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Thursday, May 25, 2006

People Who Live in Glass Houses Shouldn't Throw Visas

RIA Novosti reports that "President" Putin has just signed a protocol with the European Union to make it easier for certain people to get visas. "To start with, the simplified visa issuance procedure will be available to students, journalists, businessmen, culture activists, scientists and athletes," Putin said. "But this decision is the first step towards the introduction of visa-free regime for citizens of Russia and the European Union."

The issue of visas has always struck La Russophobe as being one of the most bizarre of all questions relating to Russia, and that is really saying something. Everyone knows that no sane Western European or American has the slightest desire to enter and remain in Russia, while everyone also knows that there are tens of thousands of illegal Russian immigrants in the U.S. and Western Europe. It's also obvious that Russia needs the benefit of international tourism far more than Europe or the U.S. because of its absurdly puny economy and unflinchingly negative, patronized image. America had 46 million international tourist arrivals in 2004, while Russia had only 9.2 million despite having much more territory to visit than America does. Russia had only 6 arrivals per person, while America had 133 per person.

In short, it's totally ridiculous that Russia would impose any sort of visa requirement on American or European tourists. To the contrary, Russia ought to happily pay their airfares and put them up in luxury hotels for free. But what Russia actually does is to make such poor people jump through a ridiculous number of bureaucratic and financial hoops before being granted "permission" to enter Russia, and when they do it then subjects them to the ordeal pictured above.

If they get past the border, they'll then be subjected to random stops and bribe demands from police, race-based violence from an army of 50,000 or more skinheads, appalling ideas about customer service, polluted food, air and water and a general climate of xenophobia. To top it all off, they'll be price-gouged as "rich foreigners" in state-owned museums. They'll soon come to realize that they are the last thing the average Russian wants to see.

In short, it's totally ridiculous that Russia even offers a visa to foreigners, when what it really wants to do is just build a giant wall all around the country and keep them out (except for the occasional sycophant let in once in a while to butter up their monumental egos).

In other words, no matter how you slice it, the visa question in Russia doesn't make the least bit of sense. In other other words, it's Russia in microcosm.

Until the day dawns when Russians are able to realize that they are a product nobody wants to buy competing against a product (Europe, America) that everybody wants to buy, and find it within themselves to lower their monstrous egos and admit that they can't possibly impose the same visa regimes on other countries that those countries impose on Russia until they become the equal of those counties in attractiveness, and until more importantly Russians realize that foreign visitors are something highly valuable to the country, to be sought after, Russia will continue to languish in the backwaters of civilization, fading into obscurity, until it is nothing more than Zaire with Permafrost.


Anonymous said...

You wonder why anyone wants to go there sometimes, don't you?

One typical trip ..... TWO HOURS to get through passport control at Sheremetevo Airport. No lines, no organisation just everyone pushing as hard a possible to get to the front. A total shambles. I was arrested on the plane at my final destination and held by the police until my friends came to find me (I only had a photocopy of a special permission to be there, not the original, which my friends held - they knew not to trust the post)

While I was there a "journalist" appeared with a tape recorder and tried to trap me into saying something derogatory about the country, so they could throw me out again. I refused.

On the way out I took a final photo of the regional airport. Someone comes up to reprimand me for doing so. Shame on me! I should have known better. What a disgraceful thing to have do. I should have realised. An airport terminal is a state secret, which I guess I might have given to the CIA to plan a future bombing run.

As a parting gift, my friends gave me a little landscape picture, the type you find in any market anywhere in the world. Value about $80 max. When I get to Moscow, they tell me that I will not be permitted to take it out of the country without an export licence from the ministry of the interior. ...and my flight leaves in 90 mins.

So I had to run around trying to find a Muscovite who looked like they might appreciate a free gift - MY picture which MY friends had paid for and the stupid customs people said I had to prove wasn't an art treasure of national importance. It must be hanging today on the wall of someone's apartment. I hope they enjoy it.

Oh, yes.... while we are on the subject of visas - I nearly forgot: I also had to queue three nights from 4am in the rain outside the Russian embassy to sort my visa out. From 4am because they only open the office for two hours (!) each morning and not more than one third of the people in line get into the visa department on a busy day. (Why bother changing the system for them, they are only foreigners). Three nights because they kept on saying I didn't have the right form or the incompetent office in Moscow hadn't sent the right information even through they promised me they had. And not only does the visa office open for only a couple of hours each morning but it won't open on any national holidays (Russian or British) and not on Wednesdays because it is sooooo tiring working two or three hours on Monday and Tuesday mornings that they need to take a rest to recover in time for Thursday and Friday. And of course because they took so long to sort it out, I had to pay the highest price to get it done fast. Total about $400 in the end by the time I had paid off the Moscow people too.

I could have got a Chinese visa in a few hours. And that's CHINA!

What a basket case country! I tell you, they will need to reform a lot more that the visa system if they want to get tourists. How about the whole country, for a start?!

But I don't think they want tourists - really whatever they say, I don't think they do, except on controlled tourist packages like the old Intourist trips. They don't like foreigners. Never have.


La Russophobe said...

Bravo (and my condolences)! You express yourself very well -- if you are interested in expanding upon this topic or any other La Russophobe will be happy to include it as an official post on the blog, you can send it to her via e-mail. Welcome to La Russophobe!