Nations left no border stone unturned

Earlier this month a farmer from Belgium found himself as the key instigator of what could have flared into a border war between his country and France. | Screencap via Twitter/@BBCWorld

Farmers don’t usually cause international incidents. Instead, they’re usually at the receiving end of such incidents, whether it be restricted canola exports due to a Chinese temper tantrum or lost livestock sales resulting from misguided American protectionism.

However, earlier this month a farmer from Belgium found himself as the key instigator of what could have flared into a border war between his country and France.

It seems the guy had become tired of driving his tractor around a stone in his field, so he moved it seven and a half feet off his property.

I pictured a big rock when I first heard this story, and it wouldn’t be unusual for farmers to want to remove this kind of obstruction from their fields.

However, I’ve since seen a photograph and it’s actually a stone marker with the date 1819 etched on the side, not the kind of thing farmers normally would have to contend with in their daily struggles with the landscape.

It was one of many such markers that were erected to identify the new border between Belgium and France, which was officially established a year later in 1820.

Apparently by moving the marker, the farmer made Belgium a little bit bigger and France a little bit smaller.

Nobody was taking this terribly seriously, but according to news reports, some kind of action will be required at some point. The farmer will be asked to move the marker back to its original spot and if he refuses, Belgium and France will have to convene a border commission, which hasn’t sat since 1930.

I’m assuming the affair will be resolved without diplomats and soldiers getting involved, but the entire incident seems to me to be a bit haywire.

I would have thought that the border was determined first and then the stone markers were erected to let everyone know where it was located. In that scenario, it really wouldn’t matter if a farmer looking to be more efficient happened to move a stone or two.

But that doesn’t seem to be the case. If one misplaced stone can change the border, then that must mean the border is based on where workers plunked down a bunch of stones 200 years ago and not the other way around.

And that seems like a wacky way to run a railroad — or in this case, a border.

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