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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

VIPs Get the Right to Jump the Passport Line

In a move to stop bureaucratic gridlock from keeping high-level officials from traveling, the Russian government has given a second ministry power to issue passports - but only to VIPs.


Athletics teams, movie directors and government officials have missed international engagements recently because they could not get the documents in time, the Foreign Ministry reported.


In a move harkening back to the era of privileges for the nomenklatura, the new law permits anyone on a list of 2, 050 commercial, political and artistic organizations to visit the Foreign Ministry's consular facilities to get an emergency passport.


For everyone not on the list, however, the passport nightmare continues.


Yevgenia Skripko, a retired teacher, made plans three months ago to visit an aging friend in Sweden who had fallen ill. She had a passport at that time which was valid.


In the meantime, the government had reorganized the passport services, putting the Interior rather than the Foreign Ministry in charge. Holders of Foreign Ministry passports were told to turn in their documents and apply for Interior Ministry ones.


Skripko rushed to follow the decree and submitted her passport. Two months later the decree was rescinded because of its excessive cost, but Skripko's passport had been destroyed.


"I feel like I am in prison", Skripko said. "Psychologically I am crushed".


Russia's passport offices have been inundated by applicants seeking to take advantage of new freedoms to travel since the old Soviet exit visa requirement was lifted Jan. 1.


The number of passports issued this year is expected to triple from the 3. 5 million distributed in 1992, the Interior Ministry reported. With their pen-and-paper offices and shortage of personnel, they have been unable to cope with the bottleneck, they said.


At Passport Office No. 3 in northeast Moscow, applicants stand in line for hours just to get their name onto the waiting list. Once they have made the waiting list, they must return weekly and then daily to be given the chance to submit their documents. Then, they return again weekly and then daily to find out when it will be ready.


Sergei Mnatsakanoff, a freelance journalist, said it took him one month to advance far enough on the list to be able to apply. It will be at least another one to two months before his passport is ready, while the former KGB conducts a security check on him.


"What else can I do? " he asked, gesturing with his cigarette.


"I hope to go to Germany in August".


The new law is intended to expedite the process for certain business executives, touring artists, politicians and patients requiring urgent medical care.


Members of one of the organizations on the list - Moscow's Dom Literatora, the House of Writers - stand to gain from the change. But an agent in charge of obtaining passports for traveling writers was skeptical. She said the problem had occupied an inordinate amount of time this year.


"It takes much nervous energy from everybody. There are big lines - we are waiting for weeks", she said.


The new law was cold comfort to Skripko, who has watched over 10 weeks as friends of passport agents and people with dollars moved ahead of her in line. Two weeks after the date she was to depart, Skripko is still visiting her local passport office and leaving empty-handed.


"The people who publish these bad laws must be punished, because a lot of people are humiliated", she said. "These officials have no respect for the Russian people. Our human rights are still violated. Nothing has changed".