18 February 2019, Monday, 16:21
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‘Visa-Free Regime’ Is Not Exactly Visa-Free

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PHOTO: VIRTUALBREST.BY

The foreigners’ trying experience at the approaches to Belarus.

Belarus partially opened a “window” for Europe, making a visa-free regime offer for foreign tourists “Brest, Hrodna, Minsk and Pushcha” back in winter.

It was just a window, not a door, as the naive, trustful foreigners took it for a sincere offer and now, in view of the upcoming holidays, moved towards the mysterious, as they think, spot on the map of Europe in a small but still inflow.

However, it appeared much more difficult to enter through a window, than through an opened door, Iryna Shepialevich writes for virtualbrest.by.

- I was woken up at 5 am by a telephone call, and somebody hastily, in panic tried to explain to me in some bizarre language I couldn’t understand, that everyone here are bastards, that all this information in the media about the visa-free regime appeared fake. It took a while when at last I switched on the daytime mode and started to realize what was happening.

It turned out that a united family of very intelligent people from Croatia decided to come to their relatives with a surprise visit.

They took several days off at work, jumped in a car, filled it with petrol and presents, drove 1500 kilometers and finally got stuck in the traffic jam at the border-crossing point in Terespol.

It took the guests 7 years to recover after the previous visit (this refers to the queue at the border). As they say, they have been licking the wounds after the ordeals of 8 hours of border-crossing. And now the situation repeats.

This time, having accumulated certain immunity, they were patient and waited quietly in the common queue till 3 am. When they crossed the sacred white-red line on the bridge, they found out that the “visa-free regime” is not exactly visa-free, it’s just a name, and it is still needed to obtain permit for entering the country, just as in case with a visa, in advance and for money.

The guests, naturally, were turned away and sent back to the European space.

Upset and exhausted, they found my phone number, got at the times when they helped my group in search of the mountainous Croatian Brest. I understood their state and listened to them complaining that all the materials and posters in the internet claimed “no more visas!” So, the people with the European way of thinking did not even have an idea to go and check everything, moreover, they wanted to make a total surprise to their far relatives in the Brest region, so that the latter wouldn’t have to worry about cooking and meeting.

We waited till working hours started and applied to a travel company that has a license to issue a so-called voucher with a package of services for foreigners. The document giving the right to enter. The employees of the firm failed to answer half of the questions , but reported that they would send all the information later. We managed to find out that to buy a minimum package of services it is necessary to pay 12 euros for each day of stay. So, if the foreigners were going to stay with us for a week, the final amount was more than the cost of a visa.

The head of the family decided to go to the consulate of Belarus in Byala Podlaska, and dutifully pay 60E for each member of the family. He found out the address and time of work and, without sleeping for a day, for a single minute, left for Byala Podlaska. Judging from the queue lined up near the consulate, it was clear that there were many who wished to get a visa, and it was not an easy thing. The procedure for issuing documents also took a long time. Later, it turned out that even if the visa is made within two days, it required double payment, as it is an "express visa". Or live in Byala for a week and wait for your visa to be ready.

We stayed for a couple of hours at the hotel to sleep. They got the treasured "express visas" and again moved to the border crossing point. A few more troubles at our side, delays with Beltoll, the traditionally frozen faces of the servicemen in all the windows (according to the guests).

And here they are, on the cherished Belarusian land.

We would leave this case unnoticed, if it was the only incident of the kind. We couldn’t find out from the border guards how many people become the victims of the peculiarities of the “visa-free regime” every day.

The stewardesses in the train 125 Brest-Terespol-Brest appeared more talkative and told that they warn the people at the Terespol station that the ordinary passport is not enough. Many don’t believe it, showing vivid posters in the internet, claiming in several languages “To Belarus with No Visas!” Some get into a trap, as they don’t know the language.

Brest, our Brest’s sister town in France, which welcomed with a visit in the framework of the “Brest to Brest” idea last year, cast a look at us this year. The French Bresters happily posted in the social networks, that they have already planned all days, and when they will arrive to the border. Stop, do you have the document? The one which replaces a visa? - we asked, insistingly. “We don’t need any!” - the interlocutors convinced. “We have valid passports.”

I don’t know whether we managed to convince our sister-town partners, but, for example, a family of Belgian photographers, traveling around the world, also chose our direction, having been tempted with cheapness and mysterious strangeness of our country. They were proving to us only yesterday, that we are not aware of how things are, and that they will come to visit us, on bikes, 100%. Without visas, in June.

It’s a bit easier with the Poles – the jungle telegraph works here. The Poles are not too ecstatic about this slogan, they mostly grumble, like, if you bought a touristic product, why not from Brest to Hrodna, for instance. So, the editor of one of big magazines recently outraged about “senselessness” of our officials.

We have heard a lot of complaints about the way they “welcome” tourists in the windows of registration at the place of residence of the inviting party.

“It’s good they don’t bark,” - the guest who decided to travel around the country for more days than allowed without registration, sarcastically described the situation.

With what do the guests leave? What good do they have in their hearts, after visiting the Belarusian land? This is the joy of communicating with the people. Open-hearted Slavonic people, ready to help any minute.

This is good.

Would they like to visit our country again? Most respondents answered in the negative. It’s clean, it’s peaceful, new, but they say we paid a visit, we will recommend it to our friends and close people, but we will not come here for the second time – we are used to comfort and don’t want to waste our nerves and energy at your borders and places for issuance of permits/road payment. This does not extend on closest neighbours.

Polish tourists, hardened at borders, with their profound experience of how to make friends with us, return here again and again. Some love chocolate glazed curd bars and Santa Bremor products, some come here to discover more and more traces of Poland. The youth cross the border to attend a disco dancing. Then, international weddings. The business relations between the neighbors are developing in due course. Many tourists come in the framework of the cultural-sportive exchange.

Let us hope that the mechanism related to visiting our country will be improved soon and all the flaws which cause so many “hidden reefs” for the people will be eliminated. And the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, promoting the information about the hospitability of our country abroad, will indicate in capital letters that one passport and insurance is not yet enough to come to Brest and Hrodna.