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Do barriers need to burn again?

, by Leonie Martin, Stéphane du Boispéan

All the versions of this article: [Deutsch] [English]

What remains 65 years after the “attack” on the French-German border riot and 25 years of Schengen


On June 14, 1985, Luxembourg, France, Germany, Belgium and the Netherlands agreed upon the gradual reduction of border controls. Now, 26 countries and more than 400 million citizens belong to the Schengen Area. Almost 1.25 million people travel inside the Schengen Area across borders every year. The abolition of border controls ran in parallel with a closer cooperation of national police authorities and a tight control of the external borders. “The creation of the Schengen Area is one of the biggest achievements of the European Union – and it is irreversible”, declared the EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs, and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos [last year, note translator]. He continues: ”On a continent where nations once shed blood to defend their territories, today borders only exist on maps”

Europeans, dig out the choppers!

The sawing and burning of toll gates at the German-French border between St Germanshof and Wissembourg on August 6, 1950 is remembered today as an early, militant and yet very anticipatory sign of the federalist youth. This action has shaped the founding myth of the “Bund Europäischer Jugend (BEJ)” and thus the Young European Federalists in Germany. The action took place barely five years after the end of World War II, its violence and its destruction.

Nonetheless, approximately 300 Europeans from seven different countries gathered in 1950 to demand a united Europe and to overcome the fixed borders between the nation states and, eventually, the mental borders in people’s heads . The action showed: One is no longer a foreigner or a potential enemy, but a fellow European citizen.

Symbolism meets Activism

To implement these demands symbolically, members of the federalist movement plan a secret action. On the eve of the action two groups meet in Strasbourg (France) and Heidelberg (Germany) to finalise the planning. August 6 is the day: some journalists join. Only one person per group knows the exact location of the action. Just think of the incredible tension under which everyone departs. The activists occasionally stop, giving an opportunity for the group leaders to explain the next part of the action to their group. Our activists carry the European and federalist flag with them. Tension grows when the groups approach the border. Weiler is the last station for the French side, whereas, a few kilometers further, in Germany, they stop in Niederschlettenbach. The activists now realise that the border crossing in St. Germanshof is the destination, a border protected by three customs officers.When the action starts, these officers find themselves surrounded by people coming from seven countries. One of the activists simulates a dizzy spell to distract the attention of the officers.

That’s when it really starts: Hammers and saws are taken out of the cars, and are used to ’attack’ the border post. The customs officers don’t react any longer. Our activists have peacefully taken over the border crossing and do what seemed to be impossible at that time: They cross the border from France to Germany and vice versa without having to apply for a visa, and without having to show a travel document.Both the toll gates and the border signs are carried as trophies and are burnt later on. The activists dance and celebrate the symbolical relief.

No new internal borders!

With this action our predecessors wanted to call attention to the uselessness of internal borders within Europe. The recent developments show that this action remains meaningful until today. Many EU Member States have installed temporary border controls because of the refugee crisis, amongst which Germany. This stands in contrast to the Treaties’ original idea of solidarity and co-operation amongst the Member States and should therefore be rejected. We want a functional and effective external border according to the Schengen Agreement which makes internal borders superfluous. The actions of our trailblazers of 1950 should not have been in vain.

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This article has been published in German in treffpunkt.europa (01/2015) by Stéphane du Boispéan, Tilmann Hartung, Malte Steuber and Ophélie Omnes (http://www.jef.de/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2015/10/TP_2015-01.pdf); and in the webzine treffpunkteuropa.de (2011) by Stéphane du Boispéan, as published on http://www.treffpunkteuropa.de/Die-Schlagbaume-mussen-brennen.Translated by Leonie Martin