It is well known that dealing with the foreigners’ police in Bratislava is, at best, unnecessarily difficult. The lines are long, they fail to deal with an adequate percentage of the people there on any given day, there is a suspicious group of unofficial organizers that seems to operate in league with the officers and which handles the crowds in the hours before the office opens, the officers themselves are often unhelpful if not hostile to those trying to submit their paperwork, and so on. Stories about the deliberately inefficient and seemingly corrupt activities at Hrobákova 44 appear in various media on a regular basis. With enough such reporting in a compressed enough time span, the station will do something - sometimes processing a larger number of people on a given day than they have in months, sometimes doing something more cosmetic - but, within a month or less, things return to their usual mode of operation. I have been living in Bratislava for just under 19 months and I know that much.
Before going any further, it should be made clear how unpleasant an experience it is simply being in or near this building. The office is a former kindergarten in Petržalka that has not been maintained or, if it has been, not very well. The foyer is small, perhaps about the size of the average living room, and so quite insufficient for the number of people there on any given day. Thus, it gets stuffy very quickly even if only a small number of the people there are inside. There is a total of five benches, counting the two on the concrete patio. The area underneath the outdoor semi-enclosure, which has no benches, is significantly smaller than the foyer and reeks of stale cigarettes. I have been lucky that it has not been raining or snowing when I have been there. There is no internet. There are eleven plugs in total, three of which are used by the computer and ticket machines. The television, if on, only plays videos from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) detailing examples of people the organization helped return to their home countries. There is nothing to read except more information from IOM. There is one soda machine and one coffee machine. In a small hallway off the foyer there is one bathroom, with three toilets. There is a grassy area in front of the building with one small semi-circular metal object for children to play on; the others appear to have been removed long ago. There is always a handful of children among the applicants. There are not too many places to go to within easy walking distance of the office or, if there are, it is fairly easy to get lost getting there and back since this is Petržalka.
Because of my experiences in 2015, I knew I needed to begin the process of confirming what documents I need and gathering them in December. My current permit expires on April 8. To be sure about things, I spoke with someone at IOM, who explained that I needed fewer documents than the information I found through the foreigners’ police English-language website indicated. However, some of the documents had to be dated within 90 days of the expiration date of my current permit. In addition, some of these documents or at least copies of them, including some of those which needed to be dated within 90 days of the expiration date, need to be notarized. I thus spent the next two months gathering all the documents, then got the appropriate documents notarized by the end of February.Toward the end of this process, someone posted on one of the Facebook pages for foreigners living in Bratislava of which I am a member that he had gone down to Hrobákova Street and encountered “the list.”
The list is the invention of the unofficial organizers of the crowds that gather prior to the office’s opening at 7:30 a.m. When you arrive, you sign your name on the numbered list and, some time before opening, the organizers start calling out names to get everyone into a line to prevent a crush of people trying to get into the narrow door for the foyer. As often happens, this Facebook poster was confused and frustrated by this system, and he protested. In response, he was apparently met with insults, including racist slurs. On February 24, The Slovak Spectator published a front-page story about the lines, the wait, the list, the (alleged) bribery, the (denied) collusion between the police and the list organizers, and other such things. As an aside, the denial of police collusion with the organizers is a lie: I personally witnessed officers, at least one of whom appeared to be of a higher rank than others, and the organizers chatting and coordinating the entrance of applicants during my several trips down there in 2015.
To return to this particular issue however, because Fridays are my most free day, I had been planning to go to the office on March 3, and did my best to clear out my schedule. With this story being in the news, I decided to see if I could glean what effect there may have been from the story on Thursday evening. I found no one there, although there were signs in Slovak and English indicating that there is no such thing as “the list.” I took a picture and sent it to some friends. One of these was a Slovak who had been kind enough to help translate for me the last time. I wanted to warn her that I was not sure what was going to happen this time, and could not guess at what time I might need her help the following day. With the list, you could usually judge at approximately what time you might get to see an officer, if you got to see one at all. Without it, everything was a mystery.
This account of the author’s real experience at the foreigners’ police department in Bratislava is to be continued.
James Griffith teaches political thought and philosophy at the Bratislava International School of Liberal Arts
10. Apr 2017 at 13:35 | James Griffith