You are born free into a world full of rules and
restrictions. It seems overwhelming compared to a small country like mine and,
considering the dire economic development, we feel even smaller in this place.
It is disillusioning to learn that you live in Europe but you are not actually
free to visit it! To me, “East” and “West” belong to the most merciless words
that have shaped peoples rights of free movement.
I was born in Eastern Europe or rather in an isolated country in the Western Balkans where I was brought up experiencing two decades of transition from isolation to integration. Living in a reality bare of civil and human rights, it was difficult to understand why free movement was the dream of people surrounding my family, but not the one of my parents. They had always insisted on our country being our home. My country has been subject to geographical redefinitions, political restrictions and of course a strict visa regime with the Schengen zone.
For many years I was surrounded by desperate neighbours whose families had been divided under the thumb of visa legislation. Yes, economically they benefited from supporting relatives working in the West. Never the less this cannot eradicate the deep scar in my memories of many people who put their life in danger to break out of Albania in the hope of a life abroad. In most cases, “abroad” meant Europe, be it Greece, Italy, or even Germany, France and Great Britain.
There are countless stories of people who attempted to make their dreams of a better life a reality beyond our borders. Today I will tell you a part of my story.
Our first application to leave Albania was submitted to the Embassy of Greece in Tirana. I traveled with my mother to visit her sister living in Athens. Needless to write about the amount of papers to be filled and the documents to be provided, I still remember the fear of being refused. But we were not!
A few years later, my eyes turned toward Austria and Great Britain. I was longing so deeply to see Vienna and London during Christmas. Again I endured the procedures and applications with Embassies in Tirana and again I felt so small and pressured in the face of the visa officer. I often changed my plans in depression of this feeling and finally gave up. In my head I used to have this strong idea that if the application for my visa might be rejected and maybe never approved, my country would turn into a mass prison of cursed citizens not allowed to travel and see the world. I missed many European countries, as I have never been allowed to visit their numerous meaningful and beautiful places.
Freedom of Movement is irreplaceable
It makes such a difference in life to experience foreign countries, to meet so many kind and simple people from different places. They become irreplaceable memories. There are countless reasons why free movement should be supported and even promoted. Lack of knowledge propels stereotypes. Stereotypes lead to false perceptions and unnecessary distinctions.
But how does it feel for a European citizen to be confronted with visa procedures in order to enter a certain country or even a certain geographical area? How would it feel to suddenly be deprived from all the rights you have always had and be in the shoes of a less privileged person from a less developed country, in a lower economic stage of development, with a higher rate of corruption and poverty? I believe it is deeply ingrained in human nature to seek a better life and the opportunity of an environment that can provide for it.
Consider this simple example: Why should a child from the West have more rights compared to a child from the East? I would like to respond with my friend’s words, with the "accident of birth". Should the accident of birth predetermine the rights of children? Should the world of today be their world of tomorrow? Should we still raise them with such mental boundaries?
It does not make you a better person to be born in the West than a person born in the East. On the other hand every kind of person no matter how friendly or dangerous, is entitled to all rights and freedoms set in the declaration of human rights.
But the EU citizen may not
even bother to stop and think about it for just a second.