Of passports, animals, and flip-books

Need I remind you of each and every bird
as it flies over, and now sits,
on a closed border gate?
Even if it’s small as a sparrow, its tail is abroad
while its beak is still at home.
And if that weren’t enough, it keeps fidgeting!

Wisława Szymborska, “Psalm”

It’s interesting to see how some of the new EU passports are changing their iconology, using images of animals, maps, even geological formations and weather symbols (as on the pages from the new UK passport, top left). The new Spanish passport (top right) includes drawings of migratory animals, together with small globes with arrows showing their seasonal routes by air, land or sea. Though the idea makes no effort to correct the injustice whereby the value of a passport (i.e. one’s freedom of movement across borders) is proportional to national GDP, at least in the case of the Spanish passport, it seems a step in a positive direction, suggesting that human migration is as natural as that of animals.

In other cases, the new iconology is a subtle, endearing method of developing people’s emotional affinity to their passport, as a symbol of their national (as opposed to human and planetary) identity. Here’s a very short video showing the pages of the new Finnish passport (thanks, Caroline & Johanna, for the tip) – flick through them quickly as if it were a flip book, and you have an animation of a walking moose. It’s a nice touch, and at the surface, a seemingly innocent homage to Finnish nature; on the other hand, to include animals on a document designed for the purpose of people-filtering and the restriction of human movement could be perceived as an insult to those same animals, as well as to our intelligence. As it turns out, the moose animation is primarily a security feature…

Still, I much prefer the new Spanish and Finnish passports to my Maltese one. Its pages are decorated with no less than 703 Maltese and George Crosses, watermarks included. Did you know it was possible to fit so much patriotic, colonial and religious fervour in the pocket of your jeans?

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