Jonathan Tremblay: Slovakia's Wall to Keep out Gypsies Will Fail - Just Like These Others

Roundup: Talking About History

[Jonathan Tremblay is a historian and works as a Breaking News Editor for the History News Network]

The town of Ostrovany in eastern Slovakia has a problem with their society’s undesirables. The heavy minority of Gypsies (Roma) living in ghettos throughout the town has led to an endemic of minor theft and a general disdain by private citizens who have to see the gypsy hovels every day. This minority is even getting out of hand, having grown to constitute two-thirds of Ostrovany’s population. They live on a pitance of government welfare and the aforementioned theft (of fruits and vegetables mostly, according to authorities) but they are a nuisance and therefore, private citizens successfully petitionned the municipal government to build a wall around their settlements. Out of sight, out of mind?

Local officials insist the 150 metre-long, 2.2 metre-high wall “does not segregate the Roma, nor does it limit their access to main roads or services” but the fact remains they built a wall to keep the Gypsies seperate from more “respectable” citizens. This mediocre attempt at a wall probably won’t keep anyone from going anywhere but it does shields one’s eyes to what might be a more substantial social problem and stands as a symbol of segregation and class-based inequalities.

That being said, is it practical? Only time can tell so I consulted time and she gave me the following list of the widely unsuccessful walls of human history. Enjoy.

1. Walls of Jericho – These mythical walls surrounded one of the oldest cities/agglomeration of inhabitants in History (and prehistory); archaeologists have found credible evidence for habitats dating back to the seventh millennium BC. Although we can now identify a XVIth century BC earthquake as the destroyer of the city’s walls, it remains legendary by the biblical insinuation (Book of Joshua) that the descendants of Moses destroyed the walls using the powerful sound of Ram-horns.

2. Wailing Wall – built around 500 BC, it is the remaining wall of the second Temple of Jerusalem. The original Holy Temple was destroyed by the Babylonians kings in the VIth century BC to be replaced by their own religious cult sites. This last vestige of the Second Temple has since been visited to mourn the legendary destruction of the First (or Solomon’s) Temple. It has so far survived an impressive amount of armed conflict in the past 2.5 millennia and remains a point of contention between the Muslims and Jewish inhabitants of the city.

3. Hadrian’s Wall – Built in the IInd century on what is today the England/Scotland border, Hadrian’s Wall was originally designed to keep out the barbarians (Picts and Scots) from Roman England. With this fortification among others, Emperor Hadrian was desperately trying to maintain the incredibly large Empire which his predecessor Trajan had left him. Although this was a failure and the Romans were to subsequently decline far below their accomplishments of the past, the Wall remains today as a testament to the might of our Western European ancestors.

To be fair, the Romans probably could have built it a little taller.

4. Great Wall of China – Painstakingly built over 2 millennia (IVth century BC-XVIIth century AD), the Chinese contraption was erected to keep out the horde of invading foreigners; may it be the Mongols, Manchurians or other “barbarians”. It failed simply because these invaders went around the 4,600 mile-long wall or through its more decrepit sections. It still is the most recognisable wall yet very little of its current architecture is from the original structure. It now symbolizes tourism more than anything.

5. Maginot line – A 150 mile stretch of land from Switzerland to Belgium was heavily fortified by the French during the 1930s. This “wall” was riddled with bunkers, watchtowers and military facilities to keep out a potentially belligerent Nazi invader. It was art in its impenetrability and in its functionality yet in May 1940, the Germans easily went through the Ardennes Mountains, a few miles north of the wall’s extremity. Hitler reached Paris in the following weeks and the Maginot line was never even fired upon.

6. Berlin Wall – Hastily built in the night of 12-13th of August 1961, the East German government in Berlin came to the conclusion that the only way to keep their citizens from crossing into democratic/capitalist West Germany was to imprison them with a wall. It was widely effectual yet the constant vigilance of the media made every victim of the Wall a martyr and thus the East Germans became known as tyrannical demons. Interestingly, the wall was not supposed to come down on the 9th of November 1989 (at 7 PM) as it did, but an official misspoke and citizens quickly decided to take the initiative to bring it down with sledgehammers. Although destroyed, the divisions between West and East Germany embodied by the Wall remain to this day.

7. USA-Mexico border wall or “tortilla wall” – Its construction begun in the early 1990s with the initiative of President George H.W. Bush and recently received massive funding from President George W. Bush. The soon-to-be 2,700 mile wall will still only be partial yet is designed to dissuade and prevent illegal immigration. The controversy surrounding this wall resides in its drastic nature and its widely documented ineffectiveness.

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