While the EU interior ministers agreed on May 12 to change the rules of the Schengen passport-free area, seeking to clarify conditions under which national governments can reinstate border controls, Belarus is trying to make its way out of visa isolation.
At the end of March a number of Belarusian organisations and think-tanks joined forces within the VISA-Free! public coalition. Assisted by partners from EU member states, Belarusians are planning to advocate the idea of visa-free travel between Belarus and other European countries. This initiative grew out of the project ‘Paving the road towards visa-free travel between the Eastern Partnership countries and the EU’ led by PASOS. The Office for a Democratic Belarus and BISS joined the project from the Belarusian side.
On 20 April, 25 Belarusian NGOs and Initiatives sent an appeal to the Belarusian Government, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Sport and Tourism, and to the Ministry of Culture. Promoting the principle of reciprocity activists suggested the government “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”. The authors of the appeal also called on the authorities to abolish the foreign nationals’ registration procedure (“migration cards” obligatory to fill in for all but Russian citizens arriving in Belarus and register if staying in the country for more than three days).
More information about the campaign can be found at www.novisa.by web-site which the Office for a Democratic Belarus has launched in the framework of its project with PASOS. In June, the ODB in cooperation with Belarus Watch (Lithuania) and the Belarusian Institute for Strategic Studies (BISS) is planning to conduct a round-table on visa issues in Minsk, with the participation of independent experts, representatives of related governmental bodies, specialists from the EaP countries, journalists and foreign embassies’ representatives.
Photo by Alyaksandra Ihnatovich