Out of Europe
Nelly Bekus (Belarus) on the new European borders.
The question we are most frequently asked when we are abroad is probably: 'Where are you from?'
In itself, the question is worth of note, it serves to show that in meetings the somebody we are , is never a 'self-sufficient being', that our cultural settings are required to position us. By answering 'where we are from' , we are supposed to give an idea of this kind of background. But here, in the Netherlands , my answer was totally useless in this sense: hardly anybody has ever heard the name of the country on the cover of my passport ever before. People genuinely did not know where to place Belarus on a map and, consequently, to what pattern of cultural milieu to refer my 'individual self'. Thus, I found myself being from the country which does not exist in this part of Europe. The country I am from could not 'support' my presence, but rather, I myself 'brought it to existence' in a performative statement by answering 'where I am from'.
In a bookstore in Amsterdam I have seen the book entitled The End of Europe'. It was the collection of photographs made by a Dutch photographer who travel led along the new EU border. The meaning of this title seemed to me 'bifrontal'. It territorialized new EU members as if accomplishing their symbolic incorporation into Europe. But for those who live to the East of Poland it sounded as a sentence which decisively put them outside the confines of Europe. Ukrainian writer Yuri Andruhovych once said regarding the new border, that he felt as if he 'is being kicked out kicked out of his own home', as if he is not allowed 'to enter certain rooms of his home without prior permission'. '(Alter Ego, Twenty Confronting Views on the European Experience, Salome, Amsterdam 2004)
Surely, I am very well aware of a crucial political reasoning leading to the articulation of the
institutional sense of Europe being divided in a new way. Countries like Belarus that violate human rights and suppress the freedom of media and any displays of independent thinking can hardly be considered as 'a tablemate' of Europe. In a way, the border itself is a reaction to the Belarusian Authorities' manners and a way to work on it. However, while the walling of the border can be seen as a political instrument, the only hope for banishing this division in the future may be through crossborder cultural exchanges, artistic and educational practices. With cases like Belarus, this is perhaps the only way to avoid complete isolation. Otherwise, many people in the East of Europe will be left homeless. They will remain residents of non-existing European countries.
Nelly Bekus essayist, publicist from Belarus, has been invited to spend one year in Amsterdam as writer in residence 2004-2005 by the Foundation Amsterdam City of Asylum.