Vol 1, No 25
13 December 1999
T E N Y E A R S A F T E R
Schengen's Iron Curtain
Many Eastern Europeans saw the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 as the beginning of a new era in the relations between the West and the East. Europe was to be united and the different nations too were supposed to be one.
Sadly enough, not all are equal today- ten years after the fall of Communism there are three types of "people" in Eastern Europe. The first category of Eastern Europeans are those who have successfully coped with the transition period and are wealthy enough so as to travel to all those places that they only dreamed about during the Cold War; Rome, Paris, London, Spain, Greece and Palmas de Majorca to name just a few.
In the second category of Eastern Europeans are those who cannot afford to travel to the West. For the majority of Eastern Europeans, the ones who belong to this group, surviving in the new capitalist system is a difficult enough task to fulfill, let alone having money to go to holidays.
The last type of citizens of the former Eastern bloc consists of those who cannot easily travel to Western countries because they face barriers erected by Western governments. The European Union, for example, has selectively chosen to close its borders to Eastern Europeans. Fearing influx of immigrants from the East, it has imposed restrictive visa regimes on some Eastern European countries, whilst providing for a lifting of passport controls between member countries by 2004 under a common visa regime known as the Schengen agreement.
These Eastern Europeans face significant visa restrictions even if they simply wish to visit friends or relatives or take a vacation in Western Europe. All citizens of the former Soviet Union (except those coming from the Baltic states) as well as the "Orthodox" and "Muslim" states of the Balkans (ie excluding Croatia and Slovenia) need to go through a burdensome process in order to obtain a travel visa.
For Romanians, Macedonians, or Russians, just to name a few nations affected by the selfish policies of the Western countries, independent traveling to France or Germany is almost an impossible affair. Anybody who lives in Sofia, Kiev, or Tirana, cannot simply just decide to spend their Christmas vacation in Vienna or Amsterdam, they need to complete a mass of lengthy paperwork, including declaring personal finances and providing a personal invitation from someone living in the West.
Tied up in red tape
Providing health and travel insurance as well as evidence that they have the material means to support him or herself (traveler's checks or cash in the amount of at least USD 100 per day) whilst staying in the West is another typical requirement for obtaining the Schengen visa. Often, Western embassies require additional documents such as a letter from an employer proving employment, birth or marriage certificates, property papers, etc.
These requirements are so strict for these unfortunate Eastern Europeans that many decide to travel to the West with an agency or an organized tour. Even then, however, travel beyond the Schengen wall is not easy; these people still need a formal letter from the travel agency certifying that they have health insurance and travel insurance as well as an address of the hotel they will be staying in.
The Schengen regime also differentiates among countries in East Europe whereby citizens of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Slovenia, Croatia, and the Baltic states no longer need visas to enter any EU country, while the rest are pretty much relegated to a second class status. With the EU enlargement, the wall between East and West would simply move eastward. All the Balkan states (which is taken here as excluding Croatia and Slovenia), together with Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus and Russia are likely to remain subject to heavy visa restrictions for the next ten years if not longer.
The degree to which the Western countries are concerned with protecting the borders of the Schengen land is illustrated by two sad examples. Just days before the NATO intervention in Yugoslavia, the authorities of the German federal state of Bavaria decided to repatriate Kosovo Albanians on the grounds that they cannot claim asylum as political refugees. Moreover, Norway and Finland recently imposed their own visa restrictions on Slovakia after they experienced an influx of Slovak Roma. Roma in Slovakia and especially in the Czech Republic face great difficulties finding employment, and often are subject of harassment.
Their flight to the Scandinavian countries was, therefore, hardly a voluntary mission. But, alas, the Western world is not that generous and humane as many Eastern Europeans thought in 1989. However, for the people in the Balkans and in the former Soviet Union, the question of whether Professor Sam Huntington’s map in his Clash of Civilizations that divides Europe and the world in cultural spheres is true, is very pertinent. At the moment the map seems very real indeed.
Zhidas Daskalovski, 13 December 1999
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