• Maria Matskevich

Why was The Freedom of Movement Project created?

I’ve been trying to write this post for about a year, and yet I still struggle with making it as concise as possible. Because ultimately, it’s just an answer to a simple question - why am I starting this project?

The answer, I’m afraid, isn’t as simple, but I’ll attempt it nonetheless. So, let me ask you this question - have you ever been kicked out of a party? Or maybe just not invited to one? Ever felt like you wanted to be somewhere but couldn’t get there?

The responders usually fall into one of two categories - those who have felt that way, and those who haven’t. The latter often don’t have a clue of what I’m talking about. Perhaps because their freedom of movement was rarely restricted, or they were the most popular kid in school or both. As for myself, I fall into the “Yes, I get it” category. However, I was just as oblivious about it as anyone else until 2018.

This is where I need to give you some background. I was born in Moscow, Russia, to Russian parents, thus eliminating any hope of another nationality by birthright. But, unlike most, I didn’t end up growing up in my home country.

Instead, at 9 years old - I moved to London and went to Godstowe boarding school there for a year. Then, after a short year back in Moscow - I traveled to Barcelona, Spain, and spent 6 years at the Sanchez-Casal tennis academy, where I ended up finishing my high school studies. Following this, I moved to Lausanne, Switzerland, to get my bachelor’s degree from Ecole hôtelière de Lausanne.

This brings us to July 2018, graduation, end of Bachelor studies, a grand celebration. The whole story sounds like an international, multicultural dream. Yes, it was a dream, facilitated by (amongst other things) a convenient document - the student visa. Unbeknown to me, or at least, rarely thought of, this little document has allowed me to live, study, and travel across Europe for the majority of my life. It even allowed for part-time employment during university studies.

And while that student visa is pretty easy to obtain (provided you’re indeed studying in the country in question), what comes after is not.

Those with unfavorable passports will understand what I am talking about immediately. My friends from China, Colombia, and Saudi Arabia know this same struggle all too well. But, for my European friends - I am pretty sure the topic of immigration and passport value first really registered with them when I’d bring it up in exasperation. Since moving back to Moscow and no longer having my convenient student visa, I’ve had friends invite me over for spontaneous weekends in European cities - not even remembering that people like me - we need a visa first. Due to the well-functioning Schengen system and well-established diplomatic relations with other countries, Europeans have had access to relatively open borders for years. To some, it never even occurred what it’s like to now have that freedom. I’ve actually had a friend be surprised when I told her that she’d need a visa for Russia. She asked me dead serious “Why”?

...this post continues on The Freedom of Movement Project website.