Redefined Boundaries And Uneasy Transformations

DOROHUSK, Poland | Updated: Apr 28 2004, 05:30am hrs
The message here at this gleaming new border post overlooking the thickly forested banks of the Bug River is that Poland is ready.

Inside a spotless weapons room is a rack of snub-nosed Glauberyt automatic pistols, a Polish version of the famous Uzi. There are 9 mm pistols, boxes of bullets, two submachine guns and night vision goggles inside green canvas kits.

Outside is a Land Rover, motorcycles and two dogs trained to follow tracks in the woods. Not seen, but also available to protect this stretch of the 327-mile border between Poland and Ukraine, are snowmobiles, a helicopter and a patrol plane.

Just about all of it is provided by the European Union, which Poland will join on May 1 with nine other countries.

Of course, we understand that this will be the border of Western Europe, said Lt. Col. Andrej Wojcik, commander of the newly strengthened Polish Border Guards in this area. He has 1,500 men and women under his command.

Given its way, Poland would probably not be fortifying its eastern borders quite to this extent. Poles and others are concerned about creating what some people here call a new Iron Curtain, or a new Rio Grande, between it and its former allies in the Soviet bloc, namely Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, exacerbating tensions around who is on the inside and who is left out of the new Europe.

But fearful of the smuggling of people and contraband, current European Union states in Western Europe made a tightly controlled border one of many conditions that Poles had to fulfill for membership. The looming question now is whether it will become an economic and ideological divide as well.

There was a belief that hordes of illegal migrants are waiting outside our borders and that our controls were inefficient, said Jan Trusczynski, Polands chief European Union negotiator.

We had to confront this type of thinking, that Polands borders were more dangerous than other European borders, Trusczynski said, which means that we had to beef up resources and investment along our Eastern frontier.

Europes own eastern frontier has shifted throughout its history, and it is shifting once again. This time, the new border of Europe defined by the soon-to-be-25-member European Union will be several hundred miles farther east.

Its a historic moment, Germanys foreign minister, Joschka Fischer, said. It will be the first time in modern history that Germany will be the center of Europe, without direct threats to our border and without us threatening anybody.

The change is equally historic for Poland. Poland will no longer be between two big nations, Germany and Russia, which was always a dangerous situation, but in a union with many other nations who will be partners, said Jerzy Holzer, director of the Institute for Politics of the Polish Academy of Science.

In many ways the new border arrangements, not just for Poland but for all the new members, promise to be more complicated than before.

There will be a transition period of probably several years during which the old borders of the Europe Union and the new ones will remain, streamlined but not eliminated.

For the foreseeable future, Poles will be able to cross into Germany without a visa. But there will still be a border post, and Poles will be allowed to stay for only a limited period, probably about three months.

Worried about low-cost labor flooding in, several countries, including Germany, have announced restrictions on job seekers from the new states for several years.

In other words, there will remain what one German writer, Roland Freudenstein, has called a frontier of poverty, though it is a frontier, he has written, with a good chance of disappearing.

This will be the new border between Europe and non-Europe, defined in many ways by religion and shared political and cultural values. (Poland is mostly Catholic, for instance, while the Orthodox church begins to dominate to the east.)

Along this border, controls and surveillance will not be loosened but, at least for now, intensified.

The line here in Dorohusk on the Bug River is visible already a red strip painted across a green trestle bridge where vehicles waited.

An electrician from the Ukrainian town of Lutsk (pronounced Woosk) said he was waiting to get building materials in Poland and was untroubled by the new visa requirements. Theres a Polish Consulate in Lutsk, he said, and it only took me a day to get a visa.

But in another car, a man and a woman who gave their names as Sergei and Larissa from Luboml, Ukraine, were bitter.

Theres no work in the Ukraine, Larissa said, so for us its going to be very hard.

RICHARD BERNSTEIN // NYT