Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Can Terezia and Jeff avoid a trip to the Slovak Foreign Police??? Read this post to find out!!!

We rolled out of bed early to catch the 7:15 bus to Senec to go back to the administrative office where the bureaucratic overlord for Senec county presides. As I mentioned in the previous post, this was the woman we needed to talk to about whether or not I need to go to the Foreign Police to cancel my permanent residency in Slovakia.

The office from where the bureaucratic overlord for Senec county presides

As it turned out, we'd crossed paths with this woman before. In fact, I wrote about her in a blog post back in 2011 when she refused to give Terezia her permanent residency ID card because of some complicated Kafka-esque BS. On that occasion, she kept shouting "Nedam! Nedam!" (a very brusque way of saying "I'm not going to give it to you!"), while pounding her fist on the desk for added emphasis.

This time she was much more pleasant, and after Terezia jogged her memory a bit, she even remembered us. But as soon as she recalled that I'm a foreigner, a cudzinec, she immediately and unequivocally stated that she would have nothing to do with my case, that it was completely out of her hands and under the jurisdiction of the Foreign Police. She also confirmed that we had to go to the Foreign Police office in Dunajská Streda and not the dreaded Bratislava location.

But as I mentioned in the previous post, getting to Dunajská Streda from Bernolákovo or Senec without a car is no easy feat. You have to take a bus from either town to Bratislava and then transfer to another bus to Dunajská Streda, or take a bus to Galanta and transfer to another line there. Both take about two hours in one direction, even though Dunajská Streda is only about 30 kilometers if driving directly from Senec.

As it was still early in the morning and we didn't have anything else lined up that day, we thought, "screw it, let's just go to the Foreign Police in Dunajská Streda and see what happens!!!"

Trying to rely on public transportation in Senec county

But before I get into that, let me pause for a minute to explain what a massive pain in the rectum it is to get around (and get to and from) Senec and Bernolákovo without a car.

The bus schedule for the lines that run between the two towns is wildly erratic, and the printed schedules that are posted at the bus stops can be difficult to decipher. If you see someone else waiting around at the bus stop, it's sometimes easier to just ask that person about the next bus rather than trying to decode the cryptic schedule.

To give you an example of how wonky the bus schedule is, we made it to Senec Monday morning by 7:45 AM, we'd taken care of business by 8:20, and we were back at the main bus depot by 8:30. But the next bus to Bernolákovo wasn't running until just after 9:00, and that bus would only drop us off clear across town from Tony's house, requiring about a mile and a half of walking. The bus that drops us off closer to Tony's house wasn't leaving again for another two hours! Normally, walking a mile and a half wouldn't phase us in the least, but Bernolákovo is so mind-numbingly dull and so utterly devoid of any charm or stimulating visual scenery, that walking through the town feels like an eternity.

You can also take the train from Senec to Bernolákovo, but again, the train station is kind of across town from Tony's house, requiring a mile and a half walk. There are buses that you can catch about a block away from the train station, but they also run infrequently, and they don't always take you to the stop by Tony's house, so it's often faster just to walk the rest of the way back to Tony's.

Basically, if you don't have a car (or a bike), and can't manage to time your errands around the perplexing and uncompromising bus schedule, you're screwed.

A trip to Dunajská Streda!

So, we took the bus to downtown Bratislava's main bus station (usually a 30-45 minute ride from Bernolákovo and buses to Bratislava only come once an hour), transferred onto a Dunajská Streda-bound bus, and settled in for the hour-long ride.

Dunajská Streda is a small town about 50-ish kilometers southeast of Bratislava with absolutely nothing of any interest to anyone who doesn't actually live there. But in the 1990s it became infamous as a hotbed of mafia activity. Things got so bad that the regular inhabitants started fearing for their lives, as innocent bystanders were getting caught in the crossfire of shootouts between rival mafiosos, and businesses were being burned to the ground for failing to make their monthly "protection" payments to the local mafia thugs. Things eventually simmered down (essentially once enough of the rival mafia gangs shot each other off, according to a book Terezia read on the subject) and today it's just another example of a blah nowhere Slovak town whose former Habsburg-era visual charm was ruthlessly obliterated by the communists. (It also has a substantial Hungarian population, as do many towns along Slovakia's southern border, so it's interesting to hear a lot of Hungarian spoken on the streets and to see signs with both languages.)

Fortunately for us, both the train station and the bus depot are situated a mere few blocks away from the Foreign Police, which is hidden away on an unassuming residential side street. The office is located in a building that looks like it used to be a big house, and the well-worn interior was clearly converted into a government office space long before the Velvet Revolution.

As soon as we walked in, we noticed that there wasn't a really a waiting room - just a narrow, dingy, dimly-lit hallway. Just past the entrance, you make a hard left into a small room with a counter staffed by two Foreign Police officers. One very young female officer was in the midst of a tense sounding discussion with a Slovak woman who was apparently trying to bring her foreign fiancee into the country. A middle-aged woman to her right noticed us from behind the counter and called us over with a "Nech sa páči".

And that was it. No taking a number from a ticket machine! No 5-6 hour wait! In fact, no wait to speak of. Wow!!!

