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Restaurant's unorthodox protest over EU's visa snub to Kosovo

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By Gresa Kraja and Kosovë Gjoci
The sign outside Mama's Restaurant
The sign outside Mama's Restaurant   -   Copyright  Credit: Euronews Albania

When Kosovans again failed to see any progress being made on granting them visa-free access to the EU, restaurateur Shpejtim Pefqeli decided to take things into his own hands.

In a retaliatory gesture, he banned "EU citizens" from enjoying free movement at his eatery in the capital Pristina.

Mama's Restaurant is situated a stone's throw from the headquarters of EULEX, an EU mission that supports Kosovo in developing judicial and rule of law institutions. Employees from the organisation -- which has nothing to do with the Kosovo visa decision -- are said to regularly visit the restaurant. 

Pefqeli's anger comes after leaders of European countries did not bring up the issue of visa "liberalisation" for Kosovo at a summit last week. 

It would allow Kosovans to enter the EU's free movement Schengen zone for up to 90 days without needing a visa.

Brussels told Pristina four years ago that it had met all the criteria to have visa-free access to the bloc. 

In addition, all its neighbours in the region have the benefit: Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Albania and Bosnia. 

“This is my form of protesting against the discrimination for not being able to move freely. Our people, our youth are isolated,” Pefqeli told Euronews Albania. 

“The last time they discussed visa liberalisation, I was sure that they will abolish [the need for a visa]. 

Credit: Euronews Albania
Shpejtim PefqeliCredit: Euronews Albania

"When the summit ended and I understood that it is not happening, I was truly disappointed. Because of this disappointment, I made this decision and I will stand by it until we have the right to free movement.

“There are a lot of people (EU workers at EULEX) who agree with my form of protest and my idea and they feel sorry our nation still needs [a] visa."

Elsewhere in Pristina, locals aired their frustration.

“We lost our patience," said one woman in her 40s. "We are so isolated. People need to travel, to see how life is outside Kosovo. I know people who have never been on a plane.”

“Kosovo citizens deserve to move freely across [the] EU,” said a man. 

“The EU is late," said another. "Our neighbouring countries have been able to travel freely for more than 12 years now.”

The lack of progress comes amid a general air of gloom in the region about prospects of joining the European Union.

Last week's EU summit saw Ukraine and Moldova invited to be candidates for membership. 

But despite already passing this stage, several countries in the Western Balkans are still waiting to be allowed into the Brussels club.

The European Commission did not immediately respond to Euronews' requests to comment on this story.