The nations of the world are important organisers in our world today. A nation state is a geographical area that gets its political legitimacy from serving as a sovereign nation.
The nations provide a ready-made ‘we group’ that aids identity of its citizens. Their borders may be drawn geographically, following rivers, mountain chains, oceans, but more often artificially by convention or decision, and often after conflict at the edges. There is a high chance that some people who feel affinity with another nation are caught by these artificial borders, and as such the identity-aiding role of nation states can also be oppressive of minority groups.
At the 2014 TEDxBrisbane, Dr Fiona Reilly spoke about living life without boundaries. She spoke of the intuition and bravery involved in being an emergency ward doctor and in driving around China in a camper van with her husband and two daughters. She ended her talk on an excellent note: what if the world had no borders? On her journey she met a myriad of different peoples who are now counted merely as Chinese. She met a pluralism of different cultures that coexist on the edges of what is now known as China. While it probably does not take circumventing China in a camper van to realise that the world is full of people, just like yourself, with hopes, dreams and aspirations for themselves and their family, Dr Reilly’s epiphany seems well worth the effort: the peoples of the world are more similar than different and the world could be a better place if we were less territorial about the country we – or our ancestors – happen to have claimed.
Once, before nation states, there were no borders. Archeology has shown that the first Homo Sapiens came to Denmark from Germany during the summer season to hunt reindeer in southern Jutland. This was at the end of the last ice age, some 12000 years ago, but the climate in Denmark was still too inhospitable for permanent residence. It was not until some 10000 years ago, when the ice had melted and the seas rose to shape the land roughly as we know it today that humans came and settled in Denmark. And since then Denmark has had waves of migrants, both before and after Denmark was established as a unified country by vikings in 800bc. Who knows who can call themselves indigenous Danes to this day?
Long before the end of the last ice age, some say 50000 years ago, others much longer, people migrated through Asia to Australia. Unlike in Europe where one could once walk from Jutland to the west coast of Ireland without getting wet feet, there was water between Australia and Asia. The settlement of Australia involved seagoing vessels, not mere walking. First nations people of Australia settled more than 500 countries with borders that could only be breached through ceremony, welcome and permission. The island nature of the continent meant these countries existed in relative isolation from migration, until 1788 when the First Fleet arrived in Botany Bay.
The longevity of the Aboriginal ancestral claim to Australia is at least five times that of the Danes’ claim to Denmark. Of course that is not something our current system of nation states now pays any real attention to.
My memory of the small Scandinavian country to the north that I grew up in – perhaps as an indigenous Dane – is of a country of tolerance and acceptance. Yet when I go home, I often hear an underlying racism in the conversation. The discourse that marginalises otherness – unDanishness – is quite strong in Denmark these days, as evidenced by the success of political parties that espouse strong nationalistic us vs them policy.
I wonder how Danes will react to three second generation Pakistani migrants setting up a party called the National Party. The key vision of the party is to return Denmark to the values their parents were met with when they first arrived: tolerance, respect and openness, and counterbalance the current rhetoric that make migrants negative objects in the discourse. The very idea of this party highlights how irrelevant protection of some perceived ideal of the past is in our increasing mobilised world with a growing floating tribe.
How would the landscape of humanity look, if the world had no borders?