A border is a conceptual notion, something we create through agreement or force. As such, they can often be imaginary, their very presence somewhat ambiguous or arbitrary. The border between Belarus and Lithuania, two countries previously part of the Soviet Union, was once little more than an insignificant, thin line on a map. The people of this area interacted freely with one another. The bonds of their communal life were strong despite their national diversity. Families often intermarried, creating a common social identity.
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the erection of the European external border between Lithuania and Belarus in 2004, many of these border towns were divided. This territorial re-alignment not only separated these two countries, it also disrupted the once harmonious lives of the people who live here. Many families were torn apart. Spouses, siblings, and close friends now live an entire world away, although their houses are actually only a few meters on the other side of the border.
Those who remain in these towns along the Lithuanian border are now, for the most part, secluded and forgotten. The majority long for the ‘good old days’, when the borders were open and the Soviet collectives still in operation. These mostly elderly people carefully cultivate their traditions, while being forced to face the demands of changing social and economic conditions. Because of their solitude and the lack of urban amenities, they depend principally on what nature provides.
Jasper Bastian, b. 1989, is a German-American photographer. He holds an MA in photography from the ‘University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Dortmund’ and studied photojournalism at the ‘Danish School of Media and Journalism’. Applying diverse visual strategies, Bastian’s photographic work addresses modern concepts of territory and the intricate relationship between identity and place.
Bastian was a finalist of the ‘Leica Oskar Barnack Newcomer Award’ (2014). He was also selected as one of the winners of the ’30 under 30′ competition by Magnum Photos (2015) and nominated for the ‘Unseen Dummy Award’ (2017). His photographs have been published in The New Yorker, Financial Times Weekend Magazine, The Washington Post, Die Zeit, among others.
© Text and pictures by Jasper Bastian