Domestic Border: The Invisible Wall (2015), by an Italian photographer Tommaso Rada, is a documentary series about the Greece-Bulgaria border – one of the borders that used to divide the Cold War world into East and West. The Invisible Wall (2015), a chapter of Rada’s Domestic Border, is in fact a part of a bigger project The Thin Line produced by Colectivo Photo thanks to the VSCO Artist Initiative grant. With The Thin Line, the collective ‘hopes to bring attention to what a united Europe entails, documenting [its] past and present […] with the aim to stimulate in the viewer an idea of the future.’
‘The Rhodope Mountains are still there, [just] like when Alexander the Great was crossing them [and] planning the construction of his Empire. Impervious and mysterious, the Rhodope are another border within the [European] territory, usually considered as the starting point — or the finishing line — of the Balkans. If up in the north of Bulgaria the water of the Danube helps to wash the memories, here everything is frozen, even when the temperature is not below zero. The [remainders] of the Iron Curtain are still standing on the border line, on the Greek side there are […] several military bases and in the forest, close to border, the bodies of [those who] tried to run away from the communist regime [and were killed by the Bulgarian police before 1989], still rest under the foliage without identification.’
‘On the Bulgarian side of the mountains farmers still grow tobacco and miners still dig in the mountains to find precious metals. Small textile and shoe factories have born from the ashes of old national factories, [with] the new [owners’] philosophy [being] standard products using cheap labour [.] [However, work isn’t arriving from Greece in crisis] and other foreign clients are moving to Albania and Macedonia, where the labour is even cheaper; a new industrial crisis is knocking [on Bulgaria’s] door.’
‘Through the mountains, there is Greece. The Greek Macedonian region was already a depressed area before the economical crisis, now [it] is [in a state of] desolation: ghost villages, closed business, abandoned ski centres. Meanwhile Greeks try to survive to the crisis […] [and] refugees are stranded on the border between Greece and the Republic of Macedonia because other European countries don’t allow them to enter or pass [through] their territory.’
As Rada wrote, ‘During my journey across the borders in Romania, Bulgaria and Greece, I have been haunted by some crucial questions […]: what will the European future be? What are the ideals and principles that we share [on] the European continent? Do we want to be a community based on individualism, exclusion and post-capitalistic values? [Will we] be able to learn from our past and live a better present? The answers that I found after this journey are not conclusive and frequently contradictory. The Thin Line, that gives the title to our project, is actually […] very emblematic [of my] experience [of] seeing and documenting the people and the [territories on both sides] of these borders. A thin line between the dream of a new era and the ruins of a failed political and social period that doesn’t want to be forgotten. The utopia of a fresh start, as a new European country, challenged by the dystopian condition determined by the economical crisis and the inconsistency of a common European identity.’ While the journey along the Bulgaria-Greece border raised many questions without giving conclusive answers, Rada explains that it is his (and Colectivo Photo’s) duty to document and try to understand the change that is happening in front of our eyes.
Taking into account the current social and political climate in Europe, Tommaso Rada (and other members of the Colectivo Photo) could not have found a better time to work on such a project. While ‘border projects’ have been done before (e.g. see our archival feature ‘Where Europe Ends’ by Camilla De Maffei), the contemporary socio-political context gives this one a different meaning. Taking a closer look at old East-West borders – and in this case the Bulgaria-Greece border – creates an opportunity to re-think what ‘Europe’, ‘European identity’, ‘East’ and ‘West’ really stand for in times of raising European nationalism(s), refugee crisis, and Brexit.