Enis Oktay – CCS PhD Candidate…

From Oncology to Pediatrics: The Infectious Border Economy and the Corporate Border Experience

by Enis Oktay

During the Border Infection event held at Goldsmiths on 22-24 March 2010,  we saw how the border, especially national borders were utilized as instruments of control, as a means of keeping the “infection” – be it people, ideas or cultural values out.  We also saw that the control aspect has another side: the border is not only there for keeping people out, it is also there for deterring the ones who have managed to get in. The constant threat of not renewing visas or work permits and the threat of deportation are used to deter both legal and illegal migrants from engaging in what are regarded as criminal actions or undesirable political activities. For example, in February 2010 there were a series of news articles in die Tageszeitung (a German left-wing daily) about legal migrants in Germany who had become eligible for becoming citizens but whose applications were turned down because of their political engagements and affiliations. In 2002, the German government created an agency for the protection of the constitution (Verfassungsschutz) in the spirit of the post 9/11 environment. Since then, people who apply for German citizenship are being co-examined by this agency and more than 30 applications have been rejected in the last three years on the grounds that the applicants have had undesirable political associations. One of the articles titled “Too Leftist to be German” (Zu links, um deutsch zu sein) was concerning a lady whose parents were British and Italian, so she already had dual EU citizenship. She had grown up in Germany and had spent her adult life there. She was also married to a German citizen. What was peculiar about her case was that her citizenship application was rejected because she was an active member of die Linke (the Leftist Alliance) which actually is one of the elected parties in the federal parliament! Here’s the link to the original article (in German): http://www.taz.de/1/leben/koepfe/artikel/1/zu-links-um-deutsch-zu-sein/

So to repeat, we have already seen two functions of the border: to deliberately keep certain people out, and to deter the ones who have made their way in. But there is another aspect of the border, an aspect of profit and revenue, an economy or industry of the border if you will. What I mean by this is on the one hand unidirectional capital flows from the Third World to the First World in the shape of visa or immigration fees, compulsory travel and/or health insurance policies bought from First World/multinational insurance companies, mandatory return tickets (in cases where the “common carriers” used are based in the First World), and in some cases obligatory bank transfers. For example, the new UK points based immigration policy doesn’t require prospective migrants to open up bank accounts in British banks (either within the UK or their international branches) but certain amounts of money have to be in the applicant’s bank account 28 work days prior to visa application and if the applicant is granted access to the UK she brings the money in one way or another anyway as she spends it there. According to Germany’s immigration policy on the other hand, student applicants are required to open up special accounts in German banks which are then partially blocked so that the student can’t transfer or withdraw the money all at once but is allowed to take out around €600 per month which is the designated monthly amount for subsistence.  Therefore, he/she has to make a down payment of at least one year’s worth of income which equals to 600 x12 = €7,200.  In addition to the macroeconomics of the border there also exist microeconomic responses, hierarchies, and absurdities these (supra)national borders and their regulation via visas engender at the everyday and local (Third World) level in the shape of clientelistic networks that operate materially and immaterially within an informal economy.

Before exploring this micro level, let us go back to the macro level and try to assess the annual revenue some of the “developed” nation-states make from the border economy.  It’s hard to estimate the magnitude of this revenue as such figures are not being made public by governments. Or at least, I couldn’t find them on the internet. Perhaps official reports are being filled and presented to various bureaucratic committees but I wasn’t able to locate them. Nevertheless, here are some figures I was able to find which may shed some light on the mystery: According to the European Commission, Schengen States issued 13 million visas in 2007 (http://ec.europa.eu/justice_home/fsj/freetravel/visa/fsj_freetravel_visa_en.htm). The standard visa application fee was €60 (although this amount varies from country to country as well as according to the type of visa being issued) which makes the total annual revenue of €780 million. But this is much lower than the actual number as it doesn’t include rejected applications (the visa fees are non-refundable so rejection doesn’t mean reimbursement) as well as other capital flows such as mandatory insurance and transportation fees, and wire transfers. In 2009, Ukraine has spent €60 million on Schengen visas while Turkey has spent €450 million. What is striking about the Schengen visa is that contrary to the US’ or the UK’s practice of issuing long-term (2, 5, or 10 years), multiple entry visas (at least to upper class applicants), the Schengen countries tend to issue only single entry and short term visas (the cut-off point is usually the date of the return journey, hence the mandatory return ticket). This practice of making people pay every time they wish to travel to the EU increases the visa revenue significantly. [1] Currently, there are approximately 120 countries – mainly located in Asia, Africa, South America and Oceania – the citizens of which need visas to access the Schengen area, that is, to be able to spend even one legal minute in Fortress Europe. As common visa requirements for airport transit were introduced by the European Union on 5 April 2010, there exist 12 black sheep among these 120 countries (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Somalia, Sri Lanka) the citizens of which are considered potentially harmful so they need visas even to be able to just pass through the Schengen zone.

