Might as well stay at home. Road signs in Bratunac, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Steffen Emrich)

Have passport, can't travel

From 1st January, 2010, Muslim Bosnians and Kosovans will be the only citizens of the former Yugoslavia required to obtain visas to enter the European Union. Sarejevo daily, BH Dani, explains how impartial principles will result in discriminatory practice.

Published on 3 September 2009 at 13:42
Might as well stay at home. Road signs in Bratunac, Bosnia and Herzegovina (Steffen Emrich)

Freedom of movement is an important indicator for the existence of equality among citizens which is a fundamental tenet of European and Western democracies. However,the manner in which EU borders are administrated is tantamount to a cynical and anti-European message to Bosnians, who are forced to conclude that for the EU, some people are more equal than others.

From the point of view of Europe's administrators, this inequality results from a blanket measure, which stipulates that the holders of Bosnian passports must apply for a visa to enter the EU. Europe's diplomatic logic is quite simple and perfectly callous: the visa requirement for citizens of a given country may be waived, but only if the state in question fulfills a number of conditions — a single border control agency, authentic identity papers, a secure database of personal information, the provision of biometric passports etc. Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro will shortly satisfy all of these requirements, but that is not the case of Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo and Albania.

Upsurge in anti-European sentiment

This highlights a major paradox in the relations between Bosnia-Herzegovina and the European Union. When Europe's administrators treat Bosnia as they would any other "normal state" — and let's not forget that our most heartfelt wish is for Bosnia to be "a normal state" — whether they are aware of it or not, it is often difficult for Bosnians to distinguish between that impartiality and unfeeling political indifference. Unfortunately, the application of a common principle for all states has had the perverse effect of aggravating ethnic inequality and reinforcing anti-European sentiment in a section of the Bosnian population.

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When analyzed in the context of the painful ethnic situation in our country, the problem is easy to describe. Whereas Bosnian Croats have the right to apply for Croatian passports, which are not subject to a visa requirement for the EU, Bosnian Serbs and Muslims have no other option but to endure the humiliation of endless application procedures and hours spent queuing at European embassies. On 1st January 2010, the withdrawal of the visa requirement for Serbian citizens will mean that Bosnian Serbs will benefit from a situation similar to Bosnian Croats.

Privileged politicians inert on the issue

As a consequence, Bosnian Muslims will be the only members of the population that are required to apply for visas. In an absurd scenario worthy of George Orwell, the EU immigration authorities, which aim to promote European values, are sending a dangerous message to Bosnians: different ethnic groups within your population are not equals, but have the right to different kinds of treatment.

The callous insensitivity of Europe should not cause us to overlook or excuse the criminal inertia of Bosnian insititutions. Members of one ethnically mixed group in our society, which looks after its interests in a very regimented and organized fashion, have absolutely no trouble with visas: politicians from all backgrounds can travel freely using their diplomatic passports. Doubtless, this has a lot to do with the apathy of Bosnian authorities, who should do more facilitate travel for ordinary citizens.


Bosnia still very far from Europe

Authorities in Sarajevo have decided to issue biometric passports, in line with the European Union requirement, which came into force in June. Bosnian citizens residing abroad, who have sent their passports to Sarajevo for renewal will be obliged to collect their new passports "in one of five European cities that will shortly be designated by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs," notes Bosnian journalist Boban Minic in El Periódico de Catalunya. The hitch is that "the collection point for Bosnians living in Spain will be Brussels, which is a mere 1,500 km from Barcelona — and no one has explained how to travel between Spain and Belgium without a passport." The requirement for biometric passports will also extend to "the majority of expatriate Bosnians who wish to apply for citizenship in their country of residence." As Minc remarks, the "Catch-22" situation faced by individual Bosnians is mirrored by the paradoxical situation of the Bosnian state, "which cannot apply for EU membership, because its institutions are not fully independent but subject to supervision from a High Representative. At the same time, European leaders also take the view that without external supervision and the support of international institutions, the country would once again fall into chaos".

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