Monthly Archives: September 2009

The Yugo-sphere

Recently, The Economist published an article introducing the idea of the “Yugo-Sphere”, which has been attributed to Tim Judah. Its argument that the “former Yugoslavia patches itself together” echoed across the ex-Yugoslav media. The supra-ethnic trans-Balkan cultural inclination which the article refers to, among other things, slowly turns on one hand into a more conscious realization about the unsustainability of the parochial-cum-tribal self-isolation from the 1990s when new borders were built where none had existed before; and into a more emotional, culturally-framed awareness related to the vibrant inter-connected cultural life in this region.

Yet, the economic ties and the more pragmatic market-oriented mindset is what drives the region towards a greater integration. Yugoslavia with its population of 22 million was a relatively big market, in particular when compared to the post-1992 fragmented political and cultural spaces. To quote one example from Sabrina P. Ramet’s 1994 book Rocking the State: Rock Music and Politics in Eastern Europe and Russia, the figures of production and sale in the music industry when compared to present-day standards seem almost utopian: in 1986 one of the two largest record companies, Jugoton from Zagreb produced about 1 million rock records and cassettes, while well-known rock bands were selling between 200 000 – 500 000 items.

Thus, it is the emerging shared cultural sphere which is likely to boost the figures economists are concerned about. Increased mobility for tourism and educational purposes as well as music, film, art and literature make the physical borders in this region more porous and communication more effective. Examples range from regional film productions of which “Karaula” (Border Post) is probably the most prominent and successful example, theatre performances, literary/academic cooperation projects such as “Sarajevo Notebooks”, great musicians whose concerts are regularly sold out in Skopje, Belgrade, Sarajevo or Zagreb (among which Macedonian guitarist Vlatko Stefanovski has the status of something of a guitar guru all over former Yugoslavia), to sports-related reminiscences (see the documentary film “The Last Yugoslav Soccer Team” by Vuk Janic) and commercial projects such as MTV’s branch MTV Adria covering all former Yugoslav republics. 

After all, it is in the interest of both the former Yugoslav states and the EU to have a stable, developed region on the model of the Visegrad Group where regional integration and cooperation would not be just words on paper.

 

New regulations on visas for Western Balkan countries

The European Parliament gathered last week to discuss (the new regulations on visas for Western Balkan countries put forward by the European Commission (EC) in July 2009. This proposal foresees abolition of visa regime for three Western Balkan Countries – the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia but not for Albania, Bosnia Herzegovina and Kosovo. According to the EC, Macedonia has already fulfilled all the criteria needed to enter the ‘white Schengen list’ of countries, whereas Montenegro and Serbia will have time until late autumn to ‘do their homework’ and catch up with Macedonia. If they do so, their citizens, together with those of Macedonia, will be able to travel freely within EU from 1 January 2010.

In the same proposal, the EC encourages Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina to speed up their reforms so that they can be offered the same free-visa regime by the end of 2010. However, the proposal left out Kosovo, which has still not been offered a visa roadmap.

Despite the fact that the EU officials in charge of justice and security issues within European Commission have persistently argued that the evaluation was made based on pure technical criteria, feelings and fears of being discriminated against in national and even religious bases have been raised suddenly among the citizens of those states who will be denied visa-free travel rights. Amongst other groups, the European Stability Initiative (ESI) has been quite critical towards the EC decision to leave the three Balkan countries out of visa liberalisation. And in further attempt to catch the attention of the EU policy makers, a group of European politicians and intellectuals has initiated signing of a petition against what they call ‘creation of two classes of citizens in South Eastern Europe, based on ethnicity’.

Other arguments put forward in the debates on the EC proposal emphasize eventual negative political implications that the proposal may have especially for Bosnia and Kosovo. In the case of the former, one could expect that Serbs from Bosnia will apply for Serb passports (most of the Bosnian Croats have already got Croat passports), leading to a situation where almost half of the population of Bosnia will legally be citizens of other countries (Serbia and Croatia). Whereas, in the case of Kosovo, the EC decision to grant visa-free right only to those holders of Serb passports that reside within Serbia (thus leaving aside Kosovo residents), raises concerns about an eventual exodus of Kosovar Serbs to Serbia.

Links to primary source materials:

Commission proposal on visa-free travel
15 July 2009 http://eur-lex.europa.eu/LexUriServ/LexUriServ.do?uri=COM:2009:0366:FIN:EN:PDF

European parliament debate on visa liberalisation
16 September 2009 http://www.europarl.europa.eu/wps-europarl-internet/frd/vod/player?date=20090916&language=en

The Declaration by European Stability Initiative – Strict but fair
19 March 2008 http://www.esiweb.org/index.php?lang=en&id=343

The Declaration by European Stability Initiative – A Visa Roadmap for Kosovo
20 July 2009 http://www.esiweb.org/index.php?lang=en&id=383

Petition of European politicians and intellectuals against visa policy of the European Union
http://www.balkangoeseurope.eu/?p=12

 

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This is where we are going to write about small items of news, events and other points of interest which strike us as important for the CITSEE project. Much of the time we will mainly be highlighting interesting sources of information and examples of informative commentary. Just occasionally, we will also try to get some debate going, on issues which link to CITSEE's core mission, which is to investigate citizenship in the new Balkan states, in a wider European context. In that event, we hope you will join the debate and post comments in the spirit of enlightened discussion.