Visas? What's the reason...

Visas? What's the reason...

Visas? What’s the reason….

Ukraine borders four EU-member countries, yet its citizens are continuously encountering troubles when wishing to travel to the Schengen area. The Ukrainian Europe without Barriers (further indicated as EWB) ngo, dealing with monitoring  and providing advocacy efforts aimed at abolition of visa regimes and other administrative barriers, decided to support its discussion-aimed round-table session in Budapest, CEU with a documentary photo-exhibition, opened by Ambassador of Ukraine to Hungary, Yurii Mushka, on April 8 (viewable in the CEU Octagon area until April 22). We asked Maryana Kuzio (project manager of the ngo) about the background, aims and hopes.

We heard a lot of information regarding problematic visa issuance  to Ukrainian citizens. The exhibition shows twelve distinguished Ukrainian personalities who have had “visa issues”, this meaning have been denied visa despite their proven problem-free travelling history. How did you pick those people?

-  We started to hear  a lot about different stories in the media of these well-known personalities who have been invited often as speakers, participants to important  - sports, cultural – events, conferences abroad, and have been refused visas. They were not necessarily them who contacted us, but also citizens in general who wanted to get some explanation on the otherwise only generic justification of denial. The media picks up on those stories since it’s quite intriguing and in a way ridiculous that these people – prominent for the Ukrainian society - cannot travel freely.  

It means that it happens really often that important personalities are not given travel visas?

- It happens, yes, but actually I must say that when we started to contact those people who we have heard of, in many cases it turned out that in the end they received the document , that said the media just blew the story up a bit.

- So who are the owners of those exhibited stories?

- They are famous writers, sportsmen, professors, opinion formers, like Myroslav Marynovich, vice-rector of the Ukrainian Catholic University in Lviv, for instance, who, to show his disagreement, decided to boycott visa-issuing authorities by not travelling to denying countries for a year.

Even the photographer himself, Arthur Bondar is “on the list”…

- Yes, exactly, he has been refused a visa to his own exhibition in Berlin where he was invited to participate at the Berlin Browse Photo Festival in May 2012!

Had you worked with him before?

- No, this is our first common project. We heard of his story as well and contacted him.

How did the idea of the exhibition come up?

- Our ngo deals mainly with monitoring which equals research and lots of statistics, data, and since the topic is quite “dry, heavy stuff”, we thought visualizing it is a rather good, fresh, efficient way of reaching people, raising awareness. We had the idea, then heard Arthur’s story and we linked the two things together.

Does the project have any special concept?

- You have probably noticed that the photos are black and white. This is not by chance, or by pure artistic objective, the two colors symbolize Schengen lists – there is a black one and a white one, and, by no surprise, Ukraine is on the black one. So we decided to play on this. We also would like to develop the idea and work further on it: will look for prominent personalities, opinion leaders from the EU and Ukraine and create “pairs”, meaning on one picture we would show two people, one EU citizen and one Ukrainian one, emphasizing thus their similarities and yet different conditions due to visa restrictions. One is “free”, the other is not –  why? We are planning on this around middle of summer.

Still with Arthur?

- Well, probably not, first, because he is really busy and second, because we would like to include other photographers – one option could be Igor Gaidai (renowned Ukrainian photo artist) –, artists since we really like the idea of visualizing the message through art. We do think art is communicates much better than plane data and information. Besides photography, music could be also a possible way: there is a band, naming themselves Music of Berlin Wall whose members also experienced hostile visa treatment and who decided to protest through music they created by recording sounds produced on the Berlin Wall. And we have other singers on mind as well.

- "Meta-communication” often works better than words....

- Yes, words need support of other means of communication.

Is this a single exhibition, or is there any precedence or continuation?

- We show the exhibition in different cities and venues: we had already exhibited in Brussels, in the European Parliament, where representatives of different parties were present, decision-makers who are influential. Now we are in Budapest, Hungary – a country that is fortunately among the ones that issue visa to Ukrainian citizens easily – and soon we are heading to Brussels again, where a joint committee on visa facilitation agreement between Ukraine and EU will take place – Iryina Sushko (Head of EWB) will deliver a speech on freedom of movement. The stop after, in the second half of May, is Prague, with the help of our partner, PASOS. At the meeting the Czech Ministry of Foreign Affairs will also be represented.   Czech Republic is more reluctant than Hungary in the matter, so it’s a great opportunity to communicate and also convince them that the so-called visa-facilitation agreement that in theory exists doesn’t work properly and needs to be adjusted. Each EU country can do a lot in order to help visa codes and facilitation agreement be better and more smoothly implemented. The general idea and goal is always discussion with the aim to raise awareness.

Maybe also to simply inform...

- Indeed, people in the EU often do not know about problems Ukrainians are facing, they turn out to be really surprised when we tell them about the actual situation. The whole fact of not being able to freely and easily travel  is counterproductive for both sides – Ukrainians and European countries as well who, due to difficult communication, are unable to get to know us better.  That’s why we are trying to work in two directions: decision-makers and civil societies at the same time.

At CEU, with students, faculty and staff fellows from various, EU and non-EU countries,  the exhibition – which is, as all of them, public – seems to have found an ideal place and space.

- Exactly, that’s also why we decided to cooperate with CENS (Center for Enlargement Studies) and CAC (Center for Arts and Culture). We do think and hope, the photographs will reach its goal that is disseminating information, consciousness, awareness raising and thus helping Ukraine become more part of Europe and participate better in cultural, intellectual, “european” exchange.



-karolin benkő-

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