Sunday, June 21, 2015

When independence comes at a price

(By Rebecca Franco)

We have been back for a couple of days now, and while my sleep deprivation is slowly decreasing, my understanding of all the impressions I had during the trip is slowly increasing. The day after our return to Amsterdam, I met up with a friend who asked me about the trip. I started rambling on about what I had experienced during the 10 days in Kosovo. After five minutes, my friend asked me to slow down because I was talking so fast that she could hardly make up the words that were coming out of my mouth. I guess that remark encompasses my feelings towards Kosovo: there are so many things you could tell about Kosovo that it ends up being incomprehensible…

Still, now that I am back home, back in the comfort of my own bed, room, and – not unimportant – own bathroom, I appreciate even more so our 10 days in Kosovo. I appreciate the braveness of the Kosovar people, the joie de vivre of many young people we’ve met, and the improvements Kosovar society has made in the last 15 years. I, nevertheless, also acknowledge the difficulties that lay ahead, the differences that must be overcome, and the tiredness of the Kosovar people that are only a natural result of those difficulties and differences.

Even though many of the difficulties and differences are to be overcome by the Kosovars, I believe that the international community, and we, citizens of that international community, have a responsibility as well. If you would ask most Kosovars what hinders them most in achieving their dreams and ambitions, many would mention the current visa restrictions. How can you become more tolerant and open towards your Serb/Albanian neighbours if your neighbouring countries are not open to you? Given that the European Union is responsible for the isolation of Kosovo, and given that the European Union is a democratic institution in which ultimately, its citizens (should?) have a say, then is it not our responsibility as European citizens to call for visa liberalization?

Our amazing host that showed us around Kosovo (and Kosovar bars) told me that the visa restrictions ruined her dreams. Not the expulsion from her home when she was fourteen, not her Serb neighbours that forced her out, not the economic challenges her newly-founded country deals with, not anything but the visa restrictions. Her parents travelled all over Europe during the time of ex-Yugoslavia. Her family had a holiday home in Croatia when she was younger. She can today not visit that house anymore. The independence that many Kosovar Albanians dreamed of has come at a price: their freedom of movement. 

The emotions that come up when thinking about her story, and the story of many others we heard during our short ten days in Kosovo, need to be capitalized to call for action. I changed my mind a lot for my project about Kosovo. Now that I am home I can take a little bit of distance so to bring everything I learned and heard in Kosovo together. A campaign can help put pressure on the European leadership (that is: our leadership) to push the visa liberalization through. Maybe it will help, maybe it will not, but at least it is a way to channel our emotions into action and show the Kosovar people we stand (or preferably walk/ride/fly) with them. Who’s with me?

Sign the petition; share it with your friends, family, acquaintances, annoying aunts, lost lovers and what not. 

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