ON SATURDAY March 21 Austrian police carried out identity checks on Slovak passengers travelling on a newly opened municipal bus route between Bratislava and Hainburg, in Austria. Passengers were forced to leave the buses and were checked for about 20 minutes, with policemen focusing mainly on identity documents even though Slovakia is a part of the Schengen zone, the TASR newswire wrote.
The Austrian police action started shortly before noon on Saturday and the police checked all buses running on the new route, those entering and even those leaving Austria, wrote the SITA newswire. The identity checks caused delays in bus schedules as the time of the trip took about 40 minutes, rather than the scheduled 20 minutes.
Slovak Interior Minister Robert Kaliňák sent a letter to his Austrian counterpart Maria Theresia Fekter on March 24, demanding an explanation for the behaviour of the Austrian police. At the same time he asked whether a repeat could be expected in the future and, if so, what the criteria would be.
“I believe nobody is interested in devaluing the ideals of the Schengen agreement, which is based precisely on the free movement of people,” TASR quoted Kaliňák as saying.
The local bus route, which has been operating as far as Wolfstahl in Austria for the last ten months, has carried around 30,000 passengers since it began. March 21 was the first day of its extended operation to Hainburg.
Slovakia joined the border-free Schengen zone in December 2007 and border checks are not normally carried out on people travelling between Slovakia and Austria. Although the Austrian police have the right to perform checks even within the Schengen zone, their behaviour amounted to harassment, said Branislav Zahradník from the Bratislava Transport Company (DPB), which operates the bus service.
30. Mar 2009 at 0:00 | Compiled by Spectator staff from press reports