Europe's Silent Discrimination Against Kosovars

04/07/2015 05:46 pm ET | Updated Jun 07, 2015

Today, Kosovars carry the single most worthless passport in all of Europe. It allows them to travel to only 12 countries in the world without a visa. These include Albania, Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey, Dominica, Ecuador, Gambia, Haiti, Micronesia, Niue, and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. However, Kosovars main travel destination is the European Union. This is due to the majority of diaspora living within EU, having settled there during the break-up of Yugoslavia. The EU has imposed a stringent and unfair visa regime for all 1.7 million Kosovars. To this day, Kosovo remains the only country in the region whose citizens are required a visa to travel to within the EU -- making Kosovo the most isolated country in Europe.

Kosovo is Europe's youngest nation. It declared its independence from Serbia in 2008, after being under United Nations administration for nine years. The Serbian state carried out a brutal war against the independence-seeking Albanian population in Kosovo from 1998-1999. It is estimated that over 10,900 Kosovars were killed, around a million were deported out of the country, and hundreds of thousands of properties were burned to the ground. Thousands of Kosovars are still missing. The Serbian troops were forced out of the country after a 78-day NATO-led airstrike campaign, aided by the local Kosovo Liberation Army on the ground.

Kosovo's efforts for international recognition have not been easy. This is almost exclusively due to Serbia's refusal to recognize the young nation's existence. Serbia is being supported in its efforts by Russia and China, permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. Today, 110 UN members recognize Kosovo. This includes the United States along with Germany, France, Italy, the UK, and all but five EU member states. Fearing attempts at secession by minorities on their own soil, Spain, Cyprus, Romania, Slovakia, and Greece have yet to officially recognize Kosovo. Until this changes, Kosovo cannot apply for EU membership. Therefore, it is unable to benefit from state and economic building measures that the EU integration process provides.

But when it comes to visa-free travel, the five member states refusing to recognize Kosovo are not able to block the process. The European Commission launched the visa dialogue with Kosovo in January 2012, and gave Kosovo a visa liberalization roadmap in June 2012. The document contains reform requirements to enhance Kosovo's border management, passport safety, as well as human rights records. Similar roadmaps were given to all neighboring countries in 2008. One difference stands out, however: Kosovo's neighboring states have clear language and defined targets in their official roadmap documents. For Kosovo, the assessments are vague and confusing, lacking a clear list of next steps.

Civil society organizations in Kosovo have issued a worrisome call on the EU to end the anti-Kosovo bias. They want the EU to employ a clear assessment of the roadmap detailing where Kosovo is lagging behind in its reform process, remedy it, and eventually allow Kosovars to enjoy freedom of movement. This is one of the EU's key founding principles.

In the open letter to the European Commission, civil society organizations state:

In July 2014, the European Commission issued a report on Kosovo's progress... this report is strikingly and worryingly different from the visa progress reports that Kosovo's Balkan neighbors received in 2008-2010. It is also very different from the report on Turkey issued in 2014.

Kosovars are fed up with being the most isolated nation in Europe. They are unfairly kept separate from their loved ones living in the EU and find it increasingly difficult -- if not impossible -- to engage in any business expansion into the EU due to the visa restrictions. The recent open illegal walk into Hungary featuring tens of thousands of Kosovars was a direct message to the EU that they need to act on this pressing issue now.

The EU has had executive powers in Kosovo ever since statehood began in 2008. To be fair, everything going on within the country -- economically and otherwise --- is partially due to EU management. Neighboring countries, whose citizens currently travel freely within the EU, stand on the same ground as Kosovo. Poverty is not a criteria that defines who gets to travel freely. If it were one, Moldovans would not be able to travel freely in the EU, which they are.

It is clear the reasons holding Kosovo back and isolated are political. This bias against Kosovars is not a European value -- it is the value of nations that discriminate and breach basic human rights. In the end, Kosovars aren't seeking any better treatment. As their open letter concludes: "We appeal to you to be as fair when it comes to the issue of visa liberalization for Kosovo citizens as you have been in dealing with our neighbors' and Turkey today."