I was in the back of the car, perched on a pile of bedding and blankets. My parents were sitting in front, glancing about anxiously. We were crossing the border.
We had left Poland a couple days before. Our visa to Holland was good for a vacation visit of a few weeks, but my parents–although I didn’t know it yet at the time–were planning to overstay it. They actively opposed the Communist government in Poland, and this was causing us more and more problems. So off we went, with a little bit of money in our pocket, our black cocker spaniel at my mother’s feet on the passenger side, and our green VW bug packed to the brim with our possessions. Funny thing is, at the time our Volkswagen seemed like a giant car compared to the little Fiats many Poles were driving.
And here we were, crossing from East Germany into the West, and it was scary. Our car was so overloaded that it crawled along, and we feared that it would overheat and die at the border crossing, which would have gotten us in serious trouble. It didn’t help that there were guard towers at the side of the road with armed soldiers inside of them. Our baggage was thoroughly searched, and then–with a huge sigh of relief–we were through.
Europe has come such a long way since then. I still remember how excited we were when Poland became a member nation of the European Union. Now it really felt like we would be a part of Europe, and hopefully wouldn’t go back to being one of Russia’s satellites. It was also a moment of pride for us when Donald Tusk, an ex-Prime Minister of Poland, was chosen to be President of the European Council.
The internal borders of Europe are now a different place. There is free movement between countries. The younger generation of Poland can live in Spain or Scotland if they so choose (and if they can find a job there). My uncle now lives and works in London. I would not want to go back to the severe restrictions of the past.
Yet the tragic events in Paris this week have sparked a conversation about precisely that. Some countries are discussing the possibility of changing the rules of the Schengen Treaty–which established freedom of movement in the European Union–and bringing back border checkpoints. I’ve also heard American journalists express surprise over the lack of border searches between, say, France and Belgium. I’m not sure those reporters understand how the concept of the EU is supposed to work. Europe is trying to be a united community–although this process has come with many problems–so what they are suggesting would be a bit like having checkpoints between American states. Sure, it might make things safer if we were searched when entering California from Oregon, but I suspect it would also change the way the people in different states view each other.
So will the terrorist attacks in France lead to a tightening of controls in Europe, much like the 9/11 attacks did in America? I would be sad to see this happen, especially if the European continent regressed to being a more divided place. Let’s hope we can find less drastic solutions to the terrorism question.