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São Paulo and Paris

text by Paulo Kassab Jr.

"Are there still borders? More than ever. Each street has its own. Between each lot is a piece of land that belongs to no one, hidden by the bush or a ditch. Anyone who dares to go there will fall into a trap or get hit by laser beams. Every home owner, or even tenant, displays his name on the door sign as if it were a shield, and studies the newspaper as if he was its on estate. (...) here, each individual is a state of his or her own. And these states are mobile. Each one carries his own with him and demands a toll when the other one wants to enter his borders" Wings of Desire, 1987 - Wim Wenders.


With the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the world would finally be able to become the long-awaited "global village". Some even spoke of the end of history. Since the late 1980s the trend toward globalization has intensified significantly. Trade barriers have gradually been removed under the impetus of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, the World Trade Organization, and the creation of vast free spaces. Exchange has facilitated the movement of goods and people, and the emergence of new information technologies has allowed the globalization of communication and the transmission of ideas.


These fundamental developments that structure the world to this day were, however, accompanied by contrary phenomena, less visible at first glance but equally important, including that of relative fragmentation. The most visible symbol of this latter event is the silent multiplication of dividing walls, in steel or concrete, in different places on the planet. According to Michel Foucher, there are now 17 international walls, covering 7,500 kilometers, or 3% of current borders.


The construction of walls is not a new phenomenon. As early as the 4th century BC, Alexander the Great erected a wall to keep out the barbarians, between the Caucasus mountains and the shores of the Caspian Sea. The Great Wall of China of the Qin Dynasty, begun in the 3rd century BC, functioned for several centuries. Other historical examples, such as Hadrian's Roman Wall, the Atlantic Wall, the Pedron or Morice lines, even the Maginot line, can also be cited. All these walls served primarily a defensive function, in the military sense of the term. The main purpose was to oppose, on the very borders of a controlled territory, a possible attack by clearly identified enemy troops.


What is new in the 20th and 21st centuries is that physical obstacles to trade have multiplied, as we have become more mobile, physical barriers have been erased, and the "end of territories" has become a reality. The paradox is only apparent. In reality, the temptation of walls seems for many to be a more or less effective and credible response to certain "new" challenges generated by globalization (terrorism, poverty, immigration, inequality). Can we, however, lump all walls into one category? What are the new threats for which certain walls should provide a solution? How effective are they really? What do they reveal about the state of our world and our societies?


The walls, both real, virtual or psychological, try to offer what Heidegger called "a reassuring image of the world," in which everyone must exist according to a model, a single socio-psychic integration. Thus, in many situations, exclusion stems mainly from identity conflicts and the violence they can involve. The walls make explicit a reality of the world reduced to a clear distinction between "us" and the others", between inside and outside, between friend and foe. Between the good and the bad side of the wall, between known and unknown, between rich and poor, between safe and risky, between desired and undesired. In this sense, the wall marks the asymmetry, materializes the difference and the imbalance produced by a separation that is often desired and suffered. Indeed, "the wall always runs along a line of imbalance, failure of globalization, imbalance of wealth, imbalance of power" (Ritaine, 2009).

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