Riga: Diplomacy at the Belarus Embassy
September 6, 2014
Diplomacy at the Belarus Embassy
“Sorry. Your passport photo is unacceptable. Your passport photo is on a blue background. We require a photo on a white background.”
“It’s a nice photo, isn’t it?” I inquired, hoping for a bit of flexibility that is probably non-existent. (May I humbly say, “My looks and my demeanor usually go a long way in many countries.”) But this young punk of a consular official was unimpressed. “Yes, he agreed, “It’s a nice photo. But it needs to be on a white background.”
“Plus, you have no Letter of Invitation!”
“Letter of Invitation? How the hell can I get a Letter of Invitation? I don’t know anyone in Belarus.” (Well, actually, I didn’t say ‘the hell.’)
“We will accept a letter from a hotel with an official stamp. But only directly from a hotel and not from a reservation website such as booking.com,” he added, without any hint of a smile. Was he ‘smiling on the inside’ as he continued to frustrate this imperialist dog from Amerika?
So I left in a huff, contemplating avoiding any place connected to the Russian Federation.
(Did I mention I already succumbed to the scam of buying some health insurance from an office across from the Belarus Embassy? The security guard refused to admit me on to the grounds of the embassy without proof of health insurance, available for a price. Apparently my Medicare card doesn’t cut any ice in Belarus.)
I walked over to a shopping mall astride the nearby railroad station and had my pictures taken. The shop owner was familiar with the Belarus regs.
Now, have you ever tried to find a hotel telephone number on the Internet? Good luck! Unless the hotel has its own website, fat chance.
Thank Heavens for the receptionist at my hotel in Riga who retrieved the information I needed!
Now, have you ever tried to make a telephone call to a hotel in Minsk? I mean a big commercial hotel. Good luck to you!
After three tries with no answer, I finally got through, explained my problem and lo and behold, the very next morning I received an email with the proper documentation. So, back to the Embassy.
I sat down again in the office of my old friend. He examined my papers and seemed satisfied … until he added, “You only have one letter of invitation. Since you plan to visit several cities, you need a letter of invitation from every stop on the itinerary. I can only grant you a Visa for four days.”
Good thing I don’t know any Russian curse words.
I thought for a moment. I made a decision.
Normally, in a discussion or negotiation of this kind, I defer to my conciliatory and agreeable diplomatic style. Now I needed to take quite a different stance and display an attitude that I anticipated would earn respect in this part of the world.
So, with narrowed eyes, an insolent visage and a firm, insistent, almost hard-edged tone, I responded, “No! No! No!” (Maybe I even said ‘nyet.’ I don’t remember.)
“No! You told me to get a letter of invitation and I have complied. You never said I needed a letter from every city on my itinerary. No! I will not get them. No, I will not get them! (Just in case he didn’t understand me the first time.) And, I expect you to grant me the Visa!” (I held my breath.)
It worked! The young putz picked up the phone, had a brief chat with someone I suppose was his superior and then said to me, “OK. I can give you a Visa for eight days.”
Gloriousky! How fortunate am I! Eight whole days!
At this point I just kept my mouth shut! Well, almost. I couldn’t resist the temptation to announce, “Aren’t you happy that I will be spending my US Dollars in your country?” Finally, I cracked the ice a bit with this momzer. Then he complained, “Yes, but I cannot spend my Rubles in your country.”
(I thought but didn't say, "Who would want his Rubles? 10,000 (yes, ten thousand) Belarus Rubles converts to One Whole US Dollar. один доллар. Who would want them?")
As every successful diplomat knows, "Never miss an opportunity to keep your mouth shut."
But I smiled on the inside.