The Dependency of Borderlands on Binational Relations

Central governments usually oversee borderlands, which means that border related issues are considered a matter of foreign affairs. Several exceptions, however, such as the Italian Trent South Tyrol region, enjoy a certain degree of autonomy. Even though borderland populations are those who deal with their neighbors on a daily basis, they usually have few or no rights to decide on issues such as border crossing opening hours, number of border crossings, joint economic projects, and common efforts to overcome ecological challenges. As a result, the freedom of action of these populations is not only highly dependent on their political status within their states but also on the political relations and interdependencies between their own and the neighboring country.

To consider this dependency in more depth, the province Vojvodina in Yugoslavia provides an interesting example. The Vojvodina was integrated into the Hungarian region of the Austrian–Hungarian Empire until 1918. It became part of Yugoslavia after the end of World War I, making the Hungarian population a minority within the newly formed state. However, the population has always been multiethnic; today up to 29 different ethnic groups live there. In the 2002 census, about 300 000 inhabitants referred to themselves as Hungarian out of a population of about two million. Hungarians in the Vojvodina have historically kept their close ties to Hungary and they have been guaranteed distinct rights. Even in communist times, both central governments agreed to support the Hungarian minority: Hungarians in Yugoslavia had a special passport, only valid for the border district, which allowed them to keep in contact with their families. After 1989, residents could cross the border between Hungary and Yugoslavia without a visa, making Hungary a gateway to Europe also for ethnic Serbs and others. This changed in 2008 when Hungary joined the Schengen group, because crossing the border is now only allowed with a Schengen visa. Only Hungarians living in the Vojvodina are able to cross, based on a 'national visa' valid for 90 days, which has been issued by Hungary since January 2006.

Binational relations, and increasingly international agreements, not only affect minorities living in borderlands but also and specifically the overall economic situation. Most borderlands are marginalized within their states and thus rely on, for instance, shoppers from across the border or the possibility to work on the other side. In some contexts, this interdependency guarantees a minimum income and in others, even results in economic boom. Ambos Nogales, twin cities straddling the US–Mexican border, offers one example of economic interdependency. In other borderlands, particularly in Europe, for example, between Poland and Ukraine, the Netherlands and Germany, and in the three border area Germany–FranceSwitzerland (Regio Basiliensis), the population depends on its neighboring borderland(s). Residents commute back and forth, working on one side and living on the other, and borderlands like the Regio Basiliensis have a well developed and long tradition of interaction. However, all these areas are affected by decisions made at the national level and how relations between the nations develop.

Recently, it has been the EU that has strongly impacted the development of cross border relations. Taking the case of the Polish–Ukrainian borderland, it benefited from the open border for only a short period. When Poland moved politically closer to and finally joined the EU, the border regime tightened and local cross border interaction again became restricted. In Europe, relations between states are more or less free of friction, and international treaties and binational agreements that also consider the interests of borderlands regulate binational relations. There are, however, other contexts like the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa where problems and conflicts – including military disputes – between states are specifically anchored in borderlands. The most extreme consequence is the militarization of a borderland, through which its population faces restrictions in its everyday activities and experiences the border as a clear demarcation line. Kashmir Region is a case in point. The total population of the three parts controlled by India (Jammu, Kashmir, and Ladakh) amounts to slightly more than nine million people. About three million people live in the Pakistani parts (Azad Kashmir and Northern Areas); the third part is Aksai Chin, occupied by China. When India became independent in 1947, Jammu and Kashmir, one of the princely states of India, had the option of joining either India or Pakistan. The majority of the population was Muslim; in the Valley of Kashmir, this proportion reached more than 95%. Military disputes were followed by the UN effort to mediate a truce that finally resulted in the partition of Jammu and Kashmir. The situation has not stabilized since; two nuclear powers, India and Pakistan, meet at the checkpoint, which the Indian side wants to transform into a permanent international border. Kashmiris themselves argue that Pakistan and India are interested solely in the geopolitical role of Jammu and Kashmir, not in its population and development.