I was born on the banks of the Danube river close to the Romanian-Serbian border, on Romanian soil. At that time, in 1989, the Romanian borders were like the walls of a prison, guarded by heavily armed men. If you attempted to cross in any way, you would risk your life. Everyone knew that on the other side of the river, in Yugoslavia, people could travel and work without visas in almost all of Europe and well beyond, which made it a very attractive destination. When EU membership became a possibility for Yugoslavia, Romania’s accession was beyond imagination. Some months later, the Romanian borders were open and transformation began. But what was on the other side gradually became less and less attractive, as the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia (SFRY) had ceased to exist after a violent break-up and the citizens of the new state were allowed visa-free travel to only about one tenth of the world’s two hundred states. Between 1996 and 2009, the default immobilisation of holders of those post-Yugoslav passports could only be suspended individually and temporarily—by obtaining a visa. When Romania’s EU membership became a reality, the accession of post-Yugoslav countries to the EU was just a hope.
As a student, I spent some time living on the other side of the border, in Serbia and Kosovo. Many people here bitterly pointed out to me that, with their red passport, they had been able to travel more freely than many Western Europeans, whereas later they were even more entrapped than most Eastern Europeans. Entrapment by the EU’s visa regimes was thus experienced by many as a humiliating inversion of European geopolitical hierarchies: excluded from the EU, they were reduced to having to catch up with those Eastern Europeans who had previously not even been able to dream of the mobility allowed by a SFRY passport.
I have learned that freedom of movement is not to be taken for granted. I have learned that EU enlargement means more freedom and that separatism means less freedom.
FutureLaber Doris Manu has recently been selected by the European Commission – DG NEAR to be the ambassador of their writing competition on EU enlargement. The contest aims to get more young people interested in the EU enlargement process.