Yesterday Albanians (along with Bosnians) received a long-awaited visa liberalization agreement with the EU. Now Albanians can, with minimal paperwork, travel for up to 90 days in any EU country and England without a visa. In most places around the country this news was greeted with celebration, mayoral speeches, parties and, in some cases, fireworks. If the wind and rain and lightning hadn’t been blowing/striking in Lezhe and the power hadn’t been out, we probably would have been partying, too.
Many Albanians see this visa liberalization as a big step forward towards EU membership. However, they still have a long long long way to go and must realize that this is just a baby step. In some ways, though, it makes talking about and comparing Albania’s situation to that of nearby countries a bit easier for me because my colleagues and friends here can actually travel to those places for short visits and conferences without visa headaches. It will be interesting to see how the trickle down effect of easier access to the Germanys and Englands of the world manifests itself here. In the world of sustainable development work, cross-border comparison of best-practices is a common thing that can be helped by travel and trainings abroad. The “example” of many EU countries is so close for Albanians, but yet, even after this visa liberalization, remains so far. In the future, abuse of the new travel system is certainly a possibility and the fact remains that most Albanians cannot afford to travel outside the country. Also, there’s a strong homebody mentality here that keeps people close to family and friends (I have seen more of Albania than most Albanians I know).
On a lighter note, it is now possible for Albanians to travel to Greece and Italy to visit their family and friends – a privilege that I’m sure will be used frequently and will only add to the strong ties Albanians have with both countries. It’s an exciting energy here, and I am eager to see how this all plays out over the rest of my time in country.