‘Need to solve a border dispute? Look to Ethiopia or Uzbekistan’
While the West fails to solve its border issues, countries in Asia and Africa have found a positive way forward – states Nick Megoran, reader in Political Geography of Newcastle University in his article for The Conversation.
Border disputes have recently taken on renewed importance, threatening political crisis in the UK, US and EU. Yet 2018 saw positive steps towards resolving some of the world’s most difficult border conflicts, between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan and Ethiopia and Eritrea. What lessons can be drawn from these examples?
International boundaries are not the same as international borders. Boundaries are invisible vertical planes extending upwards into airspace and downwards into the subsoil, marking the legal limit of states. Borders, on the other hand, are the practices associated with managing movement over boundaries, such as customs checkpoints, passport controls, and fences. Although literally at the edge of states, they can symbolically figure at the heart of a nation’s politics. [....]
Created in the 1920s by the Soviet Union, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan became independent states in 1991. Their mutual boundary was an internal division within the Soviet Union, and was never intended to be an international boundary. Consequently, when the two states became independent, there were numerous disputes about its precise course. Villages, ethnic groups, families, farms, transport links and utility provision crisscrossed the borderlands.
Nonetheless, in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the authoritarian president of Uzbekistan, Islam Karimov, imposed unilateral border controls. Visas were demanded, crossborder bridges demolished, roads blocked, and bus routes terminated. Villages that straddled the boundary were demolished and residents forcibly moved elsewhere. Barbed wire fences were erected, unmarked mine fields laid, and soldiers deployed to the border frequently used violence on petty traders and other borderlanders. A boundary commission was established, but its work stalled as relations between the two states deteriorated.
Populists in Kyrgyzstan reacted furiously, alleging that Uzbekistan was invading them. Inter-ethnic dynamics within Kyrgyzstan worsened, culminating in 2010 with pogroms against the country’s Uzbek minority.
Karimov died in 2016 and was succeeded by his protege, Shavkat Mirziyoyev. Mirziyoyev prioritised rebuilding regional relations, kick-starting delimitation negotiations and in late 2017 unilaterally reopened many border crossings.
In 2018, I visited the border and saw crowds of people crossing for trade and to visit family members, many of whom they had not seen for a decade and a half. Ethnic and interstate relations have improved as a result.[...]
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