Visa regulations a trial of patience
(The following letter is a reprint of a letter the reader sent to the Slovak Embassy in Washington July 9).
Our experience with Slovakia has been limited. Unfortunately, it has all been unpleasant.
While visiting Poland, my wife and I decided to take a spur-of-the moment trip to Budapest. On June 29 we attempted to travel from Cracow to Budapest on the express train. This train passes through Slovakia for a couple of hours. At three in the morning we were awakened in our private sleeper compartment by 'passport control'. I'm a US citizen and had no problems - other than a lack of sleep. We were told, however, that my wife (a Japanese citizen) needed a 'transit visa' for the privilege of passing through Slovakia on the train, and that we had to go to Warsaw to obtain one. We were forced to unload our baggage, get off the train and take another train back to Cracow. Because we had limited time this trip, we had to cancel our visit to Budapest.
Although the customs officials spoke very little English and were somewhat surly, I'm sure they were simply carrying out Slovak government policy. My question is, why the hell is this your policy? Are there really that many Japanese trying to enter Slovakia surreptitiously? Wouldn't even a Slovak-speaking Japanese be fairly conspicuous? What purpose does the visa serve in combating these nefarious designs? Wouldn't it be just as easy for the would-be miscreant to simply obtain a tourist visa and stay rather than buy a sleeper car ticket to Budapest and jump off the train? Wouldn't putting them off the train in Slovakia actually facilitate their evil designs?
I don't know Japan's policy with respect to visits from Slovaks. Frankly, I don't see why it's relevant. If it's comparably restrictive, can't Japan be unilaterally stupid? Certainly, if war breaks out between Slovakia and Japan, you can change your entrance requirements. I would definitely say that if any Slovak train passengers passing through Japan en-route to some bordering country have been treated as we were, they have my sympathy.
Finally, if you must have such ludicrous visa requirements, can't you allow border officials to issue them on the spot?
Japanese tourists are quite welcome in most of Europe, and it's difficult to see why they're so discouraged from entering Slovakia. We will be travelling to eastern Europe later this summer, but will be sure to give Slovakia a wider berth.
Ill-informed travellers a trial of patience
I find it quite fascinating when irate, ill-informed travellers assume a country has dubious or unfair policies simply because their individual travel plans get interrupted. Slovakia could very well be instituting a reciprocal visa requirement to match that of Japan's. More than likely, Japan has a costly visa charge tied to Slovaks visiting their country. That being a possible condition, it's not merely a question of "stupidity" but of economics and perhaps of political showmanship. Being an American, I'm sure you [Mr. Ikawa] are abreast of the many different ways in which our country slaps arbitrary visa requirements on countries for a host of reasons.
It takes a pompous American of high order to ASSUME travel privilege on a continent rich with national diversity and political strife. Had you been that short-sighted and travelled east a bit to the Ukraine, you would have found that Yanks are not openly welcome to cross the border, even though we do travel there on a regular basis.
And let's talk of hypocrisy, shall we? What would you say to a person who would suggest that the US issue visas for anyone who was stupid enough not to have checked beforehand? Indeed, I know for a fact that most Japanese need visas to enter the States. You'd probably say that this isn't a fair comparison, for the US can't possibly be compared to paltry Slovakia. But why? Why would it be a given that Slovaks should let your Japanese wife in, even though the two of you didn't think to check where you could and couldn't travel visa free?
Personally, I tire of my compatriots belly-aching about the petty trials and tribulations of travelling to my host country. I grew weary of it in Korea as well when people would nit-pick the smallest things in order to claim some level of higher ground and to turn minor cultural differences into mountains. Granted, I understand the difficulty involved with Slovak bureaucracy. Having experienced the tedious work visa requirements myself, I know that it isn't always easy. And I am an American, thus sheltered from a lot of the suspicion that other people must endure.
This situation bespeaks more about you and your haste to point fingers than it does about Slovak bias or "stupid" policy, which you are really in no position to judge at all. To steer clear of an entire country and its people for essentially having customs officials catch you in your own oversight is the height of arrogance.
Fines needed for reckless drivers
On my walk to work this morning I was almost hit by a car. I was crossingthe road using a pedestrian crossing, and a driver decided to overtake the car slowing down to allow me to cross. When will the government do something about this? Surely it's common sense for vehicles, which weigh a ton or more, to give way to a fragile human.
I realise that it's easy for me to moan about this, so I should suggest a way of improving the situation. I recommend that drivers who do not give way to pedestrians on marked crossings should pay a standard 2,000 crown fine. Half of this may be kept by the administering policeman, and half paid into government funds. This would hopefully solve several problems at the same time: safer roads, better paid police, and more vitally-needed money for the government. This solution may be a little 'tongue in cheek', but something needs to be done.
13. Aug 2001 at 0:00