Serbia Moves Forward
Serbia’s future is starting to look a bit brighter. Due to the country’s cooperation with the current United Nations’ war crimes trial of Radovan Karadzic, the European Union will lift its trade ban on Serbia. Previously, the Dutch government was opposed to the trade deal, demanding that Serbia try harder to track down war criminal suspects such as General Ratko Mladic. The implementation of the trade agreement is expected to boost the country’s economy and foreign investment in Serbia, and government officials in Serbia feel closer to applying for EU membership.
More exciting news for the citizens of Serbia (as well as for Macedonia and Montenegro) is that EU governments agreed last week to allow visa-free travel in the Schengen zone starting from December 19 this year. The Schengen zone includes 25 European Union member states, as well as Iceland, Norway and Switzerland but excludes Britain and Ireland. Bosnia and Albania are disappointed that the new rule does not apply to their own countries, but the EU deems them “not-ready”. Before visa requirements were introduced in 1991, citizens of Montenegro, Serbia and Macedonia enjoyed visa-free travel to Western Europe for 40 years as part of Yugoslavia, the only communist country that permitted its citizens to travel freely abroad.
Spending some time in Serbia, I saw how difficult it was for my friends to travel, even to bordering countries. They deserve the same opportunities as the students from the United States or the European Union, to research, study and vacation in other countries. According to a Belgrade survey, more than 70 percent of Serbia’s young people have never traveled abroad. Soon this will change in time for the holiday season, and JAT airlines, the main carrier for Belgrade will offer special airfares to entice travelers.
However, the good fortune of some countries in southeast Europe is causing tension in others. Bosnian Muslims feel at a disadvantage because in their ethnically split country, Bosnian Serbs may obtain a Serbian passport and ethnic Croats in Bosnia, who hold Croatian passports can already travel. The EU claims Bosnia’s troubles are of its own making. The decision to lift visa restrictions on Serbian citizens is also prompting Kosovo Albanians to claim they live in South Serbia, so they can access the travel benefits. Most applications for residency status are denied. It’s ironic that as Kosovo is currently defending the legitimacy of its declaration of independence from Serbia in the International Court of Justice, some Kosovo citizens are attempting to declare residency in Serbia. Serbia is right to refuse their applications, as citizens of Kosovo cannot change their nationality when convenient.