BRUSSELS -- Four men who set off on a 2,500 kilometer trek from the town of Gjilan in eastern Kosovo finally reached their destination in Brussels on July 17 after 78 grueling days on the road.
The long march was undertaken by Nazim Ajdini, Jahi Mustafa, Xhevdet Shabani, and Liridon Basha in an attempt to achieve visa-free travel to the European Union for their compatriots in Kosovo.
Calling themselves The "Free Travellers" group (“Shtegtarët e lire”), the men walked under the slogan "5 million steps for one step" in the hope that Brussels will grant citizens of Kosovo the possibility to travel to the European Union without visas.
With all the other countries of the Western Balkans already enjoying the privilege of visa-free travel to the EU, political leaders and ordinary Kosovars have been calling on Brussels to treat them the same way as their neighbors.
The EU lifted tourist visa requirements for citizens of Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia in December 2009. Albania and Bosnia had EU visa requirements abolished a year later in December 2010.
After reaching the Belgian capital, Jahi Mustafa told RFE/RL that he had no regrets about making the journey.
"Yes I think it was definitely worth doing this and it is worth highlighting that we as European citizens need to be part of the European Union and have the same rights as other people," he said.
While in Brussels, the quartet met with European Union officials responsible for justice and home affairs and were told that Kosovo had improved its chances of achieving visa-free travel but that reforms were still needed.
Help Along The Way
There are hopes in Pristina that the green light will be given by the end of the year but a lot will depend on the mood of EU member states, especially after European parliamentary elections in May in which far-right parties critical of immigration made great advances.
Mustafa also said that the group would consider doing the same thing again, but that for now they will concentrate on spreading information back home in Kosovo about the need to combat illegal migration out of the country.
"What the group is thinking about now is to continue the work within Kosovo, to go around and talk about the importance of stopping illegal migration and to highlight the need for people to work in the place they come from and avoid contributing to things that would delay the process of visa liberalization," he said.
The four men, who have regular jobs, initially decided to pay for the journey through Montenegro, Croatia, Austria, Germany, and Belgium out of their own pockets, but Nazim Ajdini said that they got help from people as the news about their trip spread.
"When we started the trip we had our own budget but we needed more and on the way we were supported by a lot of people such as Kosovars living abroad, whom we met on the road and we also had symbolic support from the Kosovo institutions when they heard about the trip,” he said.
After spending a day in Brussels, the group were due to return to Gjilan but this time around they were planning to travel by plane.