These days in the Balkans, visas are all anyone seems to be talking about. Specifically, the European Union’s new policy on visa-free travel from the region has galvanized the population, as passport holders from Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia are to be exempt from visa entrance requirements to EU-countries by the end of the year.
Noticeably excluded from the visa liberalization process are the nations of Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Kosovo. However, while European officials stated that Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina will join Serbia, Montenegro and Macedonia in visa free travel by the end of 2010, no timeline for Kosovo’s inclusion has been given.
Officially, the aforementioned countries have been denied visa liberalization due to their failure to meet criteria established by the EU, such as the introduction of biometric passports, membership in Europol, and measures against corruption, including organized crime. Unofficially, many in Kosovo believe that politics has played a significant role in the EU’s decision to bypass visa liberalization in Kosovo.
While five EU-members have not recognized Kosovo’s independence, many Kosovars believe that this is not what is hindering visa liberalization in Kosovo; rather, they believe the driving impetus is prejudice. Many within Europe view Kosovo as a lawless nation, run by organized crime and characterized by a black market in drugs, organs and sex slaves. They are worried, many Kosovars argue, that visa liberalization will cause a mass exodus from Kosovo, bringing these problems with it.
But what exactly does this mean for ordinary Kosovars?
For many, visa liberalization is viewed as a crucial step on the path towards integration into the EU. Failing to keep up with their neighbors in this respect will result in the continuing and even increasing global isolation of the citizens of Kosovo.
And many are not willing to accept this.
For example, Forum 2015 (www.forumi2015.org), a local-based think tank, organized a debate, entitled “To Live in the Ghetto.” Here, experts compared the isolation of Kosovo to that of Afghanistan, saying that Kosovars can only travel to four nations without acquiring a visa (Albania, Montenegro, Macedonia and Turkey), while Afghans can travel to twenty nations without a visa. Again, the belief that Kosovo was denied visa liberalization due to political rather than technical reasons was expressed.
The Kosovo Women’s Network, as part of the Regional Women’s Lobby for Peace, Security and Justice in Southeastern Europe, has issued a call to the EU to include Kosovo in it’s policy of visa liberalization in the Balkans.
They stated, in part, “We are: United to contribute to overcoming the consequences of wars and bringing together the people of this part of the Balkans, despite the fact that in our environment there are women who have lost loved members of families, even half of their families; Committed to supporting reconciliation between the people of this part of the Balkans for the sake of creating a future equal, without discrimination, for all peoples of the Western Balkans and the entire region of Southeast Europe; Welcoming the decision of the European Commission to liberalize the visa regime for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro, while at the same time surprised at the serious and discriminatory decisions of the EU to leave Kosovo, Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina on the “black list;” and, Surprised that, despite the fact that we were already once victims of war, we are now faced with the ghettoization of our countries, especially since the European Union has established its mission in Kosovo and also has a presence in Albania and in Bosnia and Herzegovina and is in a position to observe all the progress achieved.
Posted By Tiffany Ommundsen
Posted Aug 3rd, 2009