On traveling with a Kosovo passport in the European Union gated community.
In visa application procedures, I have no identity. My identity is my passport and my passport is my (only) identity. The institution of passport stripes you off of all layers of your identity and downgrades you into one ‘political category’. You are only a political category as defined by the country where you are applying for the visa.
I travel a lot. Both for pleasure and work. Conferences, lectures, symposiums are my monthly activities. Every time I get invited somewhere, there are two things I think of immediately. One, do I need a visa to get there? Two, if yes, on a scale of ‘One’ to ‘British Visa Application’, what is the level of the degrading procedure?
For the Western (il)liberal countries my passport means one thing: ‘asylum seeker’, whereas if I ever attempt to travel anywhere else my passport means ‘secessionist’. In both cases, my visa is refused. As a Kosovar citizen I need to apply for a visa for travelling to pretty much everywhere. That is, I am eligible *to apply
In visa application procedures, I have no identity. My identity is my passport and my passport is my (only) identity. The institution of passport stripes you off of all layers of your identity and downgrades you into one ‘political category’. That political category recognizes you as refugee, political refugee, asylum seeker, tourist (if you are lucky). You can be unemployed, a professor, an artist, a rocket scientist. Yet, you are only a political category as defined by the country where you are applying for the visa. This means, you don’t exist! You, have no agency! You are just a passport! And a bad one.
Three years ago my brother and my sister (both in their early 20s) wanted to spend a one-week Christmas holiday with me. Their visas were refused from the Belgian consulate in Pristina. The consulate argued that they did not have enough guarantees that the two had any intention of getting back to Kosovo – i.e., the reasoning behind the decision was something like “we know you will seek asylum the minute you step in Belgium and rip off our social security system”. A year ago, my brother was (again) refused the Belgian visa and was therefore unable to come at the ceremony of my PhD defense. And to this very day, he has still not received a document that would explain why he was refused the permission to temporarily exit the country. For the Belgian authorities, having your sister becoming a doctor is not enough of a reason to be granted a visa. After carefully checking the legislation, I found out that there were two cases in which my brother would have been allowed to come and visit me: 1) if I were on a coma and there were no other family members who could attend me; 2) to bring my deceased body back to Kosovo.
And these are not only sporadic cases. In 2013, the famous Kosovar rock band Jericho, who was invited to perform at Balkan ‘Trafik festival’ in Brussels, was denied the Belgian visa. Very recently, one of Kosovo’s emerging writers was denied a visa at an EU country, because the civil servants at the consulate did not understand (and did not bother to understand) why would a writer be given a one-month art residence permit. Before even being a writer, or a group of artists, these subjects are passports that scream ‘asylum seeker’ – therefore no need to bother in getting enlightened what an ‘art residence’ permit is. And these procedures do not spare literally anyone. Practices like these are not limited even for Majlinda Kelmendi – World Judoka Champion – and Arta Dobroshi – internationally renowned actress and nominee for the European Film Award.
Yes, like all of us, I happen to have been accidentally born in a place which has provided headlines for massive refugee flees initially because of Milosevic’s war; later because of lack of economic prospects and chronic unemployment; currently, also because for a lot of a people in Kosovo, what Kosovo turned into after the ‘liberation’ and ‘independence’ phases is a fundamental delusion. Yes, it is true that like many of us, the ruling class in my home country is more preoccupied in clearing its own mess (especially as far as their ‘deeds’ during and after the war are concerned) and maintaining corporate monopolies. Nonetheless, like many of us, I am not just a passport. And yet, some of us are doomed to be seen as representations of ‘political categories’ which our countries are associated with. This representation does not extend (naturally!) to citizens of the ‘West’ or what Grosfoguel calls citizens of ‘hemispheres of power’. Imagine if a Belgian citizen not being allowed to travel to a country in Latin America simply because there have been sporadic cases of Belgian nationals engaging in pedophile activities in these countries. A Belgian is not a ‘political category’. He/she is a tourist, no matter what and no matter where. I on the contrary, am an ‘asylum seeker’ even when invited to lecture at universities. To several friends and colleagues of mine in Belgium, this sounds totally ridiculous. Indeed, they generally assume that while visas may not be issued for ‘ordinary people’ from Kosovo who might go abroad for all sorts of reason, this practice cannot apply to me. Why? Well, to begin with, I am resident in Belgium – that changes the situation. Secondly, I am a lecturer at a Belgian University. No embassy would deny your travel for academic purposes. Yet, as a Kosovo passport holder, I am an isolated citizen within the Schengen area. It sounds even surreal to talk about isolation from Brussels. Within the EU, I cannot travel to Romania. It does not recognize my Kosovo passport and because it is not in the Schengen area, thus different rules apply there. That is the reason why I can travel to Spain, Slovakia, and Greece, which, though not recognizing Kosovo as an independent country, cannot deny entry to a ‘resident’ of Belgium (despite the fact that she is a Kosovo passport holder).
Outside the EU, I can travel visa-free to 13 countries: the Maldives, Turkey, Albania, Serbia, Macedonia, Montenegro, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Gambia, Haiti, Micronesia, Niue, St. Vincent and the Grenadines. If you are wondering where some of these countries are located on the map, don’t panic! You will have to zoom in and out throughout Oceania to spot them. As you can see, this is not exactly a ‘lucky 13’ of countries. Most of my scholarly activities do not generally take place in remote islands. Last year, I was refused a visa from Iran and just last week I registered another refusal from the Chinese consulate. In both cases, I was invited by local universities to lecture for a couple of weeks.
For about six years now I have systematically turned down any invitation to conferences or lectures in the UK. I decided I would never fill an utterly degrading list of questions such as ‘have you ever been involved in activities of organ trafficking?’ or ‘have you ever engaged in terrorist activities?’. I find it hard to believe that this is how the British system ‘haunts down the terrorists’, provided that they tick one of these boxes. What’s more, I feel violated to be scrutinized with questions asking about my sexual orientation, my skin color, my religion etc. On similar grounds, I am turning down conferences in Canada simply because I don’t want to put up with an excruciating procedure of collecting documents and then be asked to travel all the way to Paris to give my fingerprints as some sort of world criminal.
As a matter of fact, I am an isolated citizen of the gated community of the European Union. I have decided not to ‘try my luck’ to travel anywhere else outside the EU – a sort of ‘Schengen-isolation’. I have to stress that this is a ‘privileged’ position. For my co-nationals who live in Kosovo, the Schengen zone is least of all welcoming. Isolation is not new to me. I know my way around it and have developed quite some skills in learning how to live it. It’s just after several experiences likes these, I have no patience to put up with utterly racist and discriminatory encounters.