Let me give you the answer right away: We will not! Neither because of Roma, nor Albanians, nor hooligans, nor Ratko Mladic, nor Saric. I will try to explain why. Since 2009, citizens of Serbia, with their new biometric passports, are free to travel to EU countries (as tourists, on business, to visit family, up to 90 days of stay within one year), but, during the last few weeks, a classic moral panic has seized Serbia, due to the possibility that our country may be denied further access to the white Schengen list.
And, indeed, the most serious warning arrived several days ago, when the European Parliament rapporteur on visa liberalization for the Western Balkans, Tanja Fajon, said that she could not exclude the possibility of reintroducing visas for the citizens of Serbia and Macedonia, adding that the European Commission has drafted a proposal on introducing a mechanism of possible suspension of the visa-free regime. “It is becoming increasingly clearer that Serbia and Macedonia will have to face certain measures. I cannot exclude the possibility of reintroducing visas for the citizens of one or the other country… that would mean reintroducing visas in accordance with the same procedure that was followed in the case of visa liberalization in 2009. The possibility of suspension of visa-free regime for a certain period is a new proposal, and a consequence of the recent serious abuse of the visa-free regime. The European Commission has drafted a proposal for introducing a mechanism for possible suspension of the visa-free regime.”
This message was a clear warning to the state apparatus in Serbia that it needs to address this issue in the interest of all: both EU and Serbia. At the same time, this is also a form of pressure on Serbia to justify the trust EU has shown us, the trust we were given because we pledged our word. In a nutshell – when the EU expert team visited Serbia during 2008 and 2009, with the task of assessing how far Serbia has advanced in the process of fulfilling the conditions for the white Schengen, the situation during the first three visits was rather hopeless. By spring of 2009, Serbia had not met the majority of technical conditions, and none of the political conditions for receiving this privilege. At the beginning of 2009 it seemed that this process would be hard to realize, because Serbia lacked the capability to be a reliable EU partner in fulfilling all the necessary conditions. However, by the end of that spring, during their fourth visit to Belgrade, these same experts looked cheerful, somehow optimistic. The reason for the newly found optimism was not a sudden success of Serbia, but a sudden political signal from the EU Commission, which was in favor of Serbia. Namely, someone in Brussels made a political decision that Serbia had to be granted the white Schengen by the end of that year (and I express my thanks to that person), regardless of whether the conditions were met or not. Naturally, Serbia did fulfill some of the conditions, however, had the EU insisted on strict criteria for the white Schengen, we would still be standing in lines in front of EU embassies in Belgrade.
From the vast sea of stupidities that were said publicly during the previous few weeks, I need to elucidate several issues that have been erroneously presented in our media:
The problem of false asylum seekers
The term false asylum seekers has been invented by someone within our government. Someone who is, pardon me for saying, either stupid or vicious. People who are seeking asylum are not false people, nor is their problem false. The majority of citizens of Serbia who requested asylum in EU countries since the visa liberalization was implemented have been Roma. In 95% of cases, they were the ones seeking asylum. The public officials declared that Roma (and the remaining 5% of people who requested asylum) have done that for political reasons, but Serbia is, alas, a democratic and free state and thus such requests are false and unprovoked. However, this is not true. The majority of citizens of Serbia have run away to European countries for social reasons – the systemic poverty they have been living in. The majority of those citizens, according to the data of the Center for asylum seekers in Budapest, know nothing about EU regulations in the area of asylum. They don’t care how the host country will file them in their applications for asylum. In other words, they have come to the EU only to run away from poverty, and whether their asylum is treated as political, economic, on the basis of race and sex, is completely irrelevant to them. The fact is that the majority of citizens of Roma nationality in Serbia live on less than one Euro per day. Only one in a hundred male members of the Roma community lives to be sixty five. Half of the children from seven to fifteen years of age suffer from malnutrition. And for each 5000 students at the University of Belgrade, there is only one student of Roma nationality. By going to some EU countries, seeking asylum, Roma can get up to 1500 Euros, which means 1500 days of living on one Euro. Thus, people are leaving Serbia because of terrible poverty which exists in certain ethnic communities, especially in the Roma community. Government representatives, who refuse to see this problem and face it, can shift their incompetence to Roma, the so called false asylum seekers, Albanians, maybe Eskimos. However, this will not solve the problem. The remedy for this situation lies only in the systematic fight against poverty, and the integration of minorities into our social and economic life. This is a difficult task, one I believe our authorities don’t know how to solve, even if they wanted to. Besides, the reactions of the Government (Homen and Co.) show that people like him truly cannot understand their own society and the needs of the people living on the margins. And, really, how can those living in the splendor of Vracar and BMWs, Dorcol and Audis, understand Roma living under bridges? In here lies the misunderstanding.
Measures of the Serbian Government
The first measure was shown on Radio Television of Serbia (RTS), in the form of one police officer (the head of border police) who, dressed in a threatening black uniform, lined up both passengers and policemen, looking for false asylum seekers, providing entertainment for millions in the production of RTS, funded by us citizens, who are paying the damn RTS subscription. Thus, bread and games for the broad masses. However, this type of repression does not solve the problem, either on a short-term or a long-term basis.
Then they figured out it would be best if they confiscated passports, criminally prosecuted asylum seekers, corrupt police officers, tourist agencies, and municipal clerks who are issuing certificates of citizenship. The next idea was to introduce special controls by our immigration authorities who should, I suppose, interrogate us, at the airport Surcin or Horgos/Kelebija border crossing, about our destination, when we are returning, how much money we have, etc. All this reminds me of the Milosevic era, and maybe it would be best to introduce an exit fee, maybe even exit visas, just to complete the story. All the plans of the state apparatus described above represent an assault on the members of national minorities, as well as an assault on all of us. As a matter of fact, the interference of the state in the sphere of free travel of citizens is unacceptable. Each of us, who wants to leave Serbia, with five or fifty Euros in our pockets, has a constitutional right to do so. All that is necessary is to have a valid passport. Finally, each and every one of us has the right to travel without money, to seek asylum, and work (i)legally on the EU market. Those are our universal rights, derived from the right to free movement.
Conclusion: all of those who fear that visas will be reintroduced, should be relieved. Serbia, as it is, and we, as we are, will be allowed to travel within the borders of the Schengen space until further notice. Revoking the white Schengen for Serbia would be a politically risky move for the EU (it would partially crystallize the negative standpoint on EU enlargement). Consequently, such a move should not be expected. Additionally, all this noise is the consequence of the fear in the European Union regarding migrants from Africa, not from Serbia, although Serbia has at least one characteristic which reminds us of certain African countries: a political elite which is deeply corrupt and perverted, so much that it is incapable of preserving something it was given on the basis of a gentlemen’s agreement – as a gift.
Translated by Bojana Obradovic