Prishtina, 8th November
One day I was at the cinema settling down in my seat when I noticed a friend of mine sitting right next to me. The film hadn’t started yet, so we got chatting. For some reason I mentioned the word “plane” and it caused evident discomfort. My friend laughingly said that she couldn’t bear to hear the word “plane” after recently having dealt with a visa application procedure.
She immediately associated the word “plane” with trips to the civil registry for birth certificates, visits to the bank for income statements, to the health insurance company, and finally to the visa application centre. Of course, I understood and empathised with her. Her experience was all too familiar to me.
I remembered my last visa application process and the last time I boarded a plane. I had gone through that process a dozen times. The number of doors you have to knock on is never-ending, you feel like your humanity is being stripped away every time you have to submit a mountain of documents to prove your worthiness of boarding a plane to the EU.
I couldn’t help but wonder how many other people in that cinema felt the same way about planes.
The cinema we were in was full of young people, who just a few years ago, when Kosovo declared its independence, were celebrated as The Young Europeans, a label our government ascribed to us in a nationwide campaign. We were the Europeans, ready to join the big, accepting family of other fellow Europeans.
The campaign showed how much Kosovo identifies with Europe. It also showed how we have tied the word ‘European’, and the European identity, to hope, democracy, respect for human dignity, prosperity, and the future. However, the reality today is that the EU has failed to welcome Kosovars into its so-called family. We have always been ‘almost’ European.
If we are seen as European, then why are we asked to act like it? How often has, say, a German citizen or a Belgian citizen been asked to act European? How do we express our Europeanness if we are constantly pushed away? How can we act like members of a family if that family doesn’t embrace us as equals?
I certainly don’t feel at home when I’m in an airport, often apprehensive of how my conversation with the customs officer will go. “Do I have enough cash? Have I printed out my invitation letter, my hotel reservation, and my return flight ticket? Do I look okay?” These are some of the questions running through my head.
“EU citizens” and “All passports” say the signs in many of the EU countries’ airports I have been to. Some are citizens, some are merely passports. Some may say this is a mere technicality, but language is not technical. Language is political. Denying nearly two million citizens their freedom of movement is political.
“Technical” is the term the EU has used to describe Kosovo’s visa liberalization process. A technicality that has dragged on for more than a decade. In 2012 Kosovo received its visa roadmap and by 2016 Kosovo’s government had fulfilled all of its 93 requirements (43 more than other Balkan countries). We demonstrated that we are ready and committed.
However, after that the EU introduced another two new requirements. In 2018 Kosovo fulfilled those too. Only in late 2022, did the European Parliament and Council finally announce Kosovo’s visa liberalisation by 2024 at the latest.
Was it a technical process? Clearly not.
This became evident over the years, as exemplified by President Emmanuel Macron’s recent declarations where he lightly uses phrases such as “on review” and “it is an open issue”, when speaking about visa liberalisation, even though the decision has already been made. Now, the visa liberalisation is being used as leverage to ensure that Kosovo “behaves as instructed” in its negotiations with Serbia, mediated by the EU.
On numerous occasions I have encountered activists, journalists, artists and scholars from the EU who are still surprised and shocked when I recount the hurdles I had to go through in order to be with them, in an EU country. Many of them are genuinely unaware.
That kind of innocence and unawareness underscores the invisibility of our experiences. Our experiences speak of an exclusionary EU. My fellow EU citizens should stand against exclusion, through media, activism and the arts. This shouldn’t remain an issue that Kosovars have to deal with alone. Our experiences illustrate that the so-called European family needs a critical assessment from within so that Europeanness becomes something I want to identify with.
As a Kosovar citizen, I’m not looking for a family. An entity that delivers on its promises and respects human rights will suffice.
Aulonë is the Senior Editor of Kosovo 2.0 magazine. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Prishtina and a graduate certificate in women, gender, and sexuality studies from the University of Kansas, U.S. Aulonë wanted to tell us about her “strange” relationship with the EU.