It has been almost two decades since one of my compatriot stated in the Council of Europe: ‘’I’m Georgian, therefore, I am European.’’ I do fully agree to his words, I am Georgian and yes, I am European. However, there is an iron curtain between me and the most of the Europe, where I do believe I belong to.
It was back in April or May this year when my sociology professor informed me about the possibility to apply for a summer school about semiotics in Tartu, Estonia. I have been interested in semiotics for a quite long time , therefore didn’t hesitate to apply for it. Fortunately, my application turned out to be successful, Tartu LLL center accepted my application and I won Estonian government’s scholarship to attend the programme in August. Besides, my friends from all over Europe decided to meet up in Barcelona that was supposed to happen right before my summer school in Estonia. Thus, I booked my first flight ticket to Spain, then another flight ticket from Barcelona to Tallinn thus to attend the summer school.
As my last schengen visa was expired in February, I needed to apply for another schengen zone visa from Estonian consulate. After attending the summer school in Estonia I planned to visit Latvia and Lithuania as well after finishing the summer school. Another detail was that after coming back from this August trip, I had to leave to Qatar for work, and soon after, in the middle of September, to Budapest as well, to attend a sort of meeting of my organization- Erasmus Student Network. As long as I was intending to travel before, I wouldn’t have any time to apply for another visa, so I thought to apply for a bit longer visa from Estonian consulate to cover September period as well.
For those who are not my friends and read this post and know much about me- I’m 23 years old MA student in psychological anthropology. Besides my studies I have two jobs in non-governmental organizations here in Georgia and also, I volunteer for Europe-wide student organization Erasmus Student Network (ESN).
So, as the consulate requires I have gathered all the documents, bank statement, hostel bookings, flight tickets etc. to present it to the consulate. I have even written a letter to the consul in which I have elaborated about my situation and explained her that giving me 45 or 90 days visa would prevent me from another bureaucratic visa obtaining process for which I didn’t have time as I would be outside of Georgia most of my time till September. My letter also informed her that I volunteer for ESN thanks to which I have helped many international students here in Tbilisi, Estonians among them. I have mentioned as well that the organization I was volunteering for benefits international students and supports European integration process. And that, my September trip to Budapest was my attempt to contribute to this process.
The way the consul talked to me and treated me was outrageous. First, she denied the authenticity of my employment letter by my second employer as it was printed with a black and white (well, there was a contact info about my employer and later on, she could easily recheck whether the letter was valid or not) and also, questioned my another employment letter too as the quality of organization’s logo on the paper had a tiny stripe due to the printer’s problem.
- You have so many documents…
- That’s what according to the rules I am asked to bring.
- You don’t have that many visas
- Well, out of my last three years I had four shengen visas and Slovak residence permit too, half of my time during the last three year I could live there in schengen zone or could do so if I wanted to.
- But, you will spend less than half of your time in Estonia… Maybe it’s better to apply from Spanish consulate as you enter that country the first
- Sorry, but according to the laws of the EU which you have written on your online application form as well, one should get a visa where s/he will spend most of his time/ where he goes for a primary reason. ..
Yes, it is fun and yet my pleasure to explain to the EUropean diplomats about the laws that they make.
- You go to Spain. You need money for Spain… where’s your bank statement?
- It’s there, under that paper.
- I do not know, you spend more time on travelling than staying in Estonia for the summer school..
- Well, it is summer, I have holidays that time and I want to travel, I guess it is not that hard to understand…
And, needless to say, not just words but the way how they are pronounced, in what manner, tone etc. is important to get the meaning behind these words too. The process of proving someone how nice person you are to get a visa, that you are worth to obtain it is totally annoying and disrespectful. Especially, if this is accompanied by the diplomat’s unwelcoming gestures and attitudes.
Seven days after, I headed to the consulate to get my passport with visa or without it. So, here is where another adventure of mine has begun. The consul didn’t take into account my ‘request’ to grant me a visa that would cover September period too. I just got 27 days with a right of single entry that expired on 27th of August.
