From Israel To Hungary, Walls Will Never Solve Our Problems

Boy and a soldier at the West Bank wall
Boy and a soldier at the West Bank wall
Dominique Moïsi


PARIS â€" If you travel to the far north of England, you’ll see Hadrian's Wall still proudly standing almost 19 centuries after it was built. Of course, it's no match for the Great Wall of China, in length or in what remains of its fortifications. But it's still an impressive construction, and its message, more complex than it seems, is once again on the modern agenda.

When it was built in the year 120 AD, emperor Hadrian's goal was to proclaim Rome's greatness but also to set territorial limits on his ambitions. Why go further and conquer the rest of the lands that constitute today's Great Britain? You have to know when and where to stop before the cost of your conquests becomes too high. If only Napoleon had learned from Hadrian’s example before launching the Peninsular War and his Russian campaign.

For 300 years, Hadrian's Wall kept the "northern Barbarians" away from the Romans and provided efficient protection for the Roman empire's northernmost province.

Despite its much bigger size, the Great Wall of China still conveys the same message of self-limitation. Traditionally, Chinese leaders use its very existence to deny any desire for imperial expansion on their part. With the Great Wall, China intended to protect its interests and territory from invaders, especially the Mongols, all within clearly established territorial boundaries. Why indeed build such enormous protection if your wish is to go beyond it?

In this regard, China is very different from Russia, which defines itself around its state, its army and its empire, which is preferably always expanding. China is proud of its civilization and doesn't need to grow indefinitely to exist in its own eyes. Of course, its Asian neighbors don't share this "reassuring" take on history and believe instead that the "Middle Kingdom" is not as modest and reasonable as it claims to be.

But Hadrian's Wall and the Great Wall, both the products of two formidable empires, belong nonetheless to the same sort of constructions whose functions are twofold: to protect yourself on the one hand, and to impose limits on the other.

Migrants in Hungary near the Serbian border â€" Photo: Gémes Sándor/SzomSzed

Very different kinds of barriers

The Berlin Wall was erected in an entirely different situation. Its goal wasn't to prevent savage hoards from entering, but to keep its most dynamic citizens and those who longed for freedom and prosperity from fleeing. For the regime of Eastern Germany, it was a way to stop the population hemorrhage that was threatening its legitimacy and survival in the short run.

We all know what happened to this wall in November 1989. It fell, a little bit by accident, the victim of a division between two Germanies that became artificial from the moment the Soviet Union no longer had the will or the means to impose it.

The wall that today separates Israelis and Palestinians is ever higher and ever longer. But will this new "Berlin Wall of the Middle East" go as far as to hermetically separate Jerusalem? Unlike the Berlin Wall, its goal isn't to prevent Palestinians from leaving, but rather to limit their capacity to launch terrorist attacks. It's the direct consequence of the Second Intifada.

But unlike Hadrian's Wall, its protective function didn't come with a vision of self-limitation. On the contrary, Israel has continued to augment, and indeed multiply its settlements in Palestinian territories. Its land nationalism, which is becoming more and more religious, doesn't conform to the rational logic of an empire of a different dimension than tiny Israel. The north of England was already so far from Rome. The West Bank is so close to Jerusalem. And in the Internet and cellphone era, the notion of space and distance are dramatically different.

There are, finally, walls like the one that divides the island of Cyprus, and whose main function is to freeze the status quo with Turkey and to prevent new violence.

Any comparison between the past and the present is of course dangerous and artificial. But the fact remains that in the face of growing chaos in the world, there is a sort of nostalgia, or a temptation to erect new walls. Is it possible to build efficient walls to protect ourselves from the influx of political refugees, like the victims of the Syrian war, or of economic migrants who want to cross from Mexico into the United States?

In other words, are there such things as wise walls and crazy walls? Walls, on the one hand, that really protect us, from ourselves and from others, and walls that achieve nothing beyond pushing problems away so we can avoid having to solve them? In a world without clear and recognized borders, how can we talk about international order if we don't know anymore who owns or controls such and such land?

When she opened Germany's gates to the waves of refugees, Chancellor Angela Merkel followed her own conscience. She deserves our respect. She must now reassure her population by proving to them that the influx of refugees will be controlled. And this isn't a matter a walls, unlike what the Hungarian government would have us believe. Walls aren't a solution to Europe's refugee problem any more than they are a solution to the new explosion of violence in Jerusalem. Beyond wise and crazy walls, the ones that really are in fashion today are the walls of fear.

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Preparing a COVID-19 vaccine booster in Huzhou, China.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Ciao!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Brazil's senate backs "crimes against humanity" charges against Jair Bolsonaro, the UN has a grim new climate report and Dune gets a sequel. Meanwhile, German daily Die Welt explores "Xi Jinping Thought," which is now being made part of Chinese schools' curriculum.



• Senators back Bolsonaro criminal charges: A Brazilian Senate panel has backed a report that supports charging President Jair Bolsonaro with crimes against humanity, for his alleged responsibility in the country's 600,000-plus COVID-19 deaths.

• Gas crisis in Moldova following Russian retaliation: Moldova, one of Europe's poorest countries, has for the first time challenged Russia's Gazprom following a price increase and failed contract negotiations, purchasing instead from Poland. In response, Russia has threatened to halt sales to the Eastern European country, which has previously acquired all of its gas from Gazprom.