The citizens of 40 nation-states on the other hand – mainly the non-European members of the G7 (USA, Canada, Japan), tiny European city-states such as Vatican, Monaco or San Marino, rich and industrialized non-European states such as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, Hong Kong (only holders of Hong Kong Special Administrative Region passports) and Israel, as well as the greater economies of central and south America – [2] do not require a visa to enter the Schengen zone and are allowed to stay for the duration of 90 days. Once the official “short term stay” period of 90 days are up, such nationals may re-enter and stay for another three months visa-free as many times as they please provided that they leave the Schengen area physically and come back (this may take place within the same day). Hence, regular travels (every 3 months) back home or to the closest non-Schengen border (for example from France to the UK) enables the privileged owners of such passports to have a full-time and indefinite (yet quarterly interrupted) residence in Europe.[3]

Going back to figures, the UK which has significantly higher immigration fees than the Schengen states has received 2.7 million visa applications in 2006.  If we assume all of those applications were for short term visas (UK’s lowest visa fee: £68), this translates itself into £183.6 million of annual revenue. If, on the other hand, we assume all of those applications were for long term stays (10 years, which requires the highest visa processing fee of £610), then the annual visa revenue becomes £1 billion 647 million. Probably, the actual figure in 2006 was closer to one billion pounds. Recently, UK immigration fees were further increased so that the price of bringing in elderly parents was almost doubled to become £1,900 and a separate 10% charge for each child was introduced. Moreover, the super-rich such as international bankers and professional football players were offered a £15,000 premium visa renewal service which reverses the traditional visa application process as it entails visa officers making appointments and visiting the applicants at their homes or offices. According to The Guardian, Phil Woolas, the Labour government’s immigration minister at the time, justified the sharp increase in immigration and nationality fees which were introduced in April 2010, saying” it was only fair that those who benefited from using the immigration system should help fund it” (http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2010/jan/20/visas-immigration-fees-increase). The advocates of curtailing people’s freedom of movement have been consistently presenting the maintenance of international borders as either serving the purpose of security management (especially after Sep. 11) or of stabilizing the economy so that unemployment stays low and resources can be distributed among a lower number of deserving citizens, i.e. the domestic populace lucky enough to have been born inside the First World borders. Nevertheless, even when right wing policy makers explicitly confess the benefits of maintaining borders for admitting capital and desirable migrants, and for filtering out others, they seldom talk of borders in terms of revenue and profit – as mentioned above even the statistics about how much the First World states annually earn from visa applications are not easy to find if they are made public at all. What is striking about Woolas’ remark, on the other hand, is that it shows a shift of paradigm from emphasis on insulation and deterrence to an emphasis on customer service and mutual benefit, and points towards the discourse of a new privatization and commercialization of the border. This new approach to the border as commercial mechanism is manifest in the new UK visa application system that is part of the transformation the creation of the UK Border Agency has brought about – more on this below.

