Monday, June 15, 2015

Fortress Europe

My name is Jules and I am a second year student at Amsterdam University College. As you will have read, we are visiting Kosovo with our Peace Lab class.

Yesterday, June 14th, we drove south to Prizren, one of Kosovo’s oldest and most beautiful cities. We were going to spend the day visiting several touristic sites including the old fortress, a mosque and an orthodox church. However, as we were approaching the city, Anne and Erik came with the spontaneous idea to continue driving southwest into Albania after we had enjoyed Prizren’s cultural sites. Everyone felt excited about this change of plans, getting the opportunity to visit another country that featured so heavily in the history of Kosovo. Besides, I personally saw it as a chance to cross one more country of the to-visit list :)

Unfortunately, it turned out that the bus driver did not have the correct paperwork with him, which forced us to change the plans once again. Nevertheless, it did trigger me to think about what had been mentioned on numerous occasions earlier on during our trip. The harsh visa restrictions imposed on Kosovo by the international community allow for limited freedom of movement. In fact, Albania is one of only 40 countries that holders of a Kosovar passport can visit visa-free (or with a visa on arrival), the majority of which is either in the Former Yugoslavia, Africa, or the Caribbean and Pacific oceans. In comparison, the Dutch passport will grant access to 172 countries, including practically every economically developed country. Thus, it is very unnatural for me to think that I cannot visit a country as a result of political relations between two governments.

Interestingly, this morning, we visited the Ministry of European Integration. One of their priorities is to promote visa liberation. Again, it was emphasized how little places one could enter while holding the Kosovar passport. The Deputy Minister, Ramadan Ilazi, explained that oddly, holders of a Serbian passport are allowed to travel freely to 107 countries worldwide, including the member states of the European Union. The question amongst Kosovars is, why did foreign governments allow access when we were still carrying a Serbian passport and restrict access it to the same people, now that we have a Kosovar passport?

Nevertheless, the continuous progress that is made in improving relations between Kosovo and the EU does offer some perspective for the future. Kosovars wishing to go abroad can cherish the prospect of gaining EU membership, opening a world of opportunity.

The Deputy Minister also mentioned that the problem of restriction of movement is shared amongst Kosovo’s population, regardless of ethnicity. All Kosovars would benefit from visa liberation, and perhaps, these shared issues have some potential for bringing these ethnic groups closer together, if only a little.

Yet, despite some evidence of progress, it will take time before the Kosovars with travel aspirations can make their dreams reality. Meanwhile, I will consider myself lucky to hold the Dutch nationality. The more I learn about the situation of the people of Kosovo, being unable to enter hardly any highly developed country, the more I appreciate the value of our EU passports.

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