Thursday, July 16, 2009

EU removes visas for Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro but excludes Bosnia,Albania and Kosovo for "technical reasons"

This is the first posting of what I hope will be a weekly update with the latest development in the Balkans. My goal is to write about the major events in the Balkans with a bit of my own analysis of what those events mean for the region, Europe and if applicable to the United States. Suggestion and comments are welcomed and appreciated.


This week brought one of the best news for the people of Serbia in 18 years. The European Commission proposed to the EU parliament that it remove visa requirements for the citizen of Serbia, Macedonia and Montenegro. Serbia has been trying to get on the so called white Schengen list for the past 8 years, but has been rebuffed numerous times by some EU countries because of its failure/inability to arrest some of the major war crime suspects indicted by the International Hague Tribunal for the wars in the former Yugoslavia. After Serbia arrested Radovan Karadzic last year, the leader of Bosnian Serbs during the war, most European countries became convinced that Serbia now had the political will to confront its past even though two of the most wanted suspects, Ratko Mladic and Goran Hadzic, remain at large ( Serbia claims it cannot find them).

What will this mean for Serbia? First and obviously its citizen can now travel throughout Europe hassle free and at will. Second, this will be good news for the party of President Tadic. He has been promising this for years now and if he had failed to achieve it in this term his credibility would have been lost. In the last election held in Serbia the so called Democrats ( Tadic and co) barely won against extremist forces lead by the party of war crime suspect Vojislav_Šešelj and nationalist Vojislav Kostunica. Chances are good now that the "Democrats" will expand their lead against the extremists in the next elections. This is good news for the future development of Serbia and stability of the region.


The third implication deals with Kosovo. In its recommendation, the EU Commission said that this recommendation did not apply to anyone holding a Serbian passport with an address in Kosovo. This is a big blow to Serbia because it was forced to accept this recommendation even though it claims Kosovo as its integral part. Kosovo Serbs and opposition in Serbia cried wolf saying this is a tacit approval of Kosovo's independence. At the same time Kosovo PM Hashim Thaci speculated, I think wishfully, that Serbia was considering recognizing Kosovo. I do not think Serbia is about to recognize Kosovo anytime soon, but its willingness to accept this recommendation which does not apply to Kosovo signals a softening of its positions visa via Kosovo. E.U official have indicated that they will try to find a modality regarding the visa regime for Kosovo in the fall of this year.


As I stated early, Macedonia was also the beneficiary of the visa liberalization move by the EU. Macedonia had meet technical requirements a long time ago, but its dispute with Greece over its name has been a stumbling block on its road to integrating within the EU. Ethnic Albanians in Macedonia have recently warned the government to resolve the dispute with Greece as they are losing patience over a decade long dispute. Albanians basically don't care how Macedonia is called and have kept a hands off approach over the dispute. The removal of visas may give Macedonia some more breathing room on the name dispute with Greece.


The tiny republic of Montenegro has made impressive progress towards the E.U since it split with Serbia three years ago.Its quite possible that it may be the next country to join the E.U together with Croatia and Macedonia.

Albania and Bosnia and Kosovo excluded for "technical reason" or political ones?

All three countries were excluded from the visa liberalization regime. Javier Solana and Olli Rehn insisted this was done for "technical reasons and no political ones". In other words, Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo were not included because they did not satisfy the technical requirements for border and passport controls and not because they were majority Muslim countries. Kosovo public television published an article titled " EU Isolates Albania, Bosnia and Kosovo", with the clear implication that it was done for political reasons. A lot of people have commented on the fact that Albania has much stricter control of its borders and passport issuing process than Serbia. Anyone with a 500 euros and a claim that they live in Kosovo can get a Serbian passport. I am really surprised that EU overlooked this, even though it wrote a provision to exclude Serbian passports holder from Kosovo from the "no visa" regime.

Even some within the EU have criticized the move to leave Albania and Bosnia out.Valter Kolbov of the Social Democratic Party of Germany was quoted by Kosovo Publis Television as saying he regretted the EU move to leave Albania and Bosnia out. Christian Schwarz Schilling, who was the international representative to Bosnia in 2006-2007, told Bild, as quoted by RTK, that the EU should be ashamed "for rewarding genocide", referring to the Srebrenica massacre committed by Serb forces. " In Bosnia and Hercegovina Serbia committed the biggest genocide in Europe since WWII. And now, on the exact 14 anniversary of Srebrenica Massacre the EU gives the Serbs the right to move freely in Europe and denies this right to Kosovo and Bosnia". He went on to say that when when one accounts for the fact that Bosnia and Kosovo exist today because NATO intervened to prevent their wipe out from Serbs, what the EU is doing is " the biggest hit to the European values and it is in direct contrast will all European principles".

Schilling is certainly correct when it comes to Bosnia. The reason Bosnia was not included in the "no visa" regime is precisely because Bosnian Serbs,with active encouragement from Serbia, have blocked the passage of certain laws the E.U wants . Bosnian Serbs won those precise rights to block those laws via the indiscriminate war they committed on Bosnian Muslims, including the Srebrenica Genocide. This is what Schilling is referring to when he says the E.U is rewarding genocide.

I am not to much concerned about Kosovo as it needs more time to establish its authority countrywide, and I think one can make the case that Kosovo has not indeed meet the "technical" requirements. I am more concerned with the fact that Albania was excluded, even though, as I stated earlier, it has a better or the same control of its borders and passports as Serbia. The E.U has not explained how Serbia was qualified but not Albania. This is why a lot of people, including myself, consider the decision to exclude Albania a political one.