What is crucial about the macroeconomics of the border industry is that as the First World is presented as some sort of land of promises, the whole system depends on the trick that the visa presents itself as a right – a right to enter and remain for a limited amount of time – rather than what it really is: a privilege that is bought and sold. And given the economic nature of this privilege, which of those who have arrived from the Third World will be granted access to the Promised Land that is the First World is decided by and large according to capital and class.  For example, the new UK points based immigration system dictates that if an overseas student who has no prior UK residence wants to come and study in London, either she or her legal guardians must have approximately £20,000 in their bank account 28 work days prior to the date of application. If the prospective student already has lived in the UK before (i.e. is financially reliable, hence is required to prove only two months’ worth of already existing subsistence funds instead of nine months’) and is going to study outside of London (which means a lower rate of monthly subsistence), she still needs to have £12,000 in her bank account 28 work days prior to her application. If not, the dream of studying in the UK is not a realizable one. Here it is important to remind the reader that according to both IMF’s and World Bank’s 2009 rankings, the annual GDP per capita (nominal) of most of the countries whose citizens require UK visas is well below even one fourth of that required amount. So as the target customers who are supposed to buy the service – the very customers whose being out there (demand) is used by policy makers to justify the existence of the visa/customer service (supply) in the first place – can’t afford to do so; it is only those who are significantly richer than their compatriots residing in the land of the poor that are allowed – albeit temporarily – into the land of the rich.

What is also essential for the maintenance of this restrictive immigration regime and its economy is that the First World manages to continue presenting itself as the land of promises. Paradoxically, the two factors  that render the First World attractive and enable it to keep up the appearance of a land of promises – namely the wealth of the its capitalist fee market economy and the consumerist liberties of its neoliberal democracy – depend in the first place on the condition that they remain distinctive and exclusive. In other words, the richer nation-states can only remain more “developed” hence more attractive than the others by maintaining the national borders which not only  keep the structural problems faced by millions living in less fortunate parts of the globe on a daily basis at a safe distance, but also secure their internal wealth and health against turmoil. Such wealth and health secured by exclusivity then becomes the pull factor which in return brings in the visa revenue that contributes to such countries’ state of “more developed existence.”

As stated above, alongside the macroeconomics of the border[4] exist localized microeconomics consisting of clientelistic networks which operate within an informal economy built around the First World consulates. Nevertheless, such networks are gradually disappearing due to the above mentioned privatization of the border as nation-states are increasingly subcontracting private companies to deliver customer services such as visa appointment booking systems. In order to shed more light on such networks I will relate an anecdote from my own life but before I do that I want to make an observation: As I have been living away from my home country (Turkey) for the last seven years, I have been to numerous consulates/immigration agencies, been exposed to various visa application procedures, and have experienced various degrees of mistreatment and humiliation. Paradoxically, the worst treatment I had to endure at a consulate was back home in Istanbul. Strikingly, once I made it to Europe the clerks working at the consulates located in various European cities treated me more kindly, that is, less like a second rate human being. If I’m not mistaken, the fact that I was already allowed to be present within the EU border was regarded by the consulate workers as sufficient proof that I was one of the wealthy and cultivated “visa-worthy” few as compared to the masses of poor “barbarians” back home. Sadly, it seems the foreign border is at its strongest at home…

So now the anecdote: Seven years ago, I was freshly out of college in Istanbul and had received a scholarship to study philosophy for a year in a private liberal arts college in Berlin. At the time the visa services of the German consulate had not been privatized so there was no appointment booking system. So the only way to apply for a visa was to queue in front of the consulate’s visa section. You had to stand in line out in the open air come rain or shine between 09:00 and 12:00 and come noon the doors would be shut. On the average about 500 individuals would be queuing up and only 50 of them or so would be admitted to the consulate while the remaining 450, who were well aware of this fact, kept waiting in line just in case. The names of the 10 or so individuals at the head of the queue who had made it to the cut-off point would be put on a list so that they would be admitted first thing next morning without queuing, and the rest had to go home having waited for 3 hours yet having acquired no advantage which would help them achieve their goal the next day. The following morning they would have to queue from scratch.  It was almost like knowing that your chance of winning the lottery is ridiculously small but buying a ticket just in case. Of course, there actually is an immigration lottery as the US hands out permanent residence permits to lucky migrants who have won the green card lottery!

