Confrontation with bureaucracy, part 1

26 November 2008 by Mike Gogulski
Posted in diary | 9 Comments »

I approach the United States Embassy in Bratislava today by taxi, around 3:00pm.

I don’t know how many of the security cameras disguised as birdhouses around Hviezdoslav Square catch sight of me. Doesn’t matter, really. I also don’t bother with my usual survey of the people around, looking for the undercover secret police and intelligence agents who can sometimes be spotted in the vicinity through careful observation.

Hviezdoslav the bollard, via

Hviezdoslav the bollard, via

I haven’t been to the Embassy since its renovations were completed over a year ago. The visible signs of that renovation included moving the security perimeter of the compound outside the building proper into a small, newly-constructed building dedicated to being an access control choke point. A metal detector was added, supplementing the X-ray machine for visitor baggage. Perimiter fencing was extended to encompass the new man-trap building, and new vehicular denial devices installed at a couple of points. Modifications to the underground parking garage connected with the adjacent Carlton Hotel were performed in order to prevent close access to the Embassy premises by unapproved vehicles. Additionally, a passive cordon consisting of a series of bollards linking areas bounded by long fountains was added to prevent vehicular access from all but approved directions. One of the ironic features of this cordon is that the monumental statue of famed Slovak poet and parliamentarian Pavol Országh Hviezdoslav, the square’s namesake, has been incorporated into the bollard lines, thus making a symbol of Slovak cultural identity part of the American Imperium’s local outpost.

A small line of people wait outside the man-trap security building to speak with the woman behind the bulletproof glass. They are all hoping to pick up visas. They present their paper receipts, the woman looks through a box of documents, and to each one says to come back on Friday. A woman next to me asks me, in Slovak, something about Friday. “Sorry?” I say. “Oh, I mean…” she fumbles, switching to English. “Aj po slovensky,” I tell her, indicating that she can continue in Slovak. She asks me what the woman behind the bulletproof glass was telling the others, and I say that I don’t know, but that it appears the folks here must come back for their business on Friday because the Embassy is closing for the day in a few minutes and tomorrow, Thursday, is Thanksgiving, an American holiday.

I’m at the front of the line in about a minute, show my passport and tell the bulletproof lady I’m here to renounce my citizenship. “Okay,” she says, “but very quickly; we are closing.” She tells me to go to Window 5, and confirms that I know where that is.

At right, US Embassy in Bratislava. At left, the man-trap.

At right, US Embassy in Bratislava. At left, the man-trap.

I shuffle around and enter the adjacent door as I am buzzed in, passing inside the man-trap. Backpack off and into the X-ray machine, pocket contents into the plastic tray for X-ray as well, and I pass through the metal detector — much less sensitive than those at airports, as my belt buckle and the studs in my shoes fail to set it off. One of the four guards in the room hands me a visitor’s badge and a receipt token for my mobile phone, which must remain at the security checkpoint until I am ready to leave the premises. I reclaim my backpack and pocket contents.

Through another door and out into the small parking area in front of the embassy, surrounded by high metal hurricane fencing. I enter the first door, turn, and find myself in an unfamiliar place. I take a few steps in, up a couple of stairs, and find myself in a small room with another bulletproof box containing a young United States Marine Corps junior officer. “Your badge, sir?” I show my badge, and he tells me I’m in the wrong place. Go to the next door down. Ah, right, the proles’ entrance. This door for ruling class tools only.

Back outside, and through the door that was always the entrance before. The security checkpoint used to be here, but now I just breeze in, turn right, through the door, up a few steps into a waiting room, turn left and into the sound-muffling, heavily camera-monitored room which is the place where petitioners to the almighty American State come to present their pleas, again to women safely ensconced behind bulletproof windows.

I approach Window 5, pull out my passport and all the documents I’ve brought with me, all pre-filled-in and ready for execution. After a few minutes’ wait, a Slovak woman employed by the Embassy comes to the window and asks how she can be of assistance. “Hello, I’m here to file these documents and take the oath to renounce my citizenship.” She pauses a moment, frozen, and then a sly smile steals across her face. “Are you sure?” she asks. “Yes, quite sure.” “And may I ask why?” she inquires. “Political reasons.” “And have you spoken about this with anyone?” Yes, I tell her, I’ve spoken with a great many people about it. “Ah, but anyone here?” she insists. “No, not yet.” “Very well,” she says, and invites me to pass my passport and documents to her through the narrow slot which presents the only opportunity for contact between the two worlds separated by the bulletproof glass. “Please take a seat in the waiting room, and I will call your name.”

