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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Cynicism On Passports Is Appalling

Prisoners in their own land: This could be the title of a film about Russia in the summer of 1993. Never mind that the Soviet Union and its repressive security apparatus were allegedly dismantled a year and a half ago. Never mind that Russia is knocking at the door of what it calls "civilized countries" asking for aid to help undo the damage that communism wrought, with promises of conversion to democratic practices. The fact is that tens of thousands of Russians are blocked at present from travelling abroad.

Some attribute this lamentable situation simply to bureaucratic incompetence; others will see a deeper psychological resistance, in a country with no tradition of freedom, to the prospect of letting citizens come and go as they will. Regardless of the reasons, the fact remains that Russians find themselves again pawns in a faceless system. Thousands wait each week at the offices of OVIR, the passport-issuing agency in Moscow, and are told to go away and come back later - in a month, or two, or three.

The cynicism with which officials are treating this problem is truly appalling. Vasily Vinogradov, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's consular service, which is taking over part of the passport issuing process as of this month, told Izvestia that a March 1 order to Russians to turn in their old Soviet passports for new ones had been lifted, because the cost of destroying the old passports was "inadmissibly expensive". But he said nothing about what should be done for the poor souls who duly turned in their valid passports and had them destroyed, only to be blocked from leaving the country now.

And what is causing the delay in issuing new passports? By all accounts, it is the police investigation of each and every Russian wishing to go abroad that is still carried out by the Interior and Security Ministries. For citizens who had their valid passports effectively confiscated by the March 1 order, the investigation must be carried out all over again.

And not only that. Citizens in possession of a valid passport who did not make the mistake of obeying the law and turning it in are allowed to make only one trip abroad with it, according to Vinogradov. Why should this be so in a nascent democracy? Nobody knows.

The authorities only added insult to injury Monday when they announced that the consular service would begin issuing emergency visas for the elite - business executives, officials and performers.

For the common man and woman, who suffered so long as second-class citizens under communism, this is simply beyond the pale.