I won’t go into the details of the mistreatment and humiliation I have experienced and witnessed during this process. The main point is that it took me five consecutive days of being hassled by consulate guards and waiting in line under the scorching August sun in order to be able to get in and apply for the visa.  Even worse, I had to spend two nights camping in front of the consulate. And after I finally succeeded to apply, it took them more than a month to issue my visa so that I had to delay my trip and I ended up missing the first few weeks of the term. As I was experiencing this humiliating procedure along with hundreds of fellow applicants wishing to set foot on German soil, I also witnessed some peculiar side-economies of the border: To begin with there were lots of rich people who hired the poor for ridiculously low wages to stand in line on their behalf. Hence, there was a large number of otherwise unemployed men hanging around the consulates and trying to make their living in such a fashion. Of course, as they were competing with each other to sell their unskilled labor, rivalries and disputes were commonplace. There were also small time crooks belonging to Istanbul’s “parking lot mafia” forcing the applicants-to-be camping in front of the consulate at night to “hire” them so that their place on the non-existent queue would be “protected” against intrusions from members of other gangs. Moreover, the owner of a rundown coffee house in close vicinity to the consulate had capitalized on the non-existence of rival establishments, hence he was benefitting from his monopoly by overcharging the drowsy, prospective visa applicants for a variety of consumer goods and services: from lukewarm tea to stale sandwiches, from bottled drinking water to filthy toilets. There were also rich businessmen hiring tourism agency employees to bribe the consulate workers so that their wives could go on shopping sprees in Milan, London or Paris. What these practices of bribery indicate is that the borders of the first world were and are more porous than they would admit or want to be, so that people with wealth and access to necessary informal networks could and can infiltrate the border without going through the official and proper steps/produces. Once again, these are privileges that come along with capital and class. As mentioned above, most of these informal services are disappearing with the privatization of the border. Nevertheless, the tourism agency bribery scheme remains ever popular.

Up until recently, what had remained constant in my dealings with the border economy was that the consular experience was pretty much confrontational and adversarial: The visa clerks sit behind a glass partition and seem to show almost no humanly compassion or sympathy. It’s almost as though they detest you for daring to apply for the privilege of travelling to their home country, for venturing into their home territory (the land on which the consular building is built belongs to the nation-state being represented), for standing anxiously in front of them and taking up their time which they would rather spend doing something else. Or worse, some seem to explicitly enjoy their position of power; they thrive on the hierarchical might bestowed on them by the international immigration regime as they savor belittling and mistreating you. And all of this takes place while you are dehumanized as your achievements and personality are reduced to an application number and the digits in your bank account.[5] Because of all this, throughout my encounters with consular workers I have always considered them my enemy.

Recently however, I had the chance to hear their side of the story as I met someone who used to work at German consulate’s visa section at Istanbul when I had applied for my student visa. According to this person, the consulate workers themselves are being crushed by the pressure of profit maximization as they have to meet efficiency standards (a certain number applications must be processed without fail within a certain amount of time) and each applicant exists as a potential liability for the visa officer on a personal/financial level since once she issues someone a visa, she automatically becomes responsible for covering the legal/deportation costs for that individual if he overstays his welcome or breaks the law. Moreover, rather than having the freedom to choose whether or not to work in the visa section – which she said was highly unpopular –  the public servants at the beginning of their foreign service career are appointed to work there as the system of rotation requires. So the visa officer is also a victim, a wage laborer, an immaterial worker being exploited and oppressed by the capitalist mechanism of profit extraction. Nevertheless, the amount of victimization that a career in the foreign service of a First World nation state involves is not the same as the one working in a call center in the Third World entails. The visa clerk is not only blessed (or cursed) with a significant amount of hierarchical power that affects others’ lives deeply on a daily basis (he or she decides or at least is part of the unjust and oppressive mechanism that decides where certain individuals may or may not spend their lives), buying into the propaganda of a nation-building project/nationalist ideology so that one identifies oneself with a nation-state to the extent that one chooses to represent it abroad is also problematic as far as I’m concerned. Neither do I find it all right to implement one’s government’s restrictive border policies…

