Before the wars of the 1990s, an old red Yugoslavian passport was quite well received. But war in the Balkans changed that. The passports were changed to blue and residents needed visas to gain entry almost everywhere in Europe. Upholding the requirement has contributed to a feeling of isolation in Serbia.
Nikolic says the visa requirement was a tool used to cut Serbia off, and that the “blanket punishment” was counterproductive. He says it's widely known that war criminals and members of Slobodan Milosevic’s regime easily traveled in the 1990s and beyond even with visa restrictions in place, but that everyday Serbians were blocked. “If criminals and Milosevic's people never had any problems with visas, what does that say about the punishment?” says Nikolic.
“This affected the generation who voted against Milosevic in 2000, and the people who protested against him in the 90s,” says Djordje Milojevic. “The conditions just offended the people who are pro-Europe.”
As a young hostel owner in Belgrade, Mr. Milojevic knows the art of travel, even if the bulk of his knowledge comes from the travel tales of his guests. He says it has been difficult explaining to visitors that he cannot travel the same way they do. “You are glad you have people coming over, but it is a problem when people are unaware. That’s when it can hurt,” says Milojevic. “Even though I have heard stories from travelers, I think you still need to go see for yourself what’s what.”
Milojevic left the country to travel in 2007. But there were hefty fees attached to the visa application and a month long wait. If his application had been denied, he would have been out more than 100 euros. It is living under such a system that has a trapping effect, say many of the people from his generation.
“People felt in prison. You couldn’t leave unless you asked permission and filled out a very long visa form,” he says. “It is a big liberation. You actually feel liberated right now.”