By Biljana Pekusic and Klaudija Lutovska
The two-week European Handball Championship kicked off in Serbia on Sunday (January 15th) with a special benefit for Macedonians — they were able to enter Serbia without passports.
The implementation of the deal — reached between interior ministers Ivica Dacic and Gordana Jankuloska in October — means that the Serbian-Macedonian border can be crossed by citizens showing their biometric ID cards.
Although the deal has not been ratified by the countries’ parliaments, “we decided to accelerate the implementation for the citizens of Macedonia to make it easier for them to come to the games,” Serbian Interior Minister Ivica Dacic told SETimes.
“During the the first two days [of the relaxed requirements], more than 30,000 Macedonians passed [into Serbia] without a passport,” Jankuloska told SETimes.
Macedonian border police representatives will be on hand to help their Serbian counterparts.
There are three additional lanes open to leave Macedonia, and one extra lane to enter Serbia at the border crossings during these weeks, Jankuloska told reporters.
In 2011, 3.5 million Serbian citizens crossed the common border with Macedonia. It is expected that the number will increase this year due to the eased requirements.
“As soon as we read this news, my wife and I decided that this year we will go on holiday in Macedonia, to their beautiful Lake Ohrid,” Belgrade retiree Borislav Tahirović told SETimes.
The simplified procedure at the crossings is also expected to facilitate joint infrastructure projects between the two countries — such as Corridor 10 and building the Nis-Skopje gas line.
To Dragisa Simonovic, a Serb who lives in Bitola, Macedonia, the possibility of crossing the border without a passport is great news.
“I did not have the opportunity to change to the biometric passport, but now [even without it], I can to visit my brother in Serbia,” Simonovic told SETimes.
However, those who cross the border do need to pay their way in — Macedonians pay between 60-90 euros, depending on the size of their vehicle, while Serbs pay 20 euros.
Dacic also noted the goal of Croatia and Albania to sign the agreement allowing reciprocal movement of regional citizens without passports, making the Western Balkans a sort of “mini-Schengen”.
Serbia has had a “no passport needed” agreement with Bosnia and Herzegovina for years, and signed one with Kosovo in December 2011.
The growing trend was highlighted at the December 2011 meeting of the Adriatic Charter in Tirana, where Albania, Macedonia and Montenegro signed an agreement that allows their citizens from one country to travel to another with biometric ID cards. The deal is still awaiting ratification.