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Letter to the Editor: Fishing for visas in the "Slovak sea of bureaucracy"

Dear Sir,

I' m a German teacher who has been teaching German Language courses at an elementary school in Slovakia since September l993. This year, I will conclude my work and return to Germany.

Recently, I was disappointed to learn that my successor will not be able to get a visa to continue our teaching project.

Throughout the entire time I have been here, I have worked together with the local Slovak school board, organizing seminars for teachers, language courses and festivals. During my first year I managed this while also teaching at 4 schools. These activities go far beyond my basic contract, which states that I am to teach German Language to the 1st-4th grades, primarily children from the german minority living here in Slovakia, until the school can find a Slovak teacher of German who is qualified to teach young children. I must add that the overall lack of qualified German teachers is great. But in spite of the need for teachers, each year I was able to renew my visa only after much effort, as each year the official requirements for obtaining a visa were changed.

At present, due to a change in the law, officials refuse visas to anyone other than foreign experts who possess an official invitation. Such an invitation is unattainable through the Education Ministry; they claim that a maximum of only 6 schools are allowed to invite teachers, and there is no possibility to extend this permission.

Our project has been a result of teamwork between German and Slovak state, private and local institutions. It is organized and financed primarily by private supporters, thereby relieving the state of this duty. I feel this method is indicative of the world-wide trend towards responsible citizen initiatives replacing, or at least collaborating with, financially restricted state programs.

Our visa predictament contradicts the German-Slovak cultural agreement, in which both sides are obligated to promote each other's language and culture, to organize mutual exchanges and to coordinate local, regional and private initiatives.

Having been unsuccessful in our attempt to obtain this work permit by way of the designated official channels, we are now turning to other offices and organizations for help. Maybe you could publish an article addressing some specific problems in the visa application process, entitled "Adventures in the Slovak Sea of Bureaucracy."

Walter Sabiel, Frankfurt

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