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9 September, 2013

Dura Lex

Visa liberalization-inspired reflections on law and lawlessness

I promised my friends I would not write about this. Because this is not a national-level event. It’s actually a non-event. But the editorial office is insisting otherwise, because the problem pertains not only to my thick-skinned self, but also to hundreds of my fellow journalists and tens of thousands of “ordinary” Ukrainians – not journalists, diplomats, artists or public figures, but ordinary, completely defenceless citizens (does anyone still have any illusions?). Moreover, I have been invited to a roundtable – something about the Ukraine-EU action plan for visa liberalization. (Here is one quote: “Discussion topic: How is Ukraine fulfilling its visa liberalization tasks? The results of the second round of civic monitoring”). And that finally got my goat. OK, I will tell my story and you can draw your own conclusions.

About a month ago, BMW organized a presentation of a new concept of computer services for its cars. I was invited to Munich to report on a one-day event, a quick round trip. Knowing the procedure well, I went to the German consulate and, because I sometimes need to leave on urgent business trips – not as often as earlier and certainly less frequently than I would like to – I filled out an application for a one-year multiple-entry visa. On the day when I was supposed to receive my visa, a lady from the German consulate called me and, speaking in a remarkably courteous, I would even say reverent, tone, asked me to urgently, by 11a.m., come to the consulate and bring along … my membership card from the National Union of Journalists. Otherwise, she said, lacking this confirmation and having only my press card from the editorial office, they would be forced to give me a two-day single-entry visa. Translated from German, the message read: You have failed to prove you are a journalist.

READ ALSO: Unjustly Humiliated

I joined the journalists’ union “at the dawn of my nebulous youth”, around 1985, when the organization was still called the Union of Journalists of the USSR. However, when I recently had the fantasy of renewing my membership (and, let me add, pay membership fees for the period), the responsible staff member of this organization – incidentally, an acquaintance and former colleague of mine – avoided me for an entire week, hiding and refusing to answer my phone calls. Could my serene image have somehow frightened him? A quick poll among my fellow journalists in two editorial offices revealed that just a few of them are members of the journalists’ union. The rest are, so to speak, irregulars.

Moreover, in the past 15 or so years, I have participated in countless events organized by the German embassy to which I was invited not as a party animal but precisely as a journalist who invited multiple people to TV shows and interviewed the guests and employees of this respectable institution. In other words, one phone call, email or fax from the consular department to the press department within one institution would have sufficed. All right, we shouldn’t demand impossible things from officials, but where’s their logic? Representatives of a country who gave mankind Kant, Hegel and Frege are faced with a simple logical task: a German company is inviting a media person to a press tour. Either the embassy has doubts that he is indeed a journalist and then, logically, shuts him out – he has no business going there – or the embassy recognizes the obvious fact that he is a journalist and does not require him to present a superfluous document.

READ ALSO: The Schengen’s Kafkaesque Castles

The whole story made me roar with laughter more than seethe with rage. But there are multitudes of people for whom formal pretexts exploited by official missions of civilized countries (and Germany is not the least on this list) are a serious problem that ruins their plans, agreements and contracts and simply spoils their lives. All this is happening to the accompaniment of the blah-blah-blah about “liberalization”.

However, there is a different kind of order which I observe on a daily basis, just like 45.5 million Ukrainians. Suppose I am raving mad about a rule which guides a European bureaucrat and which was written by another bureaucrat – but it’s a rule! It works, perhaps not perfectly, and there may be ways to circumvent it. (No-one is without sin, and corruption is present even in the most developed countries). After all, it can be challenged, improved or cancelled – through court, parliament, the press or protest rallies. And then there is the No-Rules-World where local or national election results may be rigged with impunity; where a person may come with a gun to a field and reap a harvest planted not by him but by people who have a valid title to the land; where a night court session is hastily called to help rapist cops escape punishment; where other judges let fraudsters go and instead throw the innocent who were tortured by other cops into signing confessions behind bars… Of course, we would hope to reach some kind of compromise between the two extremes, but the world is imperfect, and if I am faced with a choice between these two orders, guess which one I will choose.


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