What happened next, though, was an amusing example of how even though the bureaucracy in this country is very real and fairly painful, the people who devised the system didn't think things through all the way, and for cases that are more unique, they almost seem to be making up the process as they go along.

Terezia explained to the woman that we're moving and I'm canceling my permanent residency. The officer pulled out a blank piece of paper and a pen, and dictated a paragraph from memory in Slovak for Terezia to write down by hand, which basically said that I was voluntarily relinquishing my permanent residency in Slovakia after three years on such and such date, and blah, blah, blah...

Let's just contemplate for a second how beautifully absurd it is that they really don't have a standard official form for this exact purpose already typed, printed out and ready to sign. I mean, you go to all this trouble to create such a needlessly complicated bureaucracy in which you have to fill out a new pile of paperwork at every turn, and yet when someone wants to leave the country, you don't even have a single form?

When the officer was done dictating the letter, I signed and dated it, she photocopied it, stamped and signed the photocopy to make it look official, took my permanent residency ID card (which is fine, as my picture - taken after standing in line for several hours since 6:00 AM - was hilariously awful), and that was it! There was nothing more to do, according to this woman. No retrieving my file, no having to explain my reasons for leaving, no fees to be paid in kolky (stamps issued specifically to pay various state fees), etc. Nothing. We were in and out in 10 minutes.

Sure, we did spend four fucking hours just getting to and from Dunajská Streda via public transportation, plus an additional 45 minutes or so piddling around Dunajská Streda waiting for the next bus back to Bratislava, which is about how much time you can expect to spend waiting around on a typical day at the Foreign Police in Bratislava. But the bus ride, as dull as it is, is still totally preferable to standing around in the soul-crushing, Dante-esque nightmare that is the waiting room at Bratislava's Foreign Police office.

But there was still the small matter of how the administrative offices in Senec and Bernolákovo would know that I'm no longer living there. Terezia asked the woman if we have to bring them any official documentation, but she said 'no', explaining that they send the information to the state statistics agency, which in turn informs the relevant authorities in Senec and Bernolákovo the next time there's an election, since there would be one less resident at a particular address who would vote. That would then prompt the authorities to unregister me from that address.

Slight problem though: not being an EU citizen, I was never allowed to vote in any Slovak elections in the first place. And I wouldn't be eligible to vote anyway unless I became a Slovak citizen. So how exactly would this work, then?

Again, it seems like no one bothered to really think this process through. It's like it just never occurred to anyone that someone might actually want to leave this country, so they didn't come up with a proper procedure to follow.

At this point we began wondering if Tony might have to go to the Matrika in Bernolákovo or Senec and unregister me from his home himself. And he would actually have a good reason to do this: since Terezia and I have permanent residency at Tony's address, that means he pays more for his garbage bill. This is no joke - they don't bill you based on how much you actually throw away, but on how many people are living in your home. This extra amount he's paying on his garbage bill is actually fairly trivial, but still, it's the principle of it!

But ultimately what matters here is that the Foreign Police lady insisted that we have done everything we need to do, so from this point on it's really out of our hands!

At any rate, as we sat on the crowded, hour-long bus ride back to Bratislava (and the other crowded bus to Bernolákovo) we felt a sense of relief that we could finally put the Foreign Police behind us for good (unless of course, god forbid, we decide to move back someday!). This was something we'd been dreading for months, and it turned out to be surprisingly - almost suspiciously - painless.

Back to Senec

Wednesday morning we went back to Senec. We took our copy of the handwritten note from the Foreign Police over to the bureaucratic overlord, who said this document was good enough for her. Terezia mentioned to her what the woman at the Foreign Police told us about how the statistics agency would inform them of my departure when the next election rolls around, but she interrupted Terezia to say "We don't get anything from the Foreign Police". Then she looked me up in the system, and somehow I'd already been unregistered from Tony's house, but she couldn't explain why or how. She only said, "Well, he's here, but he's not here," which is, like, really cosmic, man. But what in the hell was the lady from the Foreign Police going on about then???

I suppose this is yet another example of how no one really seems to know quite how anything in this overly complicated bureaucracy works, yet somehow the system still manages to trundle along. Yay Slovakia!?

This is the old, abandoned Jewish synagogue in Senec. I've written about this subject on the blog before, but after many Slovak Jews were killed in the Holocaust, and after a good number of those who survived fled when the communists came to power, most synagogues were abandoned. Some still survive today, albeit in a dilapidated state, because no one seems to know what to do with them or has any money to restore them. A handful are still in use, several were demolished, a few have been converted into galleries or cultural centers, and many have just been left to the elements.

She then looked at a form that Terezia had filled out in order to cancel her permanent residency, on which Terezia had to list the address that she's moving to. The woman asked whether California was a country, and Terezia had to explain to her that it is one of America's 50 states. There's something almost kind of endearing about a person so oblivious to the world outside her little central European country that she's never even heard of California, the eighth largest economy in the world!

Panelaks in Senec

Now Terezia has to finish canceling her permanent residency, we have to go back to Dôvera to cancel our health insurance (both of which will require one last trip to Senec), and we have a few other smaller matters to deal with, and then we'll finally be set to leave this country.

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