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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

POWER PLAY: Fair Visas Will Help Relations With West

Michael O'Leary, a businessman from Ireland, came to Moscow 11 years ago. It was a time when the Iron Curtain was still in place, and the fight for the human rights of Soviet citizens f the right to travel to the outside world in particular f was just at the very beginning. It was that happy time f for a few f when there were no lines outside the visa sections of Western embassies, and an increase in the number of visas issued was not seen as a headache but as a sign of the positive changes taking place in the evil Soviet empire.

Since then, the desire to implement the Declaration of Human Rights on Russian soil, proclaimed by the Western democracies, has somewhat diminished. It has been replaced by the fear of the barbarians coming to the West.

"A normal Russian person is carrying the blame for many 'crimes' now f from the war in Chechnya to the 1998 financial crisis and the Bank of New York scandal," says O'Leary.

"Any good-looking and well dressed young lady who applies for a visa is suspected [by the Consulate officers] of being a potential prostitute; a gentlemen in a nice suit is suspected of being a Mafiosi; and an old lady is seen as a beggar."

O'Leary does not consider those attitudes to be fair; neither do the some 150 other people who comprise the Initiative Group for Fairness and Dignity for the visa application process for Russian nationals created in Moscow in April. They also see these attitudes as an obstacle to developing their businesses in Russia and a factor that largely contributes to the anti-Western feelings gaining momentum in this country. After all, unlike diplomats, they encounter Russian nationals almost every minute.

As a result, the group came out with the Charter for Dignity, which "outlines the general principles of fairness and courtesy that foreign embassies can use to ensure that Russian nationals applying for visas are treated with dignity," and aims "to encourage Moscow's Western embassies to positively reappraise their approach to the visa process."

The Charter for Dignity was presented at the Andrei Sakharov Public Center last week and was sent by registered mail from the Central Telegraph House on June 21 to 35 embassies. Each envelope was marked for the attention of "HIS EXCELLENCY THE AMBASSADOR," O'Leary reports to those interested in the subject. So far, positive responses came back from two embassies f those representing Norway and Great Britain.

As a Russian national who has both personal and public stakes in the charter, I would allow myself to share just one observation. A couple of years ago, I was invited to Germany by a private foundation to meet with some German officials. The meeting, with the then-head of the Foreign Affairs Ministry's information department, was of particular interest. We were handed a brochure devoted to the question of what should be done to improve the relationship between the Russian and German peoples, who have a long history of conflict.

At the time, The Moscow Times was running a series of articles about how badly Russians applying for visas were treated in the German consulate in Moscow. The brochure we received contained not a single word on the subject.

I asked the official if he had heard about the situation? No, he had not. But he was very proud of the brochure his department produced.