Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Bosnia ghetto

A group has set up a table in the big square near the cathedral to collect signatures on a petition of protest against the European Union. Don't let the EU turn Bosnia into a Ghetto, the activists are urging.

This is in response to a highly unpopular decision by the EU that it will drop visa requirements for visitors coming from Serbia, Montenegro, and Macedonia while keeping them in place for Bosnia. People here have long chaffed at having to wait in lines and to provide proof of money in the bank and relatives who need them here before they can travel in Western Europe. And now there is insult to injury, since the EU is giving a break to the people they see as responsible for the 1990s war and genocide, atrocities and destruction. The victims -- who just happen to be mostly Muslim -- are being punished.

Everyone in Bosnia is affected, but Croats here can get Croatian passports and Serbs, Serbia passports, meaning the only people who will be kept from freely passing into the rest of the continent -- are Muslims. It is this kind of thoughtless discrimination that leads to radicalization and hardening of attitudes.

The EU is maintaining that it is rewarding Serbia and withholding reward from Bosnia because the former has actually complied with requirements set up for accession into the union, while Bosnia has not. This hardly makes Sarajevans feel better because opposition to the reforms the EU wants -- especially integration of police forces -- is strongly led by, guess who? Bosnian Serbs.

As I see it, the whole matter is even more twisted. The EU ought to be easing entrance requirements for countries that can insure their borders are secure, safe against smugglers, traffickers and drug dealers. Neither Serbia and Montenegro nor Bosnia can make that assurance. Why isn't that a requirement for visa liberalization?

And why embassy staffs have to treat regular citizens who just want to go visit relatives, vacation on beaches and in famous cities or look for jobs, like dirt is inexplicable. Waiting in long lines, rude treatment, purposeful humiliation of civilians who do not control police, militaries or politicians is stupid.

I have personal experience this every morning at 5:15 a.m. That's when the noise and cigarette smoke of people queuing up at the Italian embassy wake me like an alarm clock. Visa applicants are given a number and must wait for it to be called. For people coming into the center city from farther out or from outlying areas this means early travel and that line at the embassy door. How about setting a simple appointment at a set time? That is so hard to figure out?

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