More than half a century after his death, Robert Schuman still makes good reading. His work in the early 1950s to create “a gathering of European nations” was rooted in ideals for a Europe that wanted to look to the future rather than the past. Schuman was (with Jean Monnet) very much the architect of what we now know as the European Union. Those ideals which Schuman valued were freedom, equality, solidarity and peace.
Schuman’s first, faltering steps towards community were built on shared access to coal and steel. Today’s no-less-hesitant union is shaped around free access to markets. And, as part of this grand endeavour, borders have fallen. The freedom of movement ushered in by the Schengen Treaty has transformed Europe. We have this year already crossed Schengen borders on 16 occasions (by train and ferry, in cars, even on foot). Not once on these journeys have we needed our passports. This is progress of which Schuman would be proud.
But ours is still a continent of frontiers. The current turmoil in Ukraine was precipitated by a debate on where the eastern border of EU influence should lie in the future. And even within the Schengen area some borders are still fracture lines. Realpolitik can still be rather grubby. In this issue of hidden europe, we take a look at how a couple of European border regions have fared under the Schengen agreement. So we visit the hill country where Saxony rubs shoulders with Bohemia and then look at life on the Polish side of the Oder-Neisse Line, in each case discovering regions that are hardly prospering.
Elsewhere in this issue, we carry reports on the Mani Peninsula in southern Greece and Shrovetide frolics in Rijeka — those two pieces respectively courtesy of guest contributors Duncan JD Smith and Rudolf Abraham, to both of whom we offer a hearty vote of thanks for writing for hidden europe.
We also mark the centenary of the launch of a motor car built in England’s Mendip Hills, commemorate the 75th anniversary of a turning point in Arctic affairs and — in our ‘Europe beyond Europe’ column — recall an extraordinary Scottish adventure in the eastern Transvaal which started 150 years ago in 1864.
We have of course always made space in hidden europe to showcase places which we feel are truly special. So we take time to explore the Danish island of Ærø, whose two main communities are as different as chalk and cheese — and all the better for that!
Nicky Gardner & Susanne Kries
Velký Senov, Bohemia