European Western Balkans

Kosovo CSOs ask the EU to not revoke visas for Serbian passports, Kosovo Serb CSOs protest the discriminatory appeal

Photo: EWB

The European Commission proposed last week to lift the visa regime for citizens of Kosovo holding passports issued by the Coordination Directorate of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Serbia. The EU member states in the Council and the European Parliament will need to reach a consensus on this issue based on the proposal from the European Commission.

„Kosovo Serb holders of Serbian passports, which the Serbian Coordination Directorate issues, do not currently benefit from the Serbian visa-free regime with the EU. The EU is determined to ensure that all the citizens of the Western Balkans are included in the EU’s visa-free regime, provided conditions for secure travel are in place“, stated the EC Spokesperson for the European Western Balkans portal.

Although visas for travel to the EU were lifted for Serbia back in 2009, this exemption did not apply to passports issued by the Coordination Directorate, established in 2009. The separation of Serbia passports issued for citizens in Kosovo and for citizens in central Serbia was one of the conditions without which Serbia could not obtain visa liberalization. The solution found at that time was for Serbian citizens in Kosovo to receive passports from the Coordination Directorate in Belgrade. The status of these “special passports” was not discussed during the visa liberalization process for Kosovo.

The EC proposal to enable visa liberalization for these passports, now that both Kosovo and Serbia enjoy a visa-free regime, has sparked frustration among some parts of the Kosovo public, including civil society.

Over 20 civil society organizations in Kosovo argue that this move would pose a significant challenge to the integration of Serbian citizens in Kosovo through the issuance of Kosovo documents, especially with the recent mass provisions of Kosovo passports.

In the statement published on Tuesday, the organizations emphasize that agreements between Kosovo and Serbia recognize the Kosovo authorities as the sole legitimate issuers of passports for citizens of Kosovo.

The NGO  considered that the proposal of the European Commission comes at a time when there is a multiplication of the number of Serbian citizens seeking to be provided with documents issued in Kosovo, taking into account passports and license plates, which, according to them, is a positive and promising development for the return of normality in the north of the country.

A group of Kosovo Serb NGOs expressed disappointment with the letter of Kosovan colleagues recalling that the Coordination Directorate was established at the behest of the EC who feared „potential illegal migration“ to disallow the application of the visa-free regime for the citizens of Serbia to citizens of Serbia residing, or formerly residing in Kosovo.

They also recalled that Kosovo’s Law on Citizenship allows for dual citizenship.

“We recall many international representative’s statements that ask for the respect of the fact that many Kosovo citizens, not just Kosovo Serbs, have dual citizenship and should be allowed to enjoy all rights and obligations related to it. This means that they should ‘participate in the social life of Serbia’.”

On the other hand, arguments shared by the Kosovo organization that a visa-free regime for CD passports hinders Kosovo Serb integration are “false and insulting.”

“No more Kosovo Serbs will be integrated if they are equipped with Kosovo passports than the number that already have Kosovo citizenship. This is because a passport cannot be obtained without an ID card and proof of citizenship. In other words, a person who gets a new passport is already equipped with citizenship and is thus already integrated.”

Kosovo Serb and other non-majority community issues ensue much before they become eligible to hold a Kosovo passport, at the moment of civil registration, they stressed.

There are still people residing in Kosovo who due to the non-recognition of the Serbian civil registry regards (of birth, death, and marriage) as well as the non-recognition of judicial decisions regarding adoption or divorce, cannot register in the Kosovo civil registry and become citizens. This is the problem Kosovo’s MIA partially solved in 2018 but not completely. In effect, this means that there are still people who permanently reside in Kosovo but cannot obtain ID cards, and by extension, passports”, the statement said.

According to these Kosovo Serb NGOs and media, this is a true hindrance to integration, not the incentives or lack thereof to obtain a Kosovo passport.

“Initiatives, such as these, coming from organizations that have spent almost a decade raising voices against the unfair isolation of Kosovo citizens, essentially ask the same for a very small number of people who either wish to keep their displacement status in Serbia or cannot obtain Kosovo citizenship, will not help convince the Kosovo Serb community their rights will be defended in Kosovo, including by the organizations that promote human rights, social inclusion and reconciliation.”

Integration is a much more nuanced and sensitive process and requires trust-building measures and support from different layers of society. Unfortunately, the reaction of dozens of NGOs shows that the EC’s criticism of the Government of Kosovo and its failure to communicate to the Kosovo Serb community is starting to apply to civil society as well, they concluded.

Deputy Kosovo Ombudsman Srđan Sentić stated that civil society organizations in Kosovo, which were requesting the European Commission to withdraw the proposal for visa liberalization for holders of Serbian passports, were encouraging discrimination.

Sentić reminded on Facebook that many Serbs from Kosovo in the civil sector, including those working in Kosovo institutions, had actively supported visa liberalization for all Kosovo citizens due to the principle of freedom of movement as one of the leading principles of the European Union.

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Nikola Burazer