Despite all these problems, the visa officer remains simultaneously a victim as he is a wage laborer being oppressed by the capitalist mechanism of profit extraction. This terrifying obligation to cover the law-breaking migrant’s legal/deportation fees is an absurdly extreme version of corporate pressure. After all, even if the CEO of a holding makes a bad financial decision which loses the company a huge deal of money, he ends up losing his job but no one forces him to pay back the company the money he has caused them to lose. Similarly, a doctor will not be held responsible if a patient dies as long as he follows conventional modes of therapy and does everything in his power to cure to patient. Apart from extreme cases of intentional abuse, most cases of malpractice are settled out of court and it is not the physician who might lose his job/license but the hospital that has to pay the damages. Indeed, the comparison with disease and infection is fitting here. After all, the border is seldom as strikingly visible as in the facial expression of a visa applicant who, upon days of eager anticipation, receives his passport back. As soon as he has that little leather-bound booklet in his hands, he excitedly leaves through it until he comes upon page of the freshly issued visa. Immediately his face lights up with delight and relief as though he has just received promising news of a fresh cure for his terminal disease. The visa officer then is analogous to the oncologist while the inability to access the land of promises that is the First World is the cancer. Of course, the real disease, the real infection is not the inability to access the land of promises but the very border itself.

With the arrival of UK points based immigration’s privatized border experience, the confrontational nature of the consular visa application procedure has disappeared. With the new customer services approach the hierarchical power relation has become somewhat disguised and subtler but perhaps therefore it has become more sinister. What then is this new system? As part of UK’s new immigration policy, the newly formed UK Border Agency has subcontracted the Computer Sciences Corporation based in Falls Church, Virginia in 2007 and introduced WorldBridge visa application centers (VAC) in 15 countries throughout Europe, the Americas, North Africa and the Middle East. WorldBridge call centers have been set up in additional 87 countries. The first three visa application centers were opened in Düsseldorf, Munich, and Berlin. The technical name for the centers in Munich and Berlin is Micro-VAC since they can’t issue visas themselves but process applications and send them to the main center in Dusseldorf which operates in liaison with the British consulate there.  The crucial thing about the Micro-VACs is that applicants provide their documents and biometric data (finger prints and digital face scan) in person after having made an online visa application, paid around €170 (student applicants) and secured an appointment. The Computer Sciences Corporation has also three major offices in Europe, Australia and Asia, and a total of 92000 employees serving clients in more than 90 countries. According to their website, their annual revenue as of October 2009 was $16 billion.

The crucial difference that comes with the WorldBridge experience is that the customer service mentality schizophrenically treats you as though you had a dual personality: As the visa applicant you are being treated as a potential criminal so you have to give your finger prints and biometric data which will be stored for the next ten years in a UK Border Agency database and will be shared with international security organizations such as CIA and Mossad for the purposes of fighting “crime,” “illegal” immigration and “terrorism.” But as the paying customer your comfort and needs are also taken into consideration so that you have a smooth and pleasant corporate experience: As I arrived in January 2010 for my UK visa appointment at the office tower WorldBridge shares with PricewaterhouseCoopers at Berlin’s Potsdamerplatz; I was welcomed by the smiling face of a courteous non-British receptionist – a lady of African origin with German citizenship –  offering me, in a fashion similar to easyJet, an array of customer services to complement my application (sealed envelopes, photocopying facilities, a Polaroid automat, and a courier service) at a marginal extra fee. Then I was taken upstairs where I let my finger prints and biometric scan be taken by yet another non-British national – this time an American – who was not sitting behind a glass panel as the case used to be, but was physically in the same room with me, chitchatting as though the operations he was carrying out were perfectly mundane and normal; as though the relation between us were a neutral one. Although he, just like his more adversarial predecessors, exercised hierarchical power over me – he had the right to not process my application, to accuse me of non-compliance – he seemed to be guilt-free as he was not working at the consulate where the application would finally end up; hence, had no final decision power. As far as he was concerned, he was just a plain employee, working for a neutral company offering services to paying customers. As he was aiding the British government in selling me the privilege to enter the UK (disguised as a limited right) he seemed to think his actions were more akin to and as innocent as selling me a UK holiday package.