I go back into the waiting room, plop my backpack on a chair and head over to a wall to examine a large poster with attached paper addendum laying out the fee schedule for the various “services” performed by the Embassy. A quick scan of the lists shows that there are no fees given for renouncing one’s citizenship. I sit down and pick up a week-old copy of Nový Čas, a trashy daily tabloid paper, and settle in to read a short editorial celebrating the fact that Slovaks no longer require a pre-arranged visa to visit the US as tourists, but doubting that the young people taking the most advantage of the “privilege” of visa-free travel reciprocity today really have any appreciation of how much the world has changed since the 1988 Candle Demonstration, which took place right outside where I am sitting now on Hviezdoslav Square and which was an important event toward the fall of the Communist regime in Czechoslovakia.

Mister Gogulski,” comes the woman’s voice over the loudspeaker. I shuffle back into the petitioning chamber.

“So,” the woman behind the translucent barrier tells me, “if you really want to do this, we need you to fill out this form, and contact us to make an appointment to speak to the Consul.” Again, the wry smile: in her eyes, perhaps, I am either insane or stupid — or both.

Form? What form? Oh, damnit. It’s the Questionnaire: Information for Determining Possible Loss of U.S. Citizenship. I forgot about that one. Nuts. Oh well, another day.

“One more thing,” I ask, packing up my things, “are there any fees for this?” “No,” she tells me.

“Thanks. See you on Friday,” I tell the woman, and leave for home.

  1. 9 Responses to “Confrontation with bureaucracy, part 1”

  2. By AzraelsJudgement on 26 November 2008

    Awesome man. Great play by play.

  3. By Aaron Kinney on 26 November 2008

    Woohoo! Dude, let’s hope your next visit is more successful. But so far great job. And you’d better post another play by play after your next visit too! 🙂

  4. By Royce Christian on 28 November 2008

    “When did you first become aware that you were a United States citizen?

    How did you find out you were a citizen of the United States?”

    Not the smartest sounding bunch of bureaucrats.

  5. By Mike Gogulski on 28 November 2008

    Royce: That looks like an odd bit, but I believe it’s intended for people who obtained US citizenship without their knowledge (by birth, generally), and need to renounce it. Far as I can tell, I won’t be filling in that section at all, as it doesn’t apply to me. I might have to fill in section II, but that depends on whether or not I answer “yes” to question 6(e). It’s not clear if I should be a “yes” alongside my contemporaneous oath of renunciation or if I should be a “no”, adopting the position that when I fill in the form it hasn’t happened yet. We’ll just leave that one blank for now, and see what the official dude tells me.

  6. By Royce Christian on 30 November 2008

    I understand it’s purpose, but it seems to me like the questions you get on other government issued toilet-paper,

    “Are you:

    carrying any illegal substances”

    Which I’ve encountered on customs and immigration forms and where I still find it hard to believe a drug smuggler is going to tick “Yes” that they’re carrying an illegal substance.

    Then there’s this one question I’m aware of that I think is on forms for joining the US military,

    “Have you ever been a member of a group or organisation committed to overthrowing the government?”

  7. By Mike Gogulski on 30 November 2008

    Yeah, it’s pretty nutzoid stuff, really. At least to the second question I can always answer “no”, since anarchists tend to not be joiners 🙂

    “Purpose of your visit (select as many as may apply): ( ) Terrorism, ( ) Smuggling, ( ) Assassination, ( ) Coup d’etat, ( ) Other”

  8. By FlashBack on 15 June 2009

    Woohoo! Dude, hopefully your next visit is more successful. But so far, great job. And you’d better play at another position after playing his next visit, too!

  9. By Ronin on 10 July 2011

    @Mike, FYI the Questionnaire form has been revised, to be much more intrusive, of course. Please update the link.

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