Walls can secure, preserve, divide. Sometimes they’re insurmountable. Some are made of stone and barbed wire, others just form in people's minds. Walls and the stories behind them - a new series in Focus on Europe.
Cyprus: An island hoping for unity
Legend has it that Aphrodite, the goddess of love, emerged from the shimmering Mediterranean Sea in Cyprus. That is in stark contrast to the hostilities that pervade its modern history. For over 40 years, since a Greek Cypriot coup was followed by a Turkish invasion of the north, Cyprus has been divided in two – Greek-Cyrpiot in the south and Turkish-run in the north. For decades, peace talks have failed, but now there is new hope of reunification, thanks to the new leaders of each territory - who show a will to compromise. Citizens from both sides think the love once associated with their home can now return.
Finland: Underground nuclear vault
A deep bunker off the Finnish southwest coast, carved from solid rock, designed to safeguard human legacy: The underground facility Olkiluoto has been chosen to be the world’s first permanent waste repository. The scheduled retention time for the high-level waste is an estimated 100,000 years, meaning this storage site aims to bury the waste practically forever. Those expecting a public or political outcry are left disappointed. The government’s plan is largely supported, with little objection from residents.
France: Conflict over the Wall of Peace
For years a 9-meter-high monument in Paris has been the subject of dispute. Not far from the Eiffel Tower, stands the city's Wall for Peace – a structure designed by a Jewish couple and inspired by the Wailing Wall of Jerusalem. The word “peace” is written on it in 49 languages. Some Parisians are trying to tear the monument down - calling it an eyesore that ruins the view of the Eiffel Tower. But is it just the view? The protests are causing some to question if the calls for its removal are an attack on the country’s Jews.
Turkey: Street traders by the city walls
For more than a thousand years, the Walls of Constantinople withstood siege after siege - until 1453, when Ottoman forces breached the impressive walls and took what is now Istanbul in Turkey. The fall of Constantinople in the Middle Ages was the end of the Byzantine Empire. Today, the remains of the ancient defensive stone walls are still in use. They have become a touristic attraction and the home to everything from vegetable plots and storage facilities for kiosks. Once built to protect their residents from enemies, Istanbul's historic walls now are a breeding ground for local street traders.
Ukraine: A wall along the Russian border
Ukraine's border with Russia is about 2000 kilometers long. It had long been a green no-man's land, but now the Ukrainian military has been installing defensive systems made from steel and concrete. Since Moscow’s annexation of Crimea, a widespread feeling of insecurity and need for protection has seized many Ukrainians. One particularly worrying aspect of the conflict has been how easily Russia managed to infiltrate soldiers and weaponry into eastern Ukraine. One idea to stop something similar happening again in other areas of the country is to build a fence along the border.
Poland: Entrenched in Luxury
Before the end of Communism, Poland was one of the poorest countries in Europe. Yet now, Poland has a large and affluent middle class, and it holds the European record for gated communities. It would seem that while at one time the fall of the Iron Curtain brought the country together, today many Poles are clamoring to live behind high walls and locked fences. Some say that's deepening divisions between the haves and have-nots. Others say, high earners living there are sealing themselves off supposedly do so to protect themselves from criminals.
Northern Ireland: Divided by walls
For many residents of Belfast, walls and fences as high as 18 feet are a sad reality. These so-called Peace Walls separate the Catholic and Protestant communities which endured decades of violent and bloody clashes in Northern Ireland's capital. Almost 20 years after the peace agreement between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists, hostility and mistrust still persist. Almost 100 protection walls still point skywards. The Northern Irish government has proposed a plan for dismantling the barriers - but they remain.