Here’s the gist of the argument then: What we had before the new customer service approach as manifested by WorldBridge was a confrontational and degrading procedure in which one had to deal with the citizens of the nation-state to which one was making a visa application.  As such, the consulate worker shared to some extent the experience of victimization with the applicant since as he existed not only as the oppressor but also as the oppressed wage laborer being crushed under the capitalist pressure of profit maximization. In our new epoch of privatized border experience, the visa officer as a corporate employee is even more distanced to and alienated from the applicant with whom he only has a commercial relationship.  Moreover, this distantiation and its diffusion of responsibility – the WorldBridge employee has no final say – render indifference and discrimination more probable. As stated above, in such a corporate environment the visa officer does not even have to be a citizen of the country one is applying to – the final visa was issued at the British consulate in Düsseldorf by a British national whom I had no contact with, but the hired individuals I personally encountered as an applicant in Berlin were non-British. Before, we had the consulate workers playing the role of oncologists as they offered us temporary relief from the terminal malady of not being able to access the exclusive land of promises that the First World presents itself to be. Now, those who personally attend to our travel-sickness (pun intended) are corporate employees who like the pediatrician distract us with the candy just before they stick the needle in; that is, just before they take our money and finger-prints, and take away our dignity.

What now follow are three issues or questions for discussion. First of all, speaking about borders (especially in art) and their toppling down within the confines of a prestigious university in a First World metropolis is already dependent on numerous privileges in regard to borders; borders that are non-permeable for others, esp. those who come from the poorer parts of the globe and for whom philosophy or art is still a luxury. And when we sit in a college campus in London, Paris or Berlin as we discuss borders in art, politics, philosophy, or life in general we often take the everyday reality of western neoliberal democratic society, which enables us to be there and talk about such things in the first place, as granted; we usually can’t escape the pitfall of Eurocentrism which treats such everyday existence as the measuring unit of all life and reality. Within this context, any account of borders and especially their transgression must at first address or at least accept this position of privilege. This must be, as it were, the fundamental condition of criticality. But not in a Christian confessional way so that it becomes obsolete in the sense that before we speak we admit our guilt and then carry on with business as usual. Rather, the awareness of our privilege should weigh so heavy on our shoulders that it incites us, forces us to take steps in the direction of changing things concretely. Of course, this is much easier said than done and we often end up in the pub rather than out in the streets after such “thought provoking” sessions, drinking our misery away.

Speaking of taking to the streets and activism, there seems to be a lack of information among the First World general public about the injustice of immigration regimes. This is partially understandable as citizens of “developed” nations seldom have the enlightening experience of being harassed by consulate officials or being humiliated and treated as second rate human beings at the First World border. For example, many of my friends in Berlin, who are not politically active per se but would define themselves as leaning towards the left in the sense that they vote for the social democrats or the Greens, were ignorant of and astounded by the fact that I, one of them, can’t travel abroad without prior planning and preparation (gathering of documents and funds, obtaining of the visa) as they can and do. For them life is simpler, you can be globally mobile as long as you can afford the airfare. Similarly, they were pretty much misinformed about my lack of rights as a legal alien (from the Third World[6]) in their country. Even among the much better informed group of activists, there is a tendency to take the issue seriously and mobilize only when the Other/foreigner is marginalized to the extent that he is the victim of either inhumane living conditions or persecution and often violence. Of course, mobilized actions against deportations and detention centers are extremely important yet it distresses me that mobilization is mainly grounded on the pain and suffering of others. It always takes yet another deportation or abuse, yet another tragedy for us to get together and try to fight back.  Can we find a way then to speak of and practice an activism that is not always reactionary but also preemptive?

Lastly, I find the metaphor of infection very suiting because everyday life is indeed increasingly contaminated by borders.  Border is not simply a neutral demarcation that separates two distinct entities. It is not just edges or boundaries that define matter as contained within the form of the object, hence not just a condition of existence. It is not only a category enabling the perception of reality, i.e. the ultimate border between the subject and the object as well as the borders between objects themselves. Neither does it accurately describe the coexistence of different yet equally valuable/important singularities within a multiplicity. Yet under global capitalism and its neoliberal multiculturalism border appears to be all of these things at once. Border is hierarchy, it is power and subjugation. It designates a zone of privilege against a zone of deprivation, be this zone/area territorial or corporeal. Border is seldom egalitarian; one person standing on the one side of the border usually has distinction over the person standing on the other side. And the distinction of the border provides various benefits to various actors in various ways and formations. Border is also a norm, it marks the edge of what is acceptable and permitted, what can and can’t be (let) done. Border as law – this law is violently imposed and then this symbolic violence that took place is repressed – is also the prerequisite of transgression which via its enactment, via its stepping beyond simultaneously announces the existence of its Other; namely the norm/border. Hence transgression sustains the border; its subversion reproduces the norm. The border in one form or another keeps popping up, keeps reappearing even if we transgress it. In everyday life we have a proliferation of micro-borders, power struggles, hierarchies, distinctions. Here we can talk of the border’s subsumption of everyday life, a subsumption that leads to a multiplicity of the borders incarnations.

