June 14, 2011
Kosovo declared independence on February 17, 2008, joining the free world and becoming the world’s 193rd nation state. Its chosen path now is toward European integration, with a wish to become fully integrated into the Euro-Atlantic family of democracies.
Kosovo is home to the youngest population in Europe, with an average age of 25.9. It is for this reason that Kosovo’s government launched an advertsising campaign with the slogan “Kosovo: the young Europeans’’. The irony, however, is that these youngsters are not free to meet the Europe they are supposed belong to!
Although Kosovo has historically, culturally and socially been part of Europe and is certainly one of the most pro-Western countries on the planet, it is consistently rebutted by the European Commission: when it comes to freedom of movement, Kosovo’s citizens are hugely isolated from the rest of Europe. There are a number of obstacles holding Kosovo’s residents back from the rest of Europe, including the fact that they face the highest rejection rate of all Balkan countries when applying for Schengen visas and that they are the only people in the Western Balkans who need visas to travel within their own region and EU countries.
No visa is required to enter Kosovo and as a result, peoples from all over the world have settled in the country over the last decade. Yet free movement without a visa is only possible for Kosovars in five countries, which makes it the country with the highest level of visa restrictions imposed upon it in the world. Kosovo is followed by Afghanistan, whose citizens can travel visa-free to 20 countries, then Iraqi (23 countries) and Somalia (25 countries).
The visa regime has cultivated an environment that disallows cultural exchanges and youth development. The stifling black-listing from the Schengen area also discourages economic development and has negative impact on business relations in Kosovo. Entrepreneurs face difficult barriers to enter the Schengen Area, where they could discover potential business opportunities. Kosovo has the lowest number of cooperation contracts with the EU member states in terms of student exchanges, worker mobility and other forms of experiences abroad.
Without the opportunity to travel, the citizens of Kosovo develop skewed perceptions of the outside world, based on media impressions and biased outlets, which contributes to rising feeling of Kosovo’s isolation from the rest of Europe.
It seems that when the European Commission states that the Balkans have European perspective, it does not refer to Kosovo. Few EU member states disagree on Kosovo’s independence, yet Kosovar residents of all ethnicities remain confined to a visa. This is, I believe, a serious problem for the European Union’s interests in Western Balkans. Kosovo should be walking together with its neighbours to advance a common European future.
It is absurd that in the 21st century there are two million people trapped living in the very heart of Europe. Hopefully, in the near future, the walls built around Kosovo will fall, the doors of Europe will open and will let these young Europeans in.
Rozafa Kelmendi is member of ThinkYoung´s writing teamAuthor : thinkyoung