Members of a group called “Culture exchange” can’t obtain Serbian visas – they must leave the country in a month and cannot return for a year. The police department of Novi Sad filed misdemeanor charges against Simon Wilson and his wife because they didn’t report a change of their address within 24 hours.
It all started in June when one media reported about “Culture exchange” as a part of religious cult known for orgies, incest and pedophilia, which is why this group became the subject of a police investigation. Although they worked transparently and regularly paid taxes, some of them were thought to be connected with the movement that originated in the USA during the ‘60s. In addition to being publicly humiliated and insulted, someone broke the glass on the door of their café. Then the threats started. They receive e-mails every day in which people call on them to leave the country, even saying they should be killed.
Three years ago a group of young enthusiasts who liked Serbia moved to Novi Sad. They started doing humanitarian work by organizing events for children with disabilities and in Roma schools. Soon, they opened a kindergarten where children could play and learn English for free.
The “Culture exchange” was opened last year as a café with a “Bike kitchen”, where you could repair your bike free of charge. Soon, the café became very popular among citizens of Novi Sad, because it offered rich educational and music programs, as well as opportunity to meet people, make friends, learn the language and present art.
At the press conference, Simon explained their position and inability to do or change anything. Now, their stay in Serbia is completely uncertain and four of their members already left the country because their visas had expired and had not been extended. Simon Wilson obtained a working visa two months ago, and everything seemed to be in order. Then the investigation started, which was understandable to “Culture exchange” members after the articles that have been written about them. Of course, they cooperated with the police, but then problems with translators, lawyers and bureaucracy occurred. Wilson said that they wanted everything to be legal and transparent from the beginning of their work, but since they didn’t know the laws and procedures good enough, they did only what they heard from the officials.
“My lawyer said that the police had made a mistake, and the police said the lawyer was wrong, and I don’t know whom to believe. We’ve invested three years and all of our savings in this project and now we have to give up everything”, Wilson said at the press conference.
To make it worse, charges against Simon and Eudoxia were filed because they didn’t report that they change their address of residence, after unsuccessful attempts to prove that the work of “Bike kitchen” was illegal. Members of the association were forced to change their address in one week, and they also paid a fine because they didn’t move in time.
Café “Culture exchange” may be closed. Simon and Eudoxia have 30 days to leave the country with their family. World travellers who settled in Serbia, people who love our country and respect our tradition. People who contribute to our economic and cultural development have to leave the country that they like so much because of false accusations. They still believe in the kindness of the Serbian people, in their friends and that everything will be resolved. They didn’t forget to thank everyone who has ever supported them and helped them.
Do these people have to be humiliated because of someone’s mistake and bureaucracy? How does Serbia look in the eyes of its citizens? After events like this one, should we ask ourselves why people all over the world have a bad opinion of us?
Is this the message we want to send? Are you ashamed? We are.