Congratulations on your editorial ["Police sweeps of foreigners: The Devil finds work for idle hands," Vol. 6 No. 1, January 10-17]! Finally a story which highlights the absurdity of the process for foreigners trying to obtain a Long Term or Permanent Visa for the Slovak Republic.
As an Australian citizen who has begun the tedious process of acquiring such a visa, I could not agree with the author of this article more. The stupidity involved in getting two different medical checks which test for the same diseases seems ludicrous to me.
Add to this the trauma of obtaining medical and criminal certificates for Australia, then passing the criminal check for the Slovak Republic, obtaining a holiday Visa so as you can fly to Slovakia to find a job and residence. Then handing all of these forms over to the international police in Bratislava who will then interview you, examine the forms and re-interview you.
This entire process must be reviewed, especially if it is not complying with its sole purpose of lowering the inflow of criminals into Slovakia. All the current system does is deter and confuse foreign citizens (like myself and my travel partner) from trying to move to Slovakia and give something to this beautiful community and environment, whether it be English teaching in a school or high-end investment in a Slovak company.
The fact is that this new development in scouting out foreigners living in Slovakia to make sure they are behaving will have a dramatic effect not only on the national tourism market but also on long-term international investment and the economic development of Slovakia.
After reading your story on the planned police sweeps of foreigners in Slovakia, I would like to provide the perspective of a Slovak living in the United States. Here, foreign nationals who are even suspected to be in violation of immigation laws can be arbitrarily arrested, detained and deported. Foreigners who overstay their visas (American citizens still do not need a visa to enter Slovakia, unlike Slovaks trying to visit the US) are arrested and held in concentration camps (for lack of a better description) outside major cities until they can be deported.
If a US citizen marries a foreign national, the married couple is subjected to humilating interviews and periodic checks of their residence and marital habits; even their neighbours are interviewed (the majority of whom, of course, despise foreigners).
I agree with your opinion that the new Slovak law is an unfortunate abberation, but before you accuse other countries, kindly look at the 'perfect leaders' of the world's democracies. You don't have to travel far, just cross the border to Austria or Germany. And if that doesn't satisfy you, come to the US, and you will be amazed.
It has become a cliche in recent times to complain about the hardship and poverty which is everywhere in Slovakia. In the streets, on the bus, visiting people, I hear it all the time; on television, in newspapers, there are references to it every day. And be it the nation's bad health, failing industry, the apparent gloom on the faces of people walking down the street, it seems everything can be attributed to the chronic lack of money here.
Aside from being cliché though, aren't people who continually harp on about poverty here also rather guilty of self-deception? Surely, in our heart of hearts, we all acknowledge that poverty is a relative concept and that what we have today in terms of living conditions and private ownership greatly exceeds what we had a hundred, even fifty years ago. Although there have been more losers than winners in Slovakia in recent years, shouldn't we also consider the beautifully restored town centers, the ever-rising numbers of cars, mobile phones, Tesco stores, personal computers etc, before shaking our heads ruefully and saying how bad things have become?
Last summer I spent a few days in Ukraine. The gap between the two countries was striking; Ukraine seemed to be a country where almost everything had stopped, where the air reeked of cheap petrol and where the people appeared to have much less than people here, both in terms of possessions and expectations. Re-entering Slovakia felt like entering western Europe, with its repaired roads and well-stocked shops. It occured to me then that if Slovaks compared themselves a little bit more to their eastern rather than western neighbours, they would feel less gloomy about the situation here.
But of course this will not happen, because by virtue of Slovakia's commitment to the west, it looks predominantly in that direction. And this, I think, lies behind the complaints of poverty as much as the economic situation here. As the media and culture here become ever more westernized, material expectations inevitably rise, hand in hand with disappointment when these expectations aren't met. Subjected to endless television images of American and German affluence, people are more likely to see Slovakia as impoverished. The insidious power of advertising, which gets ever bigger here, thrives on creating such feelings of dissatisfaction.
It is not my wish to trivialize the very real financial difficulties which many, many Slovaks have; in my time here I have had enough friends and students with such difficulties to know what things are like. What I can't sympathize with though is the gloomy mindset and laissez-faire attitudes of so many, plus the inconsistency of those who fill up their shopping trolleys with imported goods and then bewail the state of Slovak manufacturing. By simply indulging in such complaints and not considering either Slovakia's well above-average economic status on the global scale or our own responsibility for the current situation, we create a negative atmosphere which won't help us improve matters or become more positive in our outlooks.
17. Jan 2000 at 0:00