Wednesday, July 1, 2015

How come I got to go to Paris this weekend?

By Jo Coenen

          So, the trip is over. I like to think that we all came back from Kosovo changed, that we took a bit of Kosovo back with us and left a little part of us back in Kosovo. The thing is, though, the situation in Kosovo has not changed since we have left. Our trip is over but Kosovo's fight continues. Visa liberalization continues to be Kosovo’s main agenda.

          This weekend I went to Paris. A couple of days before Friday I booked a bus ride to Bercy station from Amsterdam, for a grand total of 19 euros. It was easy. It was simple. I traveled early in the morning, slept through most of the bus ride, and by the afternoon I had awoken in a different country. No one checked my passport, demanded to know why I was in the country, or bothered me whatsoever. In fact I did all the bothering that occurred during the trip by inclining my chair too far back on the guy behind me.

          It's so simple for us in the European Union to travel wherever we want that we take it for granted. Kosovo's biggest fight, one that would literally liberate its people, is visa liberalization. As it stands Kosovars of any creed and ethnicity, be they Albanian Muslims or Serbian Orthodox Christians, are allowed into less countries than North Koreans. Many of the people we met in Kosovo agreed that this was one of the biggest issues holding their country back developing. Visa incarceration (as I’ve decided to call it just now) has stagnated Kosovo’s economy by limiting the movement of both people and goods.

            A further damaging aspect, in my opinion, is the fact that visa incarceration is limiting many Kosovar’s abilities to grow, and to explore the world, and to gather different views that will ultimately provide them with a plethora of learning experiences that will help them contribute in even small ways to their society. When Ivan, Eric, and I spoke to the student representative for the students at Kosovska Mitrovica, he told us that he truly believed that many of his most radical students, who reject Kosovar independence and the Albanian nationality in Kosovo, have those views because they have never lived outside of Kosovo or even outside of Northern Mitrovica. They had never seen the world outside of their own perspective. They have never been encountered with societies with completely different values than their own. Many of them had never once crossed the bridge to the Albanian side of Mitrovica. Kosovo’s ethnic tension is holding it back in many ways, and the fact that many Kosovars have never had the ability to experience change by going someplace else is a key element to Kosovo’s issues.

            Perhaps my favorite part of the trip, after all, is seeing the AUC students come back with missions to spread the word – to share what they saw. Rebecca, for example, has set up a petition page that she intends to send to the European Parliament asking for Kosovo’s Visa Liberalization. I encouraged the readers of the blog to please sign the petition here. It’s a small step, but it is nonetheless a step.

            Indeed, the trip is over for us. The experience is not. With the projects we are all currently engaged with we can see that we are working to raise awareness, and I’m super proud of that. Kosovo has gained itself 21 new ambassadors, and I sure hope that we’ll get something done. Large or small, heck, I’d take the victory. 

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