“It’s a sign of revolt and despair,” Shpejtim Pefqeli, owner of Mama restaurant, told AFP. “As a citizen of Kosovo, I feel very bad.”
The former Serbian province which declared its independence in 2008 has long demanded that its inhabitants be exempted from short-stay visas allowing them to travel freely in the 26 countries of the Schengen area, most of which are members of the EU.
The EU executive ruled in 2018 that Pristina had fulfilled all the necessary conditions. But the Kosovars, numbering 1.8 million, remain the only inhabitants of the Western Balkans to have to obtain a sesame to travel in the Schengen area, a long obstacle course often experienced as an embarrassment.
Many Kosovars had placed high hopes in a recent EU/Western Balkans summit, but this one did not lead to any progress in this area.
“It made us angry. We saw that in a way, we were humiliated. That’s where the idea of doing something for my country came from. To protest”, continues the restaurateur, 50 years old.
The EULEX, the European mission in charge of the rule of law in the territory, has its premises just opposite the restaurant and many of the Europeans working there frequented the establishment.
“I decided to prevent them (from coming) first,” he said, explaining that he was not worried about the attendance of the restaurant which boasts of having one of the most Italian-inspired menus. rich in the capital.
Immediately after the meeting in Brussels, Shpejtim Pefqeli posted the following message in front of his restaurant: “No entry for European citizens without a visa. Restaurant Mama”.
“Two Bulgarians were at the table then. They laughed when I told them to take their time to finish their meal and their drinks,” says Mama’s boss.
North Macedonia, Montenegro and Serbia gained visa exemption in 2009, followed a year later by Albania and Bosnia.
Among 199 countries classified according to the freedom of movement offered by their passport, the Henley index places only ten behind Kosovo, including North Korea, Syria and Afghanistan.
Shpejtim Pefqeli’s decision is illegal but some agree with him. “It’s a very good initiative,” reacts Valdrin Januzi, a 26-year-old engineer. “Everyone has to do something creative, so this problem and this injustice can be seen better.”