The fall of the Berlin Wall on 9 November 1989 and the end of communism across the Soviet bloc marked the beginning of the end of the Cold War — the global struggle between America and her Western European allies on the one side and the Soviet Union on the other. For over forty years, Europe had been divided between East and West by the Iron Curtain. Now, the expectation was that these divisions would be overcome.
In the years that followed, the states of the formerly divided continent moved towards an ever closer union. In 2004, the EU expanded eastwards, incorporating former members of the Eastern bloc (the Soviet aligned countries of Eastern Europe) as well as the Baltic states, which used to be part of the Soviet Union.
Yet, this expansion resulted in very different outcomes for the countries along the EU’s border with Russia. Those within the EU, such as the Baltic states, have enjoyed economic growth and freedom of movement for their citizens. Those outside the EU, such as Belarus and Ukraine, have not fared so well. For example, citizens of Ukraine now have short-term visa-free access to the Schengen zone, but still lag behind their EU neighbours in terms of international mobility.
For the citizen of Belarus, the contrast between the power of their passports and those of the Baltic countries is particularly stark. Henley & Partners Passport Mobility Index rates Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian passports as numbers nine, ten and eleven in its global ranking, whereas Ukraine’s is ranked as the world’s 43rd most powerful passport. Belarus is even further behind in 68th place out of 107.
So how do young people in post-Soviet countries on the border with Europe feel about their passports? Do they offer or withhold opportunities? How important are their national IDs to the perception of their own identities? These are the questions we wanted to explore.
We interviewed four residents of those countries along the EU’s border with Russia — Olga from Belarus, Vadim and Marko from Ukraine, and Katja from Latvia.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, it is Olga who has the most negative outlook. It is interesting to hear the way in which she frames Belarus, albeit erroneously, as the last “European” country that isn’t in the EU. She is essentially equating visa-free travel within the Schengen zone, enjoyed by several non-member states, including Ukraine, with actual membership of the Union.
The shadow cast by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine looms large for Vadim and Marko. Katja also draws an explicit connection between her passport and "freedom". She is grateful for the opportunities it has brought her. Yet, she also reflects on how others within her family, who have found themselves living in various post-Soviet states after the end of the Cold War, have not been so fortunate.
Through building a database of statements we aim to provide a resource that will allow us to explore and reflect on the longer-term impact of 1989. We want to examine how Cold War divisions were overcome and the unequal distribution of new opportunities among citizens of the European states, which used to be part of the same community not so long ago.
About the author:
Peter Mitchell organises projects and workshops in the fields of non-formal education, history and intercultural learning. He has developed implemented projects in Germany, the Ukraine, Greece and Mali as well as local education programmes in cooperation with civil society organisations in Berlin, whose target groups include young people from minority and refugee backgrounds. Peter is originally from the UK and holds a PhD in History from the University of Edinburgh. He has been based in Berlin since 2011.