New Border Regimes in Central and Eastern Europe

The German-Polish and German-Czech Borders

(Last modified March 2002)

In recent years, citizens of the affluent countries of the European Union have profited from increasingly simplified border formalities in western Europe. The fall of the Berlin Wall, in contrast, was the prelude to a very different functional transformation of Germany's eastern border. For the German authorities, the border security regime in the east has become a means of combating migration and criminality. Now that it is virtually impossible for refugees and immigrants without visas to cross the border legally, illegal entry constitutes the only remaining path to the "golden West". This study is concerned with the current practice of exclusion along the German-Polish and German-Czech borders.

Since the mid nineties, the German authorities have abandoned their former exclusive reliance on linear borders (border crossing points, the Iron Curtain) and begun integrating inhabitants of the German border regions and local social and governmental institutions into search operations for illegal migrants. As a result of this policy, the border regions have become, in effect, taboo zones for refugees and immigrants without residency permits. The aim of this research is to study the experiences, actions, and goals of the groups involved: refugees, the German authorities, and the German residents of these border areas.

Data from a series of interviews conducted in 1998 on the German and Polish sides of the Oder-Neiße border has been utilized to retrace the formation of the various local groups involved and to undertake a comparative analysis of developments on both sides of the border. The German model – referred to by German Minister of the Interior Otto Schily and in the European Union's (EU) 1998 Schengen Report as the border region's "community of solidarity" – was not matched by a similar policy on the Polish side. Although the Polish government has gone to great lengths to adapt its policies to EU standards, in the interests of Poland's candidacy for membership in the EU, and continues to test forms of bilateral cooperation with German authorities, social processes in Poland are characterized by traffic across the border, rather than encapsulation, in keeping with the region's decades-old transnational economic networks.

Developments along the German-Czech border were initially marked by recurring setbacks in authorities' attempts to promote bilateral cooperation. The German-Czech border region did not become an area of threatening search operations for migrants until a refugee route from Kosovo, which supposedly lead to Germany by way of Prague, was highlighted in dramatic media reports. Recent practices by the police and political institutions now focus on the refugees' long travel routes, as well as on illegal border crossings. No longer limited to the border zones, the border regime is now being extended to include these travel routes – from the refugees' places of origin to the residential areas of western European cities.

The project was not completed and will be continued outside of the Institute.