The Walls of Belarus

The AP paints a picture of division in a village split between Belarus and Lithuania called Pyatskuny/Norviliskes. The division is measured by security controls:

To travel there, she would have to journey 90 miles to the nearest Lithuanian consulate, wait in line for several days, pay about $90 for a visa (almost her entire monthly pension), travel 60 miles north to a border checkpoint and another 60 miles south before finally arriving in Norviliskes.

That sounds inefficient and bureaucratic, but not terribly harmful. The story is supposed to be shocking, it seems, and thus emphasizes how unique and strange things are for the village:

This is the only border village that is cut in two. As under Soviet rule, border guards and secret service agents keep tabs on everyone in the border region, and those traveling here from elsewhere in Belarus need permission.

A quick search on the Internet finds a village called Bil’in where land was cut 60/40 between Israelis and Palestinians with a fence in-between. I would guess there are dozens if not hundreds of villages that have faced similar border issues.

Anyway, back to the spotlight on Belarus a “plain clothes police” escort description is surely meant to give you chills too:

Three men in leather jackets who introduced themselves as border guards accompanied two journalists throughout a recent visit. Some villagers said they were afraid to speak in the men’s presence

Beware men in leather jackets, eh? I think you are supposed to be afraid to speak in the presence of law enforcement. That is probably a universal issue, even if they read you Miranda rights and explain to you how to be careful.

The article about Israel’s village says agents mingled with protesters to the point where they actually threw stones at uniformed police too, which Israel claimed was necessary for the agents to “fit-in”. I find that more disturbing than leather jacketed men who introduce themselves as border guards.

Oh wait, did I mention the village of Szelmenc? Ukraine and Slovakia split that village into two parts. Pictures show relatives yelling across the border to communicate with each other. Anyway, back to the AP’s story of the “only border village that is cut in two”:

Elderly villagers joke that they have lived in three countries without ever leaving home. Once part of Poland, the village was taken over by the Soviet Union in 1939, which gave one half to Belarus and the other to Lithuania.

After the Soviet collapse in 1991, the border with Lithuania became an international one, but travel rules remained relatively lax and Belarusian villagers were able to cross over to the Lithuanian side on religious holidays.

Then, in 2004, Lithuania joined the EU and NATO, and required visiting Belarusians to have visas, since it had become part of the EU’s border-free zone.

This goes back to my post on Catherine II’s Tolerance Edict of 1773 that was meant to make her look “tolerant” to her supporters, although she actually divided families and accelerated high tensions in Europe through careless and forced emigration policies.

Not to diminish the problems, but the history and perspective of villages divided is sorely lacking from the AP story. I wish they had been more descriptive and less sensationalistic.

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