Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Students in Skopje protest against EU visa regime

SKOPJE, Macedonia-Around 1,000 Macedonian students demonstrated on Thursday, demanding that EU member states open their borders to citizens of this tiny Balkan country.

The youth protest, under the catchphrase "Visa, forget about it!", was aimed at abolishing the Schengen system, which allows passport-free travel for participating countries but restricts entry for outsiders, and promoting democracy in Europe.

It was timed to coincide with the 17th anniversary of the Berlin Wall's fall in 1989.

The protesters called for "speeding up bureaucratic procedures and eliminating visa requirements" for all Macedonian citizens, saying young people were worst affected.

"We cannot speak of a European dimension for education, mobility, corruption, democracy and tolerance while cramped within the boundaries of our country," the organizers said.

The protesters marched from the main government building to the European Commission office, where they erected a simulated border crossing and distributed mock visas allowing "entry" to the EU.

Macedonians, who can visit only 12 countries visa-free, spend about €2.5 million ($3.2 million) a year on visas.

"We are the victims of Europe's hypocrisy ... They are demanding that Macedonia apply western democratic values but stay out of Europe," said Svetlana Spasovska, a 21-year-old economics student.

No comments: