Author: Agon Ramizi
Photo: Osservatorio Balcani
The largest music festival in the Balkans and one of the largest in Europe, Exit, is organized annually at Petrovaradin Fortress in Novi Sad, Serbia. Last year, the festival gathered around 300,000 participants with performers such as Wiz Khalifa, The Prodigy, Ellie Goulding, and David Guetta. Attendants came from 60 countries around the world, including without any doubt many young people from Kosovo, who by an extraordinary coincidence were issued a paper known as “Entry-Exit” after crossing any of the border crossing points with Serbia. This document was agreed by Pristina and Belgrade within the Freedom of Movement Agreement in 2011. Kosovo citizens crossing the border must have their ID card on them, and are also issued this document, valid for three months, at the point of entry. Ironically, this is also a pre-entry ticket for the Exit festival.
It is interesting that with the ID and this “letter”, citizens of Kosovo can also fly from Belgrade and Nis airports. Obviously, they also need to have with them the passport and a visa for third countries, although the authorities in Serbia do not ask for this.
As complicated as it sounds, this is much better than in 2011 or even before the Freedom of Movement Agreement, when entry or crossing into Serbia was allowed only with former Yugoslav documents, which were possessed only by a few citizens of Kosovo, and that only in the first years after the war. Consequently, the number of Kosovo citizens who benefited from this agreement is very high. It has contributed to easing the lives of citizens and provided some kind of “normalization”, which was the aim of the dialogue, as stated in the UN Resolution that establishes the foundation of this process.
We must add economic benefit here, since using Serbia as a country of transit to other European destinations shortened the distance and reduced travel costs. For example, for a trip from Kosovo (Prishtina) to Germany (Berlin) via Serbia, the distance is 1747 kilometres, while through Albania the distance is 2075 and through Croatia-Montenegro the distance is 2168 kilometres. So, approximately 650 km less, fewer fuel costs, fewer accommodation costs in hotels and for tolls, and even aeroplane tickets.
Given the large diaspora of Kosovo, the cost per year reaches millions. According to official Kosovo Police statistics for 2011 (before the Agreement) around 650 thousand entry-exits of the diaspora were registered at Kosovo’s borders with Serbia. By 2016 that number went up to over 1.5 million, or 230%. An increase of over 200% has also been registered in the number of crossings of residents from Kosovo to Serbia, while in 2015 this number reached almost 4 million citizens’ entries-exits between Kosovo and Serbia.
Another segment of this deal is the vehicle border-crossing. Kosovo drivers’ licenses, as well as insurance policies, are now recognized in Serbia. KS license plates are allowed, unlike RKS, which need to be replaced with temporary license plates.
Given that Pristina continued to issue KS license plates, this allowed easiness especially for many Serbian citizens living in Kosovo; according to a recent survey published by NGO Active, 87.20% of Kosovo Serb respondents have Kosovo personal documents. This enabled normalization, while it was known that the earlier situation in this area was chaotic. Cars without license plates and uninsured cars were used, many which unfortunately continue to circulate in northern municipalities of Kosovo.
Citizens expect to see all Western Balkan countries moving towards the European Union. Then, there will be no border crossings, no customs. People, cars and goods will pass without being stopped while crossing from one country to another. There will be plenty of those going to Exit from Kosovo, and as many people will come from Serbia to Dokufest in Prizren. Until then, both governments must work harder and more sincerely commit to normalizing and “Europeanizing” relations. After all, security, employment and freedom of movement are very important for citizens of all our countries.
It is up to the European Union, despite internal challenges, to accelerate the accession process for all countries in the region. In the case of Kosovo and Serbia, implementation of the agreements reached in the technical dialogue needs to be enhanced. Therefore, parties should sit at the table and agree on advancing the implementation of reached agreements, such as the agreement on regional cooperation or even the one on mutual recognition of university degrees, but also on reaching new agreements, which would enable full normalization of relations between the two societies.
This article has been produced with the financial assistance of the European Union. The contents of this publication are the sole responsibility of Kosovo-Serbia Policy Advocacy Group and can in no way be taken to reflect the views of the European Union.