The Iron Curtain separated totalitarian dictatorships from the free world, while the under-construction border fence is a divide between the world of law and order on one side and chaos on the other.
All of us will remember the term “limes” from our studies. Were the Romans “exclusionary” to keep the population of the areas collectively known as Barbaricum away from their territories with the help of a strictly-imposed border closure in the form of the limes?
Similarly to all historic examples, this parallel too has its weaknesses. However, one thing is certain: in its time, the limes protected territories that were home to an orderly system of relations and comparative prosperity. Another similar pattern is that peoples demanding entry with either peaceful or aggressive means were less than interested in how the conditions they were hoping to reap the benefits of came into being.
The Berlin Wall falling down, 1989 (photo: historytoday.com)
In our times, fences on the border of two countries have neem built in several parts of the world. Some of these were constructed with the explicit purpose of border protection, such as the Israeli wall or the moat and turret-studded system part-financed by the EU to be built on Ukraine’s border with Russia, while others were erected to hold back the tide of illegal migrants. One example for this is the 6-metre fence built by the United States on its border with Mexico, but a barbed-wire fence was built on the Bulgarian-Turkish border – which is also the EU’s frontier – with the same purpose. Fences separating the Spanish enclaves of Ceuta and Melilla from mainland Africa can also be cited as examples.
When there was first talk about the construction of the Hungarian border fence, the term “Iron Curtain” “naturally” sprung up – even though comparing the fence to the Iron Curtain would be a serious mistake.
The greatest difference is that the Iron Curtain separated totalitarian dictatorships from the free world much like a fence encircling the supranational “peace camp”. It protected the Communist dictatorship while condemning the encircled peoples to confinement. Today, free countries are endeavouring to protect the world of law and order – therefore, modern-day border fences protect Western-style rule of law.
The second major difference is the direction of movement these fences prevent. Today’s fences serve the prevention of unlawful inward penetration, while the essence of the Iron Curtain was to prevent runaways from the enslaved peoples fleeing – or, as was most apparent in the case of the Berlin Wall, served to prevent outward movement.
Finally, the third difference is that modern-day fences preventing illegal border crossing were born amid open political debates with a clear objective. By contrast, the Iron Curtain was built undercover and mendaciously – for example, its Berlin section was named “Anti-Fascist Protective Wall”.
It should also be pointed out that in the first phase of its history, the Iron Curtain was fundamentally comprised of landmines, with the electric signalling system only being installed later. Of course, none of this is on the agenda today – as for Europe, not even the prospect of those illegally crossing the border being shot like the people attempting to flee the Socialist bloc were murdered along the Iron Curtain…
translated from historian Áron Máthé’s 13 August 2015 entry on Mozgástér blog