies [Online], Issue 18 | 2017, Online since 18 January 2018, connection on 19 February 2018. URL : http://journals.openedition.org/pipss/4405

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About the authors

Anna Colin Lebedev

Université Paris Nanterre

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Amandine Regamey

Université Paris I

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Ioulia Shukan

Université Paris Nanterre

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Copyright

CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

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