It’s the eve of the fifteenth anniversary of the Dayton peace accords, signed in Paris on 14 December 1995. These put an end to the war which ravaged and divided my country between 1992 and 1995. So the visa news is welcome for Bosnia and Herzegovina citizens. ‘I am delighted by the visa liberalisation,’ says Amira Turkovic, 30, a jurist from Sarajevo. ‘We’ve been isolated and treated as ‘second class citizens’ for long enough. The procedure for getting a visa itself was so complicated and humiliating…’
Visa out of fashion
‘Getting a tourist visa was a long and expensive process before,’ explains Bojana Ilic, 31. ‘We needed a never-ending list of documents and some of us didn’t even have the means of getting them nor of knowing who to contact to obtain them. Never mind the endless queues in conditions under the rain, snow or heavy sun in front of the embassies. All that to also sometimes be rejected for a visa application. It’s a wind of freedom for the Bosnians.’
Demoralised by the complex procedure of getting a visa, various young people haven’t even tried to cross the borders of their countries. It’s almost unimaginable for their peers who were born in the European union, and it’s given most ideas now. Davor Miljevic, a 27-year-old graphist, is planning on going holiday somewhere in the EU, though he hasn’t yet decided where. In any case he’ll be getting his biometric passport before he makes any trips to the local tourist agencies. But not everyone feels the same. Whilst tourist agencies will be expecting more customers for European destinations, many Bosnians will be preferring to visit their families via their cars. Despite the visa liberalisation, tourist agencies offers are still out of the average citizen’s price range. ‘Nothing’s going to change, with or without a visa,’ deplores Natasa Lazic, a 29-year-old student. 'People who had money to travel up until now will continue doing so whilst others will just have that satisfaction of being able to do so and proving that we no longer live in a ghetto.’
Since the 8 November announcement, citizens have been heading to their local police stations to collect their biometric passports, which is now an indispensable tool to travel freely in the countries of the Schengen zone. The demand has doubled of late, seeing the queues getting so long that the police has had to intervene and ask the population to temporarily renounce the Holy Grail unless absolutely urgent and necessary.
It’s now up to the Bosnians to carefully check the conditions put in place for visa liberalisation as well as they do the agency offers. Those could be at risk considering that France, Germany and the Netherlands are keen to avoid the mass influx of asylum demanders which happened in the case of Serbians and Macedonians getting their visas liberalised in December 2009. The authorities have put up an information campaign for their citizens. Liberalisation is opening all EU doors for a maximum touristic stay of ninety days – it’s not a free-all residence or work permit. The issue of having a certain sum of money persists: the EU’s borders will stay closed to all Bosnians with empty pockets. ‘It’s hypocritical, this blackmail from Europe,’ says Aleksandar Trifunovic, editor-in-chief of the magazine Buka. ‘Bosnia and Herzegovina is a very small country with a very weak population. It’s not logical to expect that there’d be a huge influx of immigrants. In any case the EU’s laws and regulations on immigration have become more and more strict.’
'Those who wanted to leave have already gone'
‘Honestly, I don’t know why the EU is so afraid of us,’ says Radmila Kelecevic, a 29-year-old civil servant. ‘We’re four million people in this country in total. Those who wanted to leave have already gone, they’ve found their ways of getting a visa. Others have their lives and families here. Personally, and even from the standpoint of a tourist, I have no intention of leaving for Europe any time soon. I have a job, I don’t get that much holiday leave and I’ve started university studies again. I don’t even have a biometric passport. Europe can wait for the moment – I’ve plenty to do here.’