B as in Border Gods

von Daniela Bär Daniela Bär, *1989, ist Kulturpublizistik-Absolventin und Zollfreilager-Mitgründerin. gepostet am 06. Dezember 2014

The codenames for the military operations, which the allies used against the Axis powers in the fight for the European Continent during World War II, are still sound meaningful today. Polar Bear and Leopard landed on Greece, Cyclamen was only ever just a plan, Margarethe occupied Hungary, Silver Fox split into Polar Fox and Platinum Fox during deployment. Alongside biology, Greek mythology, with its gods, demigods and heroes, was also a popular source for codenames: Hercules, Mercury, Theseus stand for the traits and achievements that were meant to stand by the operation as motivational cheerleaders.

Frontex also makes use of Greek mythology. Here the operation names refer primarily to areas of deployment: Hera stands for the West African coast, Poseidon rules the eastern Mediterranean and Hermes goes into action along the Sicilian coast. In their research project Post-Frontier, architects Pietro Pagliaro and Giacomo Cantoni call this coast one of Europe’s most important outer borders. Their project, showcased at the Venice Architecture Biennale 2014, approaches the issue of how borders are perceived. Three perspectives – the institutional view of Frontex, the view of the photojournalists and a model of the architects’ vision – are set against each other. The model unites compiled “frontier-related places”: places of border experiences all around the Mediterranean, an ensemble of different realities, all witnesses or symbols of the fact that there is always an inside and an outside. Here the Frontex Tower in Warsaw rises next to the administrative district of the Sicilian city Trapani; the Turkish-Bulgarian customs stands next to the Malta airport. An oppressive audio collage combines sirens, airport buzz, locks clicking into place and cries for help: Sounds where you can’t hear if they are from travelling or from fleeing.

Even though most of the refugees, legal or illegal, come to Europe by air travel, the sea crossings receive the most media attention. Ana Dana Beros’ Biennale project Intermundia relates, by means of a book and an installation, the role of the island Lampedusa in the context of the Mediterranean refugee movement. Operation Hermes 2011 plays a part in this story: Frontex agents were stationed on Lampedusa in order to question and identify North African refugees who had multiplied in number due to the Arab Spring. Initially the term Hermes seems understandable: as the tutelary deity of travelers, he would have to be a tutelary deity all the more for refugees. But if one were to recount all the roles of the messenger of the gods, one would come across images of the utmost cruelty: As the son of Zeus, Hermes played the role of a lawmaker only if he delivered the gods’ messages to the dying and ultimately lead the deceased to the underworld.

The operation Odyssey Dawn in Lybia raises the question why the American strategists chose to launch a military intervention under the name of an infamous voyage. The Frontex example also shows that, in the case of contemporary refugee policies, using mythology as a source for inspiration is a problem of semantics: designations are never just a part of a tradition of name-giving, but always stir up connotative dust. This all too quickly turns the name of an operation into a statement. While the mythological associations of the Frontex operations appear cynical, the term does reveal – from the eyes of the responsible name-giver – an important objective of this operation: the coordination of the returns to Tunisia bear a comparison with the sealing off of Europe – impenetrably “cum sigillo hermetis”.

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Translation: Sophia Cosby