Accepted paper:

'Europe': no longer 'somewhere else'


William Kavanagh (CEU San Pablo University, Madrid)

Paper short abstract:

For the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, ‘Europe’ had always been somewhere else. This paper looks at how people living on the Portuguese-Spanish border imagine themselves to be part of a wider European community and the ways this has affected their local identities.

Paper long abstract:

For the inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, 'Europe' had, for a very long time, been thought of as being somewhere else - Germany, France, even England were considered to be 'Europe' - but not Portugal or Spain. 'Europe' represented the economic, political and cultural modernity to which both countries of the Iberian Peninsula could only aspire. Yet, on the first of January 1986 both countries at last became part of 'Europe' (or at least of that part now known as the European Union). This paper, based on long-term fieldwork in communities on both sides of the border between the Portuguese region of Trás-os-Montes and the Spanish region of Galicia, looks at the different ways individuals living on a post-Schengen internal European border are now beginning to imagine themselves as being part of a wider European community and how this has affected, in sometimes rather surprising ways, both their local identities and their movements across a formerly 'hard' (that is, closely supervised) international frontier. One of the oldest borders in Europe, the Portuguese-Spanish border has remained virtually unchanged for some eight hundred years and, like many borders, has always been a peripheral area for both nation-states. One might be justified in saying that, from the viewpoint of Lisbon or Madrid, the two countries have lived with their backs turned to one another for centuries. However, this was never true of the local people living on the border, whose highly developed smuggling activities necessitated the maintenance of close relations with those on the other side, just as they needed the existence of the border itself. The virtual disappearance of that trade with the opening of the border following implementation of the Schengen convention in the early 90s has meant that the 'soft' (that is, uncontrolled) border of today, in ways contrary to what one might have thought to be the case, has actually reduced social relations between the inhabitants of the border communities and those on the other side of the frontier and transformed previously intertwined identities.

panel W074
Neither here nor there: locating and identifying Europe