Project: Visa Policy of the Czech Republic and the European Union towards the Eastern Partnership Countries and the Ways to Improve it
The study commissioned by the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs and implemented by the Association for International Affairs in cooperation with Multicultural Center Prague will analyze the visa policy of the Czech Republic and the European Union toward Eastern Partnership countries. The main focus of the study will be on migration and security context of visa liberalization process, but it will also examine the perception of visa-related issues in individual EaP countries. Additionally, the authors will compare visa policies and practices of the Czech Republic, Poland, Sweden and Germany towards EaP citizens.
„My visa story”
In “My Visa Story” competition organised by the public “VISA-FREE!” coalition together with portal TUT.by, Belarusians were invited to share their stories about problems with getting visas or crossing borders in the form of an essay. Out of 80 submitted works, the jury decided to choose an essay titled “Surely, everyone would like to stay human” by Aleh Babets, a disabled person from Minsk. Six most interesting essays have been published on TUT.by portal and Aleh Babets will have the possibility to visit the Schengen area (if granted a visa). Jury justified their verdict stating that the winner managed to “tell his story very honestly and fully and to combine it with the general issue of the restrictions associated with travelling abroad.” The winning essay revealed as well a little-known problem of double visa payment required from disabled people.
Border Land is a short documentary showing the absurdity of living immediately next to a state border which has just recently emerged where it had never existed. This is exactly what happened to people living in the borderland of Belarus and Lithuania after the expansion of the EU and the Schengen area. Visa restrictions and unwillingness of local officials to help made it extremely problematic for borderland residents to cross the frontier and to visit their family members in a neighbouring village.
VISA-FREE Photo Action
Within the framework of the VISA-FREE travel campaign “Go Europe, Go Belarus!” the photo action supporting the abolition of visa regime between Belarus and the EU has been launched on 7 May in Vilnius, Lithuania. The action is to be continued in other European states as well. The action itself consists of collecting pictures of people from Belarus and abroad expressing their position against the “visa wall”. Raising awareness of the EU public and decision-makers about the will of Belarusians to put an end to the visa isolation of their country is the main goal. The pictures will be presented at exhibitions, public actions, on the web etc. Another idea behind the action is mobilising the public opinion in Belarus in favour of openly expressing people’s will to be re-united with Europe.
DEMAS is facilitating connections between Czech and foreign NGOs working in the fields of democracy assistance and human rights, promoting Czech human rights and democracy assistance activities in the media and to experts and the wider public, organising seminars, conferences, workshops and roundtables on subjects related to democracy, human rights and civil society, helping to reach a consensus among the member organisations on common positions concerning the policies of the Czech Republic and the EU towards transition promotion and democracy assistance.
More information of current activities of DEMOS can be found on their website.
Europe without barriers is a foundation organising numerous debates and briefings, such as “Removing visa barriers together! Europe is our home!” supported by the International Renaissance Foundation, the roundtable discussion “Schengen consulates in assessments and ratings”, the press-conference “The EU – Ukraine visa dialogue: one step forward, two steps back”, Parliamentary Hearings “The legislative support for visa-free regime between Ukraine and the European Union”, “EU-Ukraine Visa dialogue: Challenges and Prospects” held in Brussels on May 7, 2010, and “The EU Visa Code” held on May 5, 2010 in Uzhgorod, Ukraine.
The mission of the organization is to support development of cultural, educational, economic and political contacts between Poland and Ukraine and to promote the democratic values and civic society.
Foundation Our Choice was co-founder of the Welcome Center in Warsaw, which provides support to migrants of different ethnic background, gender and age, by providing legal assistance, organizing cultural and educational events.
Foundation has also organized numerous meetings for Ukrainian migrants with Polish and Ukrainian state officials. In 2010 Foundation was the co-organizer of Migrant Day in Warsaw, Ukrainian integration events – St. Andrew’s Day party, Christmas dinner, presentations of Ukrainian literature, animated movies; etc. In 2010 together with Foundation Other Space, it published a book of Ukrainian fairytales in Polish and Ukrainian, illustrated by Ukrainian and Polish painters. Foundation participated in projects coordinated by IOM Poland in 2009-10:
„Active and competent. Migrant in civic society”, supported by EFI
“Cooperation – a path to integration” supported by EFI. Foundation participates in the Platform of Cooperation for Integration established within the framework of the project.
Moreover, Foundation is a member of the European Integration Forum (European Commission and the European Economic and Social Committee) since 2010. Currently Foundation is running “Information Resources for Ukrainian Migrants in Poland” project and serves as a partner of IOM Poland in the project “Empowering Migrant Youth: Models of Integration and Prevention of Exclusion”, both supported by EFI.
For more than a decade MitOst has been a platform for cross-border seminars and workshops on current or historical topics.
The highlight of the year is the annual international MitOst Festival held in September 2011 in České Budějovice (Czech Republic). The public presentation of program activities and successful projects serves as an encouragement for all members and partners interested to develop new ideas. Various offers within the four-day International workshop “New forms of engagement” give an insight into practical knowledge of project management, citizenship education and cultural dialogue.