First, because of this in August I had to book earlier ticket from Vilnius to Georgia and I cancelled my visit to Belarus.
So, in August, while sitting on the classes of the summer school I had to rather concentrate on visa issue than on the semiotics classes. I asked a Georgian friend of mine Kate to somehow manage my appointment in Latvian embassy (that issues short term visas on behalf of Hungarian embassy here in Georgia). After numerous unsuccessful unanswered calls my friend finally managed to talk to someone from Latvian consulate. As they’ve said, they do not have any free time left to make an appointment even until October. Therefore, I cannot simply bring my documents there and cannot even apply. (In November the last year I had to wait in a queue in Latvian embassy twice for several hours just to bring my documents there, so I have a bad experience with them).
Then I tried to obtain it from Lithuanian consulate. As I’ve already got two visas from them and they have been quite friendly, I thought it might work at least. For two weeks, a friend of mine was trying to call to their consulate but no one was answering to her calls. Also I have tried to call to Lithuanian embassy in Estonia whether I could get a visa from Tallinn but they’ve said it was impossible and that I had to go to Tbilisi to apply for it. Then I remembered one of my friend’s friend is working in Lithuanian embassy or consulate. Asked a friend of mine if he could help me with getting an alternative number or info from them. My friend gave me an email of one of the employees of LT consulate. So, I e-mailed to that woman. Automatic reply from that e-mail redirected me to another employee’s email. The next day, I got a reply with another/alternative number where to call for an appointment and apologies, that there is something wrong with their official phone number that they can’t fix. So, now finally, my friend managed to call them after two weeks. I got the same answer, they have got no free time for making an appointment for me until the end of September or so.
So, during my visits to different countries this August, instead of enjoying my holidays, I was rather being nervous, anxious and felt hopeless.
What else should I have done? I feel desperate a bit. Already paid for the tickets. I am the one supposed to represent ESN Georgia and apparently, I cannot do it just because I was refused to be given a bit longer visa by Estonian consul and then, because the embassies and consulates are not working efficiently enough to satisfy all the requests of Georgian citizens. Why shouldn’t I have even a possibility to apply? How fair do you think it is?
I do often hear from high officials of Baltic States how supportive they are towards Georgia’s EUropean aspirations. But then, I see totally opposite politics by their representatives to my country. What else can be bigger obstacle to Georgia’s European integration process than not allowing a Georgian student to meet his peers from other European countries? What else can be more harmful for Georgia’s future than not giving a possibility to Georgian students and youngsters to travel to other parts of Europe? Do these politicians and diplomats really think they help Georgia with providing joint military trainings while they prevent people-to-people contacts between Georgians and other Europeans?
Probably, I shouldn’t complain much as long as I’ve travelled to 24 countries of Europe while the abovementioned bureaucracy is not allowing many of my Georgian peers to visit anything. And, yet after visiting 24 European countries apparently I am still ‘dangerous’ that one day I might stay there somewhere in the EU.
Honestly, I am smart enough not to spend most of my energy to change smth to better to anywhere else but in my country. I do not need or want to stay anywhere else and feel discriminated afterwards. But sometimes, due to some business or youth exchange or love of whatsoever, we do travel and move around. Apparently, some Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian or other representatives from different European countries to Georgia are afraid.. of students like me passing by their countries and do fail to understand that why all these travels, events etc. are important for us.
I might be from a third world country. And, yes, my country might be having a low GDP per capita, low standard of living and so on. But does it really grant any rights to some embassies or consulates to treat me without dignity and respect? Is not it mentioned in universal human rights declaration written primarily by Europeans and westerners in general that ‘’All men are created equal?’’
P.S. Once my central European friend told me: probably it’s better to change your citizenship? Never – I replied.
I’d rather try my best to make a passport of my country much powerful rather to change it so that future generations of Georgians will not have to experience the same – arrogance, racism and discriminations by foreigner diplomats.