• New UN climate report finds planned emission cuts fall short: The Emissions Gap Report 2021 concludes that country pledges to reduce greenhouse gas emissions aren't large enough to keep the global temperature rise below 1.5 °C degrees this century. The UN Environment Program predicts a 2.7 °C increase, with significant environmental impacts, but there is still hope that longer term net-zero goals will curtail some temperature rise.

• COVID update: As part of its long-awaited reopening, Australia will officially allow its citizens to travel abroad without a government waiver for the first time in more than 18 months. Bulgaria, meanwhile, hits record daily high COVID-19 cases as the Eastern European's hotel and restaurant association is planning protests over the implementation of the vaccination "green pass." In the U.S., a panel of government medical advisors backed the use of Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for five to 11-year-olds.

• U.S. appeals decision to block Julian Assange extradition: The United States said it was "extremely disappointed" in a UK judge's ruling that Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, would be a suicide risk of he traveled across the Atlantic. In the U.S., he faces 18 charges related to the 2010 release of 500,000 secret files related to U.S. military activity.

• Deposed Sudan prime minister released: Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok has been released from custody, though remains under heavy guard after Sudan's military coup. Protests against the coup have continued in the capital Khartoum, as Hamdok has called for the release of other detained governmental officials.

Dune Part 2 confirmed: The world will get to see Timothée Chalamet ride a sandworm: The second installment of the sci-fi epic and global box office hit has officially been greenlit, set to hit the screens in 2023.


Front page of the National Post's October 27 front page

Canadian daily National Post reports on the nomination of Steven Guilbeault, a former Greenpeace activist, as the country's new Environment minister. He had been arrested in 2001 for scaling Toronto's CN Tower to unfurl a banner for Greenpeace, which he left in 2008.


Chinese students now required to learn to think like Xi Jinping

"Xi Jinping Thought" ideas on socialism have been spreading across the country since 2017. But now, Beijing is going one step further by making them part of the curriculum, from the elementary level all the way up to university, reports Maximilian Kalkhof in German daily Die Welt.

🇨🇳 It's important to strengthen the "determination to listen to and follow the party." Also, teaching materials should "cultivate patriotic feelings." So say the new guidelines issued by the Chinese Ministry of Education. The goal is to help Chinese students develop more "Marxist beliefs," and for that, the government wants its national curriculum to include "Xi Jinping Thought," the ideas, namely, of China's current leader. Behind this word jam is a plan to consolidate the power of the nation, the party and Xi himself.

📚 Starting in September, the country's 300 million students have had to study the doctrine, from elementary school into university. And in some cities, even that doesn't seem to be enough. Shanghai announced that its students from third to fifth grade would only take final exams in mathematics and Chinese, de facto deleting English as an examination subject. Beijing, in the meantime, announced that it would ban the use of unauthorized foreign textbooks in elementary and middle schools.

⚠️ But how does a country that enchants its youth with socialist ideology and personality cults rise to become a world power? Isn't giving up English as a global language the quickest way into isolation? The educational reform comes at a time when Beijing is brutally disciplining many areas of public life, from tech giants to the entertainment industry. It has made it difficult for Chinese technology companies to go public abroad, and some media have reported that a blanket ban on IPOs in the United States is on the cards in the next few years.

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"I'm a footballer and I'm gay."

— Australian soccer player Josh Cavallo said in a video accompanying a tweet in which he revealed his homosexuality, becoming the first top-flight male professional player in the world to do so. The 21-year-old said he was tired of living "this double life" and hoped his decision to come out would help other "players living in silence."


Why this Sudan coup d'état is different

Three days since the military coup was set in motion in Sudan, the situation on the ground continues to be fluid. Reuters reports this morning that workers at the state petroleum company Sudapet are joining a nationwide civil disobedience movement called by trade unions in response to the generals' overthrow of the government. Doctors have also announced a strike.

Generals in suits At the same time, the military appears firmly in control, with deposed Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok allowed to return home today after being held by the coup leaders. How did we get here? That's the question that David E. Kiwuwa, a professor of international relations at the University of Nottingham, takes on in The Conversation:

"Since the revolution that deposed Omar el-Bashir in 2019, the military have fancied themselves as generals in suits. They have continued to wield enough power to almost run a parallel government in tension with the prime minister. This was evident when the military continued to have the say on security and foreign affairs.

Economy as alibi For their part, civilian officials concentrated on rejuvenating the economy and mobilizing international support for the transitional council. This didn't stop the military from accusing the civilian leadership of failing to resuscitate the country's ailing economy.

True, the economy has continued to struggle from high inflation, low industrial output and dwindling foreign direct investment. As in all economies, conditions have been exacerbated by the effects of COVID-19. Sudan's weakened economy is, however, not sufficient reason for the military intervention. Clearly this is merely an excuse."

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471 million euros

Rome's Casino di Villa Boncompagni Ludovisi, better known as Villa Aurora, will be put up for auction in January for 471 million euros ($547 million). The over-the-top price tag is thanks to the villa having the only known ceiling painting by Renaissance master Caravaggio.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Anne-Sophie Goninet, Jane Herbelin and Bertrand Hauger

Who wants to start the bidding on the Caravaggio villa? Otherwise, let us know what the news looks like from your corner of the world!!

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