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Visa Rules - Restrictions for Cultural Exchange

Commentary by Peter Pannke
(May 2010)

The reduction of border controls within the European Union due the Schengen Treaty of 1995 led to a walling-off of the Schengen countries to the outside world by means of stricter border controls and visa regulations. After the terrorist attacks of 9/11, ever new restrictions of free travel have been introduced around the world. Just recently India has tightened its restrictions for tourist visa. Tagore-award winner Peter Pannke comments on the consequences of all these measures:

Entering Germany has never been easy for musicians from Eastern European and third world countries. I have given a dramatic example in my book Singers Die Twice. Indian as well as other artists have to undergo absurd and humiliating procedures in German Embassies, whose only purpose seems to deter the applicants. Moreover, Germans who invite foreigners from non-European countries, are obliged to produce an income statement of bizarre height since 1997. Former German Interior Minister Schäuble even demanded a central record of all people inviting more than two foreigners in two years, because he considered them suspect of organising human trafficking and prostitution.

It was long to be expected that the Indian side would be responsive to this. Early this year India tightened its rules for tourist visa, because - according to the website of the Indian Embassy - they had been abused in the past. Tourists are not allowed to re-enter India any more within two months after leaving the country. They are not supposed to take a deeper interest in the country, it seems. They should just spend their money and simply disappear and not come back too soon. You are even asked to provide a travel plan before you enter the country. There is no room for spontaneity anymore - which is so necessary to develop an artistic vision.

How do these restrictions affect cultural exchange? In the world view of the bureaucrats, artists do not even exist. You have to be either a tourist, or a businessman, or maybe a visiting scholar with an official invitation. However, Indian musicians coming to the EU to play concerts don't fit into any of these categories. Nor do Europeans, who go to India for music studies within the traditional master-disciple framework outside any institutions. Indian musicians in Europe are therefore forced to pretend being tourists, while European music students either have to register with official institutions or to commute between India and Europe. The personal connections between enthusiasts at grassroot level are thus dragged into a grey area. Concert organisers, musicians and music students have no choice but to bypass visa rules, foreigner's tax laws and other regulations and thus slide over the rim of illegality. And since years, the governments have tried to close the remaining loopholes.

All this is not an Indo-German problem, but a problem of Europe with the rest of the world. Musicians and concert organisers are hit particularly hard by the current restrictions of free travel. Freemuse, a worldwide organisation for the freedom of musical expression, has published a white paper on travel restrictions for musicians, which is available for free download at The right to chose where you want to go was once proclaimed as a basic human right. Those times are obviously gone.