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Interview with Alexandra Rijke


Interview by Jens den Boer


Alexandra Rijke is a cultural geography lecturer who primarily teaches in the field of landscape architecture and spatial planning. Rijke has conducted research in the Balkans and the Middle East on border walls and their effects on society. As a teacher, Rijke hopes to encourage students to think independently and critically with a reflective perspective.


REVIVAL OF BORDER WALLS


Ideal

There was once a belief in the idea of a free world. Thanks to the European Union and significant improvements in transportation like cars or airplanes, everything should have been faster, better, and more efficient. This was partly true, but soon this ideal proved not to be watertight. Conflicts arose, such as in the Balkans in the 1990s. Ultimately, 9/11 was a turning point, and Rijke believes that border reinforcements have increased especially since then. Rijke notes that this also happened in places where one would not expect it, such as Europe.


"Europe was seen as the epitome of human rights compliance, not the place where border walls and their violent effects would be so popular."


Showboating

According to Rijke, walls function more as a way to show strength and authority, or, in other words, ‘to show off’. Of course, walls make it harder to enter a certain area, but walls will never keep everyone out. Rijke cites America as an example where, to bypass the wall, people fly there with a tourist visa and then stay longer than the visa allows.

People with higher incomes benefit from a freer world; they can work and live virtually anywhere with their resources. People with lower incomes often have difficulty with a freer world. Vulnerable people become uncertain about, for example, retaining their jobs. Rijke sees this increase in uncertainty coupled with an increase in populism, an increase in leaders with statements like: "I will protect you, let's build that wall!" Citizens fall for this: "Look, he's doing something for us, this wall keeps the refugees out!" Rijke finds this unjust.


Structures such as walls or security cameras can radiate violence for a certain group of people. It all depends on who the structure is intended for. If the structures are not intended for you, then you will most likely not be affected. However, if the wall is intended for you, a different feeling will arise, a feeling of "I am not allowed here". Therefore, walls can radiate more violence for certain individuals.


Violence

From her own experience during research in the Balkans, Rijke herself had no trouble crossing the border between Serbia and Hungary. "European people are often welcome in many places," says Rijke, so she was also not really bothered by the cameras and drones present there. She understands that this kind of construction can appear much more violent to refugees because they are "unwanted" at the border crossing in Hungary.


During her research in Palestine, Rijke also noticed the effect of walls and surveillance on citizens. In the 1990s, there were already several checkpoints at the West bank of the Jordan river, and the number is only increasing. "Violence is just a daily reality there," says Rijke. When she started her research in 2013, she spoke with several citizens who were full of hope and enthusiasm about all kinds of ideas to improve their living environment. In 2019, when she spoke with these citizens again, everyone had given up. Every time Alexandra returned to the area, she found that another city had been walled or that an additional checkpoint had been built. "Really depressing, there was zero improvement," says Rijke.


"It's actually a kind of land grabbing they're playing here."


Checkpoint 300

Checkpoint 300 is a checkpoint at the west bank of the Jordan river, where Rijke conducted research. In recent years, Checkpoint 300 has been expanded and modernized with the aim of projecting less violence. However, Rijke believes that this is a bit of a PR trick.

Checkpoints are manned by young soldiers from the army, which is seen as a low position within the army, and these soldiers are often gone after a few months. Additionally, there are private security guards who are real professional guards and are often more violent. With the modernization of the checkpoints, Israel aims to have fewer soldiers and more machines, ultimately with the goal of projecting less violence.

However, these machines cause uncertainty and unpredictability in the checkpoints. "You never know when and why the alarm goes off,” Rijke mentions. Rijke argues that this unpredictability plays an important role in suppressing Palestinian society. For example, it causes you to never know whether your ride to university will take you ten minutes or two hours. It prevents people from making plans or doing something with their lives. This ultimately suppresses a population and causes them to move away from the area, which is the ultimate goal of Israelis.


REVIVAL OF STUDYING


Yield thinking

In recent years, politicians have painted a certain picture of how our society should function. This picture has been sketched with a view to the yield thinking in which everything must be expressed in figures, money and yield. Everything has to be as efficient as possible. “The idea is that you should graduate as soon as possible so that you can get a job as quickly as possible,” says Rijke.


"A 'successful' person has a house with a partner and two children."


Development

Rijke believes that studying is more than just earning points, graduating as quickly as possible or finding the most successful internship. “Of course it is super cool if you manage to do all that, but this is not the only thing that counts. As a student, you should also be able to join an association or do voluntary work, or be able to sit hungover at a lecture,” says Rijke. You also develop yourself as a person while studying, you gain insight into social discussions, you can completely immerse yourself in practicing a sport, you get new friends or even a boyfriend or girlfriend, you name it!


As a student, Rijke always worked hard. She studied eight years including one year of Arabic and two masters. In addition to her studies, she was also active in student organization Enactus. Enactus is an initiative from Wageningen students that helps people set up projects.


Rijke believes that the disappearance of the study grant has been disastrous. And apparently it has also been acknowledged as a big mistake by the parliament since the student loan system will be scrapped again next school year. In previous years and today, there are many students who have had to deal with significant debts due to the student loan system. This has consequences for saving or buying a house, for example. This applies even more so to international students who often pay the full tuition fee.


Shame

Alexandra notices that the workload is very high for students nowadays, especially when studying landscape architecture and spatial planning. She hears from students that they have to stop leisure activities such as sports or club work because of the intensity of the study program. It is also true that many students today cannot afford to fall behind or incur a study delay. Repeating a year only means an increasing debt for many students. She thinks this is a shame because the spontaneous things you can do as a student are being taken away.


"Please start rowing!"


Rijke would like to see a reduction of the study pressure. She thinks it is important that students are given sufficient space for their personal development. She also applies this in her own Human Geography course. She asks her students to write an essay about something that interests them. Choose something that interests you, and then attach the relevant theory to it. She also has doubts about the necessity of the binding study advice or the hard cut, again something that is completely focused on graduating as quickly as possible, the yield thinking.

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