By Hanna Polishchuk
Everything seemed wonderful at the beginning, but as soon as we approached the Hungarian-Croatian border, the tension began to rise. We thought it is just another ticket control, but the woman asked for the passport. So, we gave our documents to her. The Italian one was turned back quite fast but when she was checking the Ukrainian, at some point we heard her saying “Kaput!” and she left the wagon with the passport. At this point my heart beating was increasing and we all were anxiously waiting for the verdict. At some point, they also asked for Ksenia’s passport and the tension became even stronger. Minutes seemed like hours. Luckily it finished soon, and we were relieved by the sound of stamps in our passports. However, during the rest of the trip, the feeling of worrying didn’t disappear even for a moment. That is the real example of what citizens of the countries outside the Schengen area go through on the borders.
Zagreb greeted us with rain but Zvonimir Canjuga from AEGEE-Zagreb welcomed us so warmly that the weather was not important anymore. The first thing he did was taking us to have dinner so that we could gain some more energy after the trip. The size of plates was incredible, and Croatian food was delicious! When we came to our hosts, Milivoj and Ana, we were working on the sessions’ content to be ready for the next day.
Friday morning our team went out for interviewing people. The majority was not willing to participate but we managed to ask some students and were impressed with their answers. Most of them are very dissatisfied with the current right-wing government in Croatia and its policies. People disapprove its nationalistic inclination. After all, youth participation in Croatia is very low at the moment, it seems that young people do not care so much, and the last elections are the result of it.
When we talk about the borders, at some point this question becomes sensitive. The opinions get divided when we speak about the Schengen borders and the Balkan ones. There is still tension between Croatia and Serbia but mostly in the minds of older generations; younger people are more open but not totally. Regarding the EU, it is very strict about the borders policy. The most influential EU countries dictate terms to those that play the role of doors to the Schengen area. They are not interested in letting refugees moving the whole route to Germany, Austria, France or Belgium. If conditions are not fulfilled and there is the slightest possibility of a threat, they close the border as it happened between Hungary and Croatia. After the Balkan route of refugees was shut down, Hungary reopened the border. Zagreb citizens see one of the solutions as tighter cooperation between countries in their policies.
During the debates about opening or closing borders from the EU neighboring countries, participants looked at the problem from the both sides. On the one hand, the main reasons of opening the borders according to them, are: helping those whose life is threatened and who are fleeing from the war, promoting solidarity and humanitarianism, fighting xenophobia and, thus, making the world a better place. On the other, there are also the reasons to close the frontiers such as security issues together with the risk of terrorism, cultural conflict, increasing amount of economic refugees, health risk, capacity overload and constant conflicts with neighboring countries.
The possible solutions to deal with borders would be, first of all, improving the security system, allocating resources according to the number of accepted refugees, educating and integrating both citizens and refugees, and informing the public about current issues. The problem with security of borders is that each country has its own security system, and they don’t share any information about it. It is yet not clear how to improve this cooperation, though. The major question we heard from Croatian youth was “why should people be restricted in movement whether they want to study, work or travel abroad?” The complicated procedures of getting visa draw them back from mobility, which is an essential factor of development.
Taking into account the questionnaire, Croatian students who participated in it defined Europe as home. As for most of them it is easy to travel from one country to another without visa, they defined it as borderless Europe; however, some respondents feel those borders either on their own experience or their friend’s from the non-Schengen area. Nika Alujević, Croatian student, 26, defined Europe as a “beautiful idea, with successful past (from 1950’s of course,not before), contested present, endangered/non-secure future”. Young people see many borders in Europe. Apart from the physical ones they talk about cultural, political, social, economiс, national and even borders of values. Most borders grow from people’s mindsets, and unless they are changed the problems will only increase.
This important discussion took place thanks to AEGEE-Zagreb, and made us ask ourselves the questions that we did not dare to ask before. Obviously there are many unfortunate events going on out there but let’s not forget about our own participation in it. We can either improve or deteriorate the situation. By becoming active, we can challenge our decision-makers, and make our opinion heard. Our team hopes that people will wake up from the illusions and start acting.
Big thanks to AEGEE-Zagreb for making this event possible! These people took a good care of us since the moment we arrived till our next train. The next stations will be fast, but hopefully we will have the possibility to learn as much as in this city of hearts.