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Petite France, a historic district in Strasbourg and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Grande Île. (Credit: getyourguide.com)

On the 28th August 2017, I crossed from Germany into France — from the little town of Kehl into the city of Strasbourg where I will remain for the upcoming academic year as part of the Erasmus exchange program with BCB. As I had never visited France, I was more than excited for my Erasmus Exchange, and curious about the similarities and differences I would find between these two nation-states at the heart of the European Union. But, despite the attention I afforded the view from the bus window, I’m still not sure exactly when I crossed the border. There were no bells or whistles, no fanfare, no berets or baguettes in sight. The landscape remained unchanged and my fellow passengers continued to doze, or stare at their mobiles, uninterrupted. It was only when we disembarked that I noticed how road-signs and the displays in shop windows were no longer in German, but French. Listening in on the conversations of those who buzzed around the terminal, I quickly recognised its distinctive melody, a smooth and slippery river of sound falling unintelligibly upon my dumb ears.

Almost a month later and I can’t help but think the true wonder isn’t how similar these neighbouring countries seemed to me initially, but how language and culture are preserved despite their geographic proximity, and how deeply the notion of the border runs within the human psyche.

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Macedonian nationalists after forcefully entering the parliament building in Skopje on April 27th 2017 (Credit: Novatv.mk)

After (basically) fascists break into your country’s parliament on Thursday the 27th April 2017, you feel as if so often you’ve discussed right-wing populism in too academic of a setting. You’ve talked about the causes and cures to a movement that is only now getting underway in the West, while this is the only kind of government you ever really remember living under in your home country. You find yourself unable to intellectualize something you and many others tried to prevent. This time, you feel much more helpless, and your reaction is much more outwardly distraught. You think about how there is a debate about school policy on potentially triggering texts on campus the next day, and you wonder if any trigger warning (in the Internet meaning of the word, not the psychological one) could have prepared you for this. What would the trigger warnings for Thursday’s events have been, anyway?

TW: “Anti-Albanian Rhetoric”; “Violence against Women”; “Neo-fascism”; “Imagery that Might Make a Macedonian in Berlin Feel Powerless”.

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