The Schengen Agreement is one of the most important documents in the history of European integrations. By signing it in 1985, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxemburg, France and Germany abolished the borders between each other and any type of control of movement for its citizens within the newly established Shengen zone. With the enlargement of the EU and the Shengen area, today it is possible to travel without any border controls from the Baltic Sea to the Atlantic.
Late January 2008 saw the beginning of the negotiations for the abolishment of visas for Serbian citizens travelling to participant countries of the Shengen Agreement. Serbia is the first state in the Western Balkans to get the Road Map from the European Commission, whose realization leads to the abolishment of visas for Serbian citizens. The commitments Serbia agreed to have been defined clearly and precisely and they are yet to be fully realized.
Recently, a delegation of the EC came to Serbia on the first of four visits planned for the first half of this year. Their main task is to determine the pace and range of the realization of all the commitments Serbia undertook with the aim of enabling its citizens to travel freely within the Shengen zone. What is interesting is that the authorities were surprised when this delegation had made an unannounced visit to the Commissioner for Information of Public Importance, who has been, only thanks to that visit, granted the necessary conditions to do his job properly by his ministry. This is one of the indicators that more work is required for the advancement of the institutions which monitor the enactment of the laws needed for abolishing visas.
The first visit to Serbia will be followed by three more, which will lead to a written conclusion of this delegation which will be forwarded to the EU countries (signers of the Shengen Agreement); after this, a political decision will be made concerning the abolishment of visas for Serbian citizens. What is rarely mentioned is the fact that some time is needed for the possible decision on the abolishment of visas to be implemented in all the states. This process could take some time, so it is important for Serbia to commit fully to this job.
Since there are no political conditions for the abolishment of visas from Brussels, we can say that the EU has done its part. The responsibility for the abolishment of visas lies entirely with the Serbian government, which, in addition to its asserted desire, has also got to show efficiency for this extensive job to be finished by the end of 2009.
The visa issue is not only important, but also extremely sensitive to the citizens of Serbia. With the break-up of Yugoslavia and the isolation of Serbia because of the policies of the then administration — one part of which is today being tried at the international and domestic courts, another part enjoys the undeserved state pension, and the third is participating in the government and the sharing of the privatization pie — the citizens unexpectedly found themselves in a very difficult situation. The freedom of movement they used to have with the famous red passport of the FRY, that enabled them to travel without a visa virtually anywhere except the USA and the USSR, was transformed overnight into an invisible, but impenetrable wall.
The people found themselves in a situation similar to the one they looked askance upon during the Cold War, nonchalantly crossing the borders of the European countries and watching with amazement as the citizens of the Eastern Block and the Third world waited patiently in grey lines on border crossings of the First world. During the 1990’s we found out why those people cannot easily get to where they were heading. We also found out that waiting on the border crossings is just a small part of a complicated and humiliating procedure. We found out that in order to get out of Milosevic’s utopia we need a VISA, which is obtained by begging and waiting in an endless lines from the break of dawn, with the risk that our pleas will not be heard.
Anger and humiliation are irrational feelings, subject to political manipulation. This is how Milosevic’s propaganda managed for such a long time to channel these sentiments to the wrong address – to rude officials in foreign embassies and even the conspiratorial politics of the Western states. In effect, to every place but the source of this problem – the heart of a failed state without a compass. Many people believed that, retreated into inner exile, stopped travelling and turned isolation into self-isolation.
With Milosevic’s fall, an important precondition for Serbia’s “dequarantinization” was attained. However, it is not the only one. Europe’s obvious political willingness to open the borders for us was broken by Serbia’s inability to meet a number of technical requirements needed for the process of visa liberalization. Meanwhile, there is a whole new generation coming up, whose formative experiences are lacking international travel, if we leave out graduation excursions to Budapest or Athens. The consequences of this can be seen in the crime pages in newspapers and I fear that its full impact will be seen in years to come.
Should we remind the current government, which easily sets the deadlines for crossing over to White Schengen, and even more easily breaks them, that it is playing with fire? Should we remind them that the only thing that really separated the socialist Yugoslavia from the countries of “real socialism” was the hard won possibility to freely enter it and leave it? Should we remind them that without this freedom those who are most active will leave never to return, and those less active will stop leaving all together? So when we finally meet the requirements we could easily find ourselves without any users of this nice benefit of free movement. The roads will wish for Turks, but the Turks will not be there, an old saying goes. Let us not allow that to happen.
The author is a lecturer at the Faculty of Political Sciences
Translated by Ivica Pavlović and Sonja Mušicki