External Affairs

The Long Wait at Europe’s Easternmost Frontier With Itself

Dimitrovgrad: Some Balkans are officially ‘Europeans’ and some are not. Bulgaria and Greece are part of the European Union and they have an upper hand when it comes to business across the continent. The landlocked Republic of Serbia is not in the EU but its geography places it at an advantage. Every truck which moves to and fro from one end of Europe to the EU’s Balkan members and Macedonia has to cross the mountainous region of Serbia. Serbia is a small country which has had a big place in history, be it the Austro-Hungarian attack on Serbia during World War One or the role its partisans played in the fight against Nazi Germany during the Second World War. In recent decades, the Kosovo issue has kept it in the news, leading to the bombing of Belgrade and other parts of Serbia by NATO in 1999.

The Serbian border with Bulgaria is the scene of a huge traffic jam of trucks, which are slowly examined by the Serbian border police. The truckers say that if Serbia could quickly become a part of the EU then the bother of long queues and wasted time would be over. On a bad day, it may take the whole day to cross the border may take a day while on a good day, truckers still need a few hours lined up.

Alexander from Macedonia says the first thing truckers do after crossing the border is to find a motel. There they open cans of beer and enjoy the evening. At the border, the Serbian police question them and they have to be ready with all kinds of answers and documents or else the truck may not be allowed to enter and would be told to go back. No transporter can take such chances, especially when it come to food items and livestock. Some say corruption is high so drivers keep their pockets full of cash just in case.

My photographs provide a glimpse into the crossing of Europe’s eastern most frontier with itself.

Trucks in a huge queue at the Bulgarian side of the border. Credit: Shome Basu

Trucks in a huge queue at the Bulgarian side of the border. Credit: Shome Basu

Serb border police keeps an eye on every movement. Credit: Shome Basu

Serb border police keeps an eye on every movement. Credit: Shome Basu

Panoramic shot of the queue of trucks at the Serbian checkpoint. Credit: Shome Basu

Panoramic shot of the queue of trucks at the Serbian checkpoint. Credit: Shome Basu

From day till evening, the shadows gradually become longer before merging with the darkness. Credit: Shome Basu

From day till evening, the shadows gradually become longer before merging with the darkness. Credit: Shome Basu

Cars get an easy pass to Serbia. In the distance, the Republic of Serbia flag is seen. Credit: Shome Basu

Cars get an easy pass to Serbia. In the distance, the Republic of Serbia flag is seen. Credit: Shome Basu

Border checkpoint with Bulgaria. Credit: Shome Basu

Border checkpoint with Bulgaria. Credit: Shome Basu

Serb villages along the route which truckers say were dangerous to cross even some years back. Now things are better. Credit: Shome Basu

Serb villages along the route which truckers say were dangerous to cross even some years back. Now things are better. Credit: Shome Basu

Alexander with his fellow truckers hit a motel for dinner and beer just after crossing the Serbian checkpoint. Credit: Shome Basu

Alexander with his fellow truckers hit a motel for dinner and beer just after crossing the Serbian checkpoint. Credit: Shome Basu

Freedom of the road. Credit: Shome Basu

Freedom of the road. Credit: Shome Basu

A motel where truckers freshen up inside Serbia. Credit: Shome Basu

A motel where truckers freshen up inside Serbia. Credit: Shome Basu