Is it then because global capitalism relies on the spread of borders (deterritorialization – reterritorialization) to the domain of everyday life that the border as concept has become infectious and contagious to such an extent that we are all infected; that we cannot function without the framework of the border and it appears – presents itself (Marx’ erscheinen) – to be fundamental for human existence? Is it the case that capitalism creates various borders and then they come to present themselves as the natural order of things? Or is it the other way around? Is there really a fundamental human drive to seek distinction and set up borders (not only international borders sustaining the nations-state system but also everyday life borders like subject-object, male-female, teacher-student, parent-child, law enforcer-citizen, private property-public property, employer-employee, bourgeoisie-proletariat, etc.) so that the capitalist mode of production not creates it but rather capitalizes on it? Especially in our days of financial crisis when the “communist hypothesis” is gaining popularity among academic circles we must confront ourselves with this question. When we dream of and strive to create a just and better world that is devoid of borders – borders between nations, classes, genders and sexes, ethnicities and religions – we must address the question of whether border creation is indeed indigenous to human existence, indigenous to life. It seems to me only if we can answer this question satisfactorily can we begin to deal with borders and their disassembly in a meaningful way that makes the sustenance of a just, better world possible…

Enis Oktay Berlin, 18.08.10


[1] Another common scenario entails holders of valid Schengen visas being turned down at the border and sent back since their first point of entry has not been the country that has issued the visa. For example, a Turkish citizen who has gotten a Schengen visa from the French consulate in Istanbul but travels to Belgium first is refused admittance and instructed to enter the zone via France if he wishes to enter Belgium with the visa in question. This actually goes against the spirit of the Schengen agreement. Yet, this practice is not against international law which states holding a valid visa does not mean automatic admittance, immigration officers reserve the right to grant or refuse access at the border.

[2] The full list is alphabetically: Andorra, Antigua and Barbuda, Argentina, Australia, Bahamas, Barbados, Bermuda, Brazil, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Hong Kong, Israel,  Japan, Macau, Macedonia, Malaysia, Mauritius, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, New Zealand,  Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay,  Saint Kitts and Nevis, San Marino, Serbia, Seychelles, Singapore, South Korea, United States, Uruguay, Vatican City, Venezuela.

[3] The following world map clearly shows the correlation between national wealth and the global distribution of Schengen visa-waiver rights: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:EU_visa_lists.png

[4] Human trafficking, which this paper does not address, is also a significant part of the macroeconomics of the border.

[5] Various schemes to attract high-skilled migrants are the exception to this. Although the prospective migrant’s annual income is still a decisive factor there, his past vocational achievements also matter a great deal.

[6] I’m not sure if Turkey qualifies as the Third World, nevertheless there is a discrepancy in Germany between the rights of a migrant who comes from places such as the US or Canada and one who comes from Turkey. For example, according to a recent law, if one is married to a German citizen and happens to come from a “less desirable” country such as Turkey, one will be required to provide proof of basic German language skills (common European level A2) to be able to apply for a visa to come to Germany and live with one’s spouse. Spouses from richer countries are exempt from this requirement. If you happen to come for example from Egypt you’ll need to speak basic German to be granted access to Germany where your German spouse resides, if you come from the US or Canada you won’t need to!

