On the stroke of midnight on Thursday the Czech Republic and eight EU member states joined the Schengen border-free zone. Politicians from Austria, Germany, Poland and Slovakia met up at common border crossings to symbolically saw through border bars and hail the event as a big step to a one-tier Europe. Despite the chilly weather many people living in the border areas turned out to celebrate the occasion.
The Czech-Austrian border crossing near Mikulov, South Moravia, hosted one of the many celebrations marking the Czech Republic’s entry to the Schengen border-free zone. Some 400 people turned out to celebrate the event on the chilly night, keeping warm with special treats like Schengen goulash and Schengen punch.
For locals on the Moravian side of the border, the country’s entry to Schengen is charged with symbolism. For forty years, the small town lay on the edge of the no-go zone which ran along the borders between communist Czechoslovakia and its western neighbours. Almost 400 people lost their lives trying to escape to the free world. Before the fall of the Iron Curtain the idea of border-free travel was inconceivable. Today, almost two decades later, people appreciate the practical aspects of free travel. This man says that on his trips through Western Europe he enjoyed just crossing borders.
On the other side of the border, many people have mixed feelings about the lifting of border controls. While the Governor of the South Moravian Region Stanislav Juranek took part in the festivities in Mikulov on Thursday night, his counterpart Josef Proll, the governor of Lower Austria, never made it to the border crossing. Josef Studeny is the mayor of the Lower Austrian community of Drasenhofen just across the border from Mikulov.
“This is naturally something new for us. You might not be aware of this, but the Interior Ministry in Prague and the Interior Ministry in Vienna have set up a joint police cooperation centre. Joint Czech and Austrian police patrols will carry out random checks to prevent a possible, and I would like to emphasize this, a possible rise in crime.”
Czechs, on the other hand, seem to be more optimistic and don’t anticipate any serious problems after the Schengen entry. As this woman says, those who wanted to smuggle illegal wares across the border to Austria were doing so even before the Czech Republic joined the Schengen treaty.
The celebration at the Czech-Austrian border crossing on Thursday night culminated when Czech Interior Minister Ivan Langer switched on a traffic light with three green lights instead of the usual red, orange and green, symbolizing the country’s entry into the Schengen zone. Three years after the Czech Republic joined the EU, its citizens can now travel freely throughout Europe.