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The Dividing Border Line

Updated on March 10, 2012
Friendly or hostile, simple or complex, borders between countries make an interesting study.
Friendly or hostile, simple or complex, borders between countries make an interesting study.
Hadrian Wall
Hadrian Wall
The Great Wall of China
The Great Wall of China

The Dividing Line

The World today might be termed a global village. However, borders between countries continue to exist, with their role redefined.

In early civilization, territories were demarcated by borders which asserted ownership and restricted freedom. Fortified borders signified authority while offering protection against enemy attacks. The Romans built the Hadrian's Wall in England to protect themselves against the Scottish tribes. the Great Wall of China too served a similar purpose.

Borders assumed greater significance when European explorers began discovering new lands in the Americas, Asia and Africa. As the race to conquer these lands intensified, cartographers and surveyors were specially recruited to demarcate borders and draw maps.

For a long time geographical features such as mountains, rivers and forest that provide a natural barrier served as borders between countries. But with advancement in transport and communication these natural borders no longer served the purpose. By the beginning of 20th Century precise political maps demarcating territories began to divide the world.


Crossing the Limits

The breach of boundary by another nation is perceived as a mark of aggression and has often triggered battles. It was the root cause of all the major wars of the last century including the two World Wars, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Gulf War, and the Kargil War.

Hostility among neighboring nations gets starkly reflected along the border and the people living there usually have to bear the brunt of it. Borders between unfriendly nations are usually heavily guarded and are often separated by a buffer or demilitarized zone such as that between North and South Korea.

India has unresolved border issues with China and Pakistan and their boundaries often witness skirmishes endangering the lives of people living along the border. The border between extremely hostile countries like Israel and Lebanon is demarcated by UN- recognized Blue Line which is essentially a closed border.


Netherlands and Belgium Border Line
Netherlands and Belgium Border Line
Derby Line (US and Canada Border)
Derby Line (US and Canada Border)
Wagah Border (India & Pakistan Border) Ceremony
Wagah Border (India & Pakistan Border) Ceremony

Two in One

The towns in Baarle- Nassau in Netherlands and Baarle- Hertog in Belgium are so deeply intertwined that it is not uncommon to find the white crosses that divide the two countries running through a road, a restaurant or even a house!

The border is so complicated that within some pockets of Belgium there are some Dutch enclaves.

Many homes are cut in half by the border, so as a matter of convention, each household nationality is determined by the location of its front door. When Dutch laws required restaurants to close earlier, clients would simply shift to the Belgian side.

The two countries share the work of maintaining the town. The Belgians take responsibility of electricity and telephones while the Dutch supply gas and water. The police forces of the two countries work from one office! This bizarre state of affairs is a result of a number of complex treaties and land deeds dating back to medieval times.

Derby Line, Vermont (US) and Stanstead, Quebec (Canada) are locked together by geography. Hence there are two languages - English and French, two currencies and two different ways of measuring distance and temperatures in what appears to be a single town!

Most families have members on both sides of the boundary. The Haskell Free Library and 106 year old Opera House straddle the international boundary and are shared by both towns. Drinking water is pumped from wells in Canada, stored in reservoir in the US and distributed through a system maintained by the Canadians!

The twin towns El Paso (US) and Juarez (Mexico) share the peculiar complexity of a divide between a developed and developing world. Many Mexican women cross over the heavily militarized border to give birth in the US - to ensure American citizenship their baby !

The life of the people along Indo-Bangladesh border is quite complicated. Each day hundreds of farmers go through stringent security checks to cross over to their farms on the other side. An identity proof is a must.

The Wagah border that lies on the Grand Trunk Road connecting Amritsar and Lahore is the only road crossing between India and Pakistan. The village was dividing during Partition and has served as a barometer of relations between the two countries. Every evening thousands of tourists throng the Wagah border to witness the retreat ceremony. The atmosphere is akin to a cricket match between the two arch rivals - troops trying to outdo each other through energetic parades complete with jingoistic slogan - shouting.

In last few years, Wagah has also served as a trade route between India and Pakistan.

Wagah Border (India - Pakistan) Closing Ceremony

No Holds Barred

There are many cases where people live in harmony with their neighbors, mostly oblivious to the line separating them.

Members of European Union have open borders allowing free movement of the people with very few restrictions. Thanks to the Schengen Agreement, one doesn't need any special travel documents to cross over to another EU country.

Citizens of Australia and New Zealand can work and live in either country without any restrictions. South American countries like Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, etc. have an open border policy among them. India too shares an open border with Nepal.


Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany
Berlin Wall separating East and West Germany

Trivia

  • Switzerland and Italy are set to redraw their borders thanks to global warming which is causing rapid melting of Alpine glaciers.
  • Sweden and Finland share the smallest sea island between them. The 33KM2 Market Island is divided in a peculiar way to accommodate a Finnish lighthouse that was inadvertently built on Swedish side.
  • The Berlin Wall that separated the East and West Germany epitomized the Iron Curtain - a boundary between the 'Free World' and the 'Communist World'

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