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Comments

  • enis  On 19/08/2010 at 00:30

    For the German speakers: Here’s an article that appeared in die Tageszeitung (taz) about the much publicized case of Turkish journalist/activist Tan Morgul. As Morgul was invited by Hamburg’s St. Pauli football club (known for their left wing politics) for their 100th year celebrations, the German consulate officials in Istanbul refused to issue Morgul a Schengen visa on the grounds that “the reason for his trip was unconvincing” and that he didn’t have “sufficient funds.” The readers’ comments are especially enlightening as they demonstrate how a great deal of taz (which takes pride in being left-wing) readers consider the existence of borders and visa requirements to be completely logical and essential.

    http://www.taz.de/1/politik/deutschland/artikel/1/journalisten-muessen-draussen-bleiben/

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  • enis  On 19/08/2010 at 14:49

    Morgul and others’ anti-visa blog. (In English, German, French, and Turkish).

    http://www.vizesiz.net/index.php/?language=en

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  • enis  On 28/08/2010 at 13:19

    Sebastian Luetgert has written a very insightful article about “Berlin in the 90s, the quest for the post-capitalist self, and the idea of queering the economy” that appeared in E-Flux to complement this summer’s Berlin Biennial. The following section is especially worthy of attention:

    The macroeconomic and macropolitical developments of the last two or three years are hard to ignore, and call for a major re-evaluation of the microeconomic and micropolitical strategies and practices that we understand as “postcapitalist” or “queer.” We are beginning to realize that we may actually see the end of capitalism as we knew it, not just at its peripheries, but also at its core, and not just in our lifetime, but likely in the coming decade. But just as it is conveniently claimed that the current financial system is “beyond anyone’s understanding,” there is a lack of descriptive or predictive concepts for the political formations that will emerge. As capital in its most recent stage—as a global pyramid scheme of debt and bailouts that is deemed “too big to fail”—is in the process of reducing the political sovereignty of most nation-states to merely ceremonial functions, the political reassessment (if not ontological reframing) taking place in the “developed world” offers a view to a future that looks much more post-democratic than it looks post-capitalist. With regards to the art of not being governed that much, the declining influence of national governments and democratic institutions, and the increasing difficulty they encounter in justifying their existence, may appear beneficial. Yet it seems more than likely that the impending collapse of a number of global systems and networks is going to thoroughly and lastingly stratify the queer or post-capitalist subjectivities as we knew them, since hardly any of them have ever ceased to be middle class, however precarious their material existence may have become. As capitalism manages to still provide a minimum of welfare and mobility to some of its participants, they remain invested in the delay, rather than the acceleration, of its decline. Most of the subjectivities in question still see the world from Europe, after all.

    “One might still ask what’s to be done. If you can’t subvert an empire whose population draws no immediate benefit from any redistribution of wealth other than the one that is currently taking place, you may still be able to crack the fortress that shields its inhabitants from a shift in population growth that will inevitably shake the fundaments of their lives. (Europeans tend to condemn their borders in solidarity with non-European migrants, but in the long run, this relationship will reverse. Those outside the fortress will have the privilege of forgiveness. Those inside won’t.) If you are a citizen of the Schengen subcontinent, you can do two things, both of which involve making use of the one biopolitical weapon you have been equipped with: your passport. Either get married so that someone else can get in, even if it’s just for a temporary change of perspective; or quit and desert your compatriots, as their biological clocks keep ticking in fearful but eager anticipation of the detonation of the demographic bomb. Collective suicide is not an option. Still, if you set out to be done with Europe, there is an imminent danger that you will remain caught within the schizophrenic logic of a post-capitalist self, and doomed to relive the farce of European subjectivity, its quest for an exit, as yet another Greek tragedy. What you might need most urgently, in order to complement the anti-Oedipus, would be the anti-Midas, since wherever you’re going to end up, you won’t want to forever remain a member of the classes that turn everything they touch into shopping districts.”

    The full article can be found at:

    http://www.e-flux.com/journal/view/160

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  • enis  On 06/09/2010 at 14:46

    Berlin’s social democrat ex-finance senator Sarrazin’s (he’s currently a board member of the federal central bank)new book containing theses about the close ties between intelligence & integration capacity/willingness and genetic background has been sparking debate and controversy in Germany for the last few weeks. According to a recent opinion poll, almost one in every five German voter (18%) would vote for Sarrazin’s anti-immigration party if he were to found one. Most of the votes would come from supporters of Christian Democrats as well as the Left Party (die Linke) – many people living in ex-GDR states vote for the leftist yet they are also against foreign workers as they themselves are unemployed.
    News article:

    http://www.taz.de/1/politik/deutschland/artikel/1/18-prozent-wuerden-sarrazin-waehlen/

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