On Passports, Borders and Nations
A person’s birth is normally linked to a nationality and to a passport. Through the nationality, a person is granted, or refused, rights.
The number of persons in the last category increases as long as there are states that cannot grant protection nor sufficient opportunities for life.
Despite their political marginalisation and their lack of representation in national state structures, all those people without passport, without rights, without residence permits as well as those, who do have a residence permit, but no full access to political and social participation, play an ever larger role in political, medial, cultural and social debate. The pictures of catastrophe relating to refugee and migration movements that are communicated in this debate are reminiscent of natural catastrophes. This type of association opens up an imaginary space that nourishes a siege mentality, which asks for frontier protection measures and provides these with political legitimacy.
The collapse of the public welfare system, and the threat to the state, implied by the dictum of the so-called mass assault justify the restrictions to the freedom of movement for those who depend entirely on this very freedom. Security, and order within these systems, are the criteria used to restrict the freedom of movement and the right to personal freedom. We believe that these criteria cannot justify the current system of dealing with people in distress.
The nation, in its definition as a unified people with state power and a territory marked by border lines, and state sovereignty, is presently undergoing critical change. Inside states, there is no homogeneous people anymore. Supranational institutions take over responsibilities of western national states. Market mechanics replace administrative functions and globalisation removes borders.
These changes influence territorial borders. Take Europe as an example; within, borders are annihilated, while outer borders of the EU are tightened. Borders move; from lines they develop into networks. New border situations develop ever more often also inside states (identity controls in cities; use of services like Sim-cards, internet, hospital, housing, libraries restricted to holders of valid personal identity cards, etc.)
The concept of linear borders, national states and the concomitant handling of security and supervision are ultimately a temporary construction, a historic development. The structuring and organisation of belonging, of exclusion and of inclusion has developed into the scheme we now know, which means that it represents just one among a multitude of possibilities. The construction is subject to continuous change and can alter completely in the far future. All that there is constitutes just one version of how it could be.
We would like to express a thought. We dare make a proposal. We consider a possibility.
What if rights, opportunities and value of a person were not tied to his or her passport?
If national citizenship in the traditional sense, or membership in a rigidly defined cultural, social and political community, were replaced by citizenship, or affiliation, in the sense of a relationship.
Relationship to the location, to the people and to the developments around the person concerned.
Hereby we take leave of hospitality. Its aim was to do good. As a supreme law of mankind, it wished to give strangers shelter, food and protection. It intended to provide learning and exchange, both for guest and host. It had no intention of asking anything in return. Rather it could have served to offer a means for exchange and onward development during the migration movements of mankind. But the regulation of these intentions has resulted in exclusion and inclusion, in legal rules and power constellations. Is the stranger in fact a guest, or an enemy? Should he be given shelter and welcome, or rather checked and supervised? Whoever does not keep to the rules of hospitality as a guest runs the risk of being classed as an enemy. Hospitality implies rules and hierarchies, by prescribing the respective rôles and appropriate behaviour of guest and host.
The ensuing power gap is being questioned, more or less intensively, in governmental handling of migration. The state determines who is allowed to stay, turns people away at the border and returns them by force to their home country. This power gap persists also in the process of integration. Hospitality imposes conformity, because the guest has to comply with the customs of the host. Also, he or she who subscribes to the idea of a welcome culture becomes trapped in these hierarchies and tends to harden cultural stereotypes on the basis of differences found, rather than bringing them up for discussion. Welcome culture starts from the idea that arriving in a place presupposes a need to be welcomed there. The concept and the concomitant practice are tied to a definite relation of rôles. Arriving persons, newcomers, guests – hosts, long-time residents, receiving persons. There is giving and taking. The relations between the two sides are tied by expectations.
Hospitality is the regulation for a temporary stay. The guest is expected to leave again. In view of the present conditions of migration and flight from war and persecution, hospitality does not provide an answer to reality.
Let us therefore take leave of hospitality and welcome culture, for they do not allow us to open up a space in which new interpretations of cultural identity can be discovered.
Next, let us take leave of integration. As a tool of supervision and regulation of who has to conform and how, and who has the capability of conforming, this concept as a whole is little more than a demand to assimilate. This demand is acutely present in the Swiss debate on integration. The demand is for submission, with differences hardly tolerated. Integration is one-sided, demanding and dominating. It was never intended to promote plurality.