15.01.2010: Radio Free Europe – “Traveling Down the Old Steppe Border” interview with Alina Mungiu-Pippidi

Radio Free Europe, January 15, 2010

‘Where does Europe end after all?’, we asked SAR President Alina Mungiu Pippidi.

Alina Mungiu Pippidi : …There are numerous opinions, geographers have their opinions, historians may have their opinions, no, artists can have their own opinions, anthropologists can come along with other opinions, and so on and so forth, yet, unfortunately, in this day and age, the political answer to this question has garnered great importance;  the answer to ‘where does Europe end?’ has made some find themselves in a shared Europe, which is the Europe of all freedoms, while others are finding themselves beyond ‘the wall’ and this has rather dramatic consequences on each and everyone’s fate.

What kind of border regions does the film explore?

Alina Mungiu Pippidi : Our film travels on what has been deemed Europe’s old steppe border, so in reality we didn’t travel to Europe’s geographic borders, which is somewhere along the Ural Mountains, but went down the historic border, the steppe border, which starts north of the Black Sea, from the old Genovese citadels that were once there and goes up to… north of Khotin, to the region called Transcarpathian. So the old steppe border has become today’s Schengen border.

Coincidence or historic determination?

Alina Mungiu Pippidi : …our conclusions indicate that the border was drawn here because the Cold War which we say is over and which we celebrated with such pump, is only over for some: those who find themselves west of this border, as us Romanians, can regard themselves winners of the Cold War; those stuck on the east side, because of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, mostly Moldavians or Ukrainians, are those who lost the Cold War.

The film’s presentation also shows that the eastern neighbors of the European Union, such as Moldova, are the losers of this expansion, and don’t show too many prospects in getting any closer to the European Union. Is this true?

Alina Mungiu Pippidi : It’s true. The European Union simply doesn’t have a policy and hasn’t taken care of… The European Union attends to its own problems and has been doing a pretty good job at helping immediately surrounding countries, but it hasn’t gotten round to taking care of issues that are still open and that are a direct consequence of the Cold War and Stalin’s politics…. To name but two examples featured in our film: Trans-Dniester and Crimea. These two regions, Crimea is a sort of future Trans-Dniester, these are regions that Russia can use to forever undermine the state independence of new countries, such as Moldova and Ukraine.

How did you come up with the idea for the film?

Alina Mungiu Pippidi : The film’s idea is very old for me. I traveled after the 1991 Moscou coup, I traveled to these countries as they began to form… and that’s when I met these people, already dizzied by the number of countries they’d lived in over the past fifty to sixty years. Along the entire border, there are people who never moved out of their village, yet lived in three or four different countries during the twentieth century. The film has two parts: the first part is “how hard it is to maintain an identity on the border and how arbitrarily are borders generally drawn.” The second part of this idea is: how dramatic it is, “what are the consequences of these randomly-assigned borders, once they’ve been assigned.” How your destiny can be completely different, depending on whether you’re situated to the left or to the right of the border. I’m a professor in Berlin, and if I move to Oxford these days, I’m a Romanian and have connections in Romania. My cousins live in Kazakhstan and don’t speak Romania. This is simply because within our Bessarabian family, we were more quick-footed during the final 48 hours of the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact, we left behind all we had, we left it all there, and moved to Romania. They stayed, thinking they could somehow get along with the Soviet Union and got deported to Kazahstan. This was the deciding factor behind the fact that today, my brother and I are Europeans, while our cousins are people who live in Kazakhstan and have had their connections with Europe severed forever.

An interview by Ileana Giurchescu (Radio Free Europe, January 2010)

Photo: Cetatea Alba/ Bilhorod-Dnistrovskyi (Ukraine)

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