Among others, the association carries out well-established programs of one of the largest private business foundations in Europe, Robert Bosch Stiftung. In 2008-2010, the association has been supported by the European Union within the program Europe for Citizens. This year the association became a founding member of the EU-Russia Civil Society Forum.
On the invitation by Stefan Batory Foundation, in May 2011, MitOst presented the exhibition “Eastern Neighbours and Visas – Friendly Neighbourhood Relations?” with impressive photographs of polish artist Jan Brykczyński in Berlin. For the opening, representatives of Polish and Ukrainian NGOs together with German MP Viola von Cramon discussed obstacles and challenges of the actual EU visa policy. Two films “Where Europe ends” (2007) and “Borderland” (2009) were shown for the closing event of the exhibition, which took the audience for a journey to the new frontier regions of the EU. In the follow up of these activities, MitOst has been invited to a public hearing at the Committee for Foreign Affairs of the German parliament in September 2011 with the topic of the practice of granting visa at German consulates in the countries of the Eastern Neighbourhood and the Russian Federation. Based on the wide experience in such procedures, the association’s statement is stressing the necessity of visa liberalization and calling for urgent steps.
The Office for a Democratic Belarus (ODB) has been actively involved in promoting easier visa regime for Belarusians since early 2008. In February 2008, the ODB joined the European Parliament campaign initiated by three MEPs: Genowefa Grabowska (PL), Justas Vincas Paleckis (LT) and Hannes Swoboda (AU), for which it prepared the slogan “Say YES to Cheaper Visas for Belarusians” and visual symbols. The ODB helped to distribute a declaration calling for reduction of Schengen visa costs for Belarusian citizens among MEPs during the Parliamentary sessions in Strasburg and Brussels.
The ODB continues to raise visa issue at various meetings and events, e.g. during the ‘Schengen visa liberalisation policy towards Belarus and Belarus-EU cooperation in the field of tourism’ round table organised in cooperation with the vice-chairman of the Delegation for relations with Belarus, Latvian MEP Aldis Kuskis. During debates on visa issues the ODB always stresses not only the advantages that Belarusians could receive if travel restrictions were eased but also the opportunities the EU countries could have from more intensified people-to-people contact.
The ODB has always paid special attention to engaging Belarusian organisations in lobbying for visa issues. In February 2009, the ODB in cooperation with the Movement for Freedom launched a campaign ‘For Visa Costs Reduction for Belarusians’, which consisted of letters sent to governments of all the Schengen Agreement signatories with an appeal to re-examine their policies regarding fees and procedures of issuing Schengen visas for Belarusian citizens. The appeal was supported by more than 70 associations and individuals from Belarus and abroad.In late July, the ODB is planning to organise a round-table on visa issues in Minsk, inviting independent experts, representatives of related governmental bodies, specialists from the EaP countries, journalists and foreign embassies’ representatives.
In 2010, the Office was among the founders of the Coalition For European Continent Undivided by Visa Barriers. In March 2011, as a part of a joint project with PASOS ‘Paving the road towards visa-free travel between the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU’ the ODB launched a web-site: www.novisa.by.
At the end of March, the ODB joined forces with the number of Belarusian organisations and think-tanks to form VISA-Free! public coalition. Members of the coalition started to advocate the idea of visa-free travel between Belarus and other European countries. In April, the coalition sent an appeal to the Belarusian government, asking to unilaterally reduce Belarusian visa fees and simplify the visa procedures for the EU citizens or even abolish the visa regime altogether as a gesture of good will.In late July, the ODB is planning to organise a round-table on visa issues in Minsk, inviting independent experts, representatives of related governmental bodies, specialists from the EaP countries, journalists and foreign embassies’ representatives.
The Stefan Batory Foundation has been promoting friendly border solutions for the Eastern European countries for a decade now. In the previous years, we monitored the visa policy and the procedures of issuing visas for citizens of Eastern Europe by the countries of the European Union, as well as the conditions of crossing the Union’s eastern border. We published the results of our monitoring and research in a series of reports: on the situation on Poland’s eastern borders (2003); on the Polish and European visa policies (2004, 2006, 2009); on the situation at Polish border crossings and at border crossings along the European Union’s eastern borders (2008) (see Publications). Our reports were presented during meetings and conferences organised in Poland, on the forum of the EU, in the member states and in the countries of Eastern Europe. We used the findings of our research and the resulting conclusions and recommendations in our campaign conducted in Poland and the EU, aimed at making the visa regime less strict and more friendly, as well as at improving the service quality at the EU borders.
Currently, when visa-free travelling to and from chosen East-European countries has officially become the Union’s long-term objective, we focus on boosting the process. In our advocacy efforts we explore a variety of methods of getting the message across to decision-makers in European institutions and in member states. We regularly review progress in visa liberalization, organize meetings, conferences and seminars, publish reports on the study of major visa policy change requirements, circulate exhibitions and send postcard with photos of applicants from the consulates in Eastern Partnership countries. We also promote the idea of visa liberalisation at the Eastern Partnership Forum, established at the European Commission with the mandate to influence EU institutions and national governments during their decision-making process. We were co-initiators of the Visa Facilitation subgroup. In 2010 on our initiative, the Coalition for the European Continent Undivided by Visa Barriers was established.