Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Fortress Poland

On December 21, Poland will enter the Schengen zone, enabling passport free travel and no border controls through most of the EU.

One of the pleasures of traveling across much of Europe is that when you cross a border – say between Germany and France – you don’t really know that you have crossed a border, at all. I once drove through Belgium without even realising I was in

But then try and enter UK or Ireland, and you are suddenly reminded what it is like not to have signed the Schengen Agreement.

So it will make getting about the place for Poles all the easier. But what about Ukrainians, Belarusians, Russians, trying to get in to Poland?

Well, it is going to make things much, much more difficult. To get into Poland, Ukrainians will need a Schengen visa – costing 60 euro – a third of a months salary in much of Ukraine – and they will have to prove that they will come back, and keep to all kinds of restrictions set in Brussels, not Warsaw.

Thousands of Ukrainians work as nannies in Poland – you are a social leper in some circles of Warsaw if you haven’t got your very own shiny, low maintenance, Ukrainian home help.

And it is not as if it is easy to get into Poland from these countries as it is.

Iza from the Jagiellonian University in Krakow sent me an email yesterday:

I decided to write to you about our recent experience coming back into Poland from a study trip to Lviv and Kyiv.

In our group we have 1 Polish passport, 3 American passports, 1 Canadian passport, and 5 Norwegian passports. This means nothing to the Polish border patrol. We sat on a bus for over 14 hours at the border.

Typical time usually runs around 5-6 hours. But for some reason (some claim the combination of the end of the Italian strike, All-Saints' Day traffic, and a truck falling over) it took over 14 hours. And this was just standing in line. The actual checking of passports and baggage (where there were no lines, because only one bus was allowed at a time) took in all about 30 minutes.

We believe that the real reason is Polish border patrol being assholes (pardon my French). I don't know if this is an interesting topic at all, but we definitely don't see how Poland and Ukraine would ever be ready for the 2012 Euro Cup if a bunch of Polish/EU (almost EU) citizens can't get back into the country in an orderly fashion.

How are the two countries going to co-host the Euro 2012 Football Championships if fans, players, officials...and ticket touts, can’t move freely between Ukraine and Poland? And since when has the EU, with its freedom of movement to visit, live and work from within, turned into some kind of fortress, putting up the barriers, manned by asshole border guards?


michael farris said...

I like borders and the formalism of knowing I'm entering a new country (if there's not too much rigamarolle).

And I personally don't think this Schengen idea for Poland is such a good idea at all. It makes sense for small countries like Belgium and Luxembourg, but I'm skeptical about wider applications.

michael farris said...

while I'm here, in june I went to portugal (via Orbis) and both arriving and leaving Faro the passport people seemed stymied by my US passport (it's a busy but almost entirely european airport).
Both times I said I live in Poland (in bad portuguese) and showed my Polish residence card which caused them to wave me thru. I thought it was ... odd.

Anonymous said...

Rather than "Fortress Poland," it simply sounds like the Polish/Ukrainian border posts are just undermanned.

Iza said...

nope, there were plenty of guards....walking around, talking to the people waiting in cars, even taking coffee breaks.

Anonymous said...

The whole idea behind Schengen is the free movement of people and goods within the EU the operative phrase being “ being within the EU”. So in order for Poles to move around in the EU without the border formalities, Poles have to look after their portion of the EU that is in contact with none EU states. It seems the majority feeling in the EU is that border controls on points of entry to the EU are not strict enough.

The idea of Schengen is sound but it seems that the implementation by Polish border authorities has been poor. If they fail to have the necessary infrastructure, staffing and supervisory control of the border guards we shouldn’t fault Schengen. Perhaps some dismissals at the agency responsible for the border guards are in order.

I have been thru border controls in many countries; the wait times mentioned in some of the comments represent delays amongst the worst in the world.

beatroot said...

Our Iza had to wait 14 hours. Ridiculous. But a normal wait time of '5 to 6 hours' is simply crazy and people should be sacked. But this has been going on for years. On Dec 21 it will be worse. At a time when Poland needs immigration more than ever they have to get their act together. Thing is - Schengen is all about coordinating police services etc. It is not simply about 'free movement'. It's about control from the outside.

And Mike - at least you could speak some Portugese...that is why they probably were suspicious: 'an American speaking foreign languages...Hmmmm...must be a spy...'

But have you seen how hard it is for us Europeans to get into the US? Not a pleasant experience.

AZ said...

I was told by another (Ukrainian-speaking American friend) who crossed the border at Przemysl three weekends ago, that the Polish border guard was on strike. My friend took the train back from Lwow rather than the bus because of this, and crossing the border by train took less than 1 hour.

I can't find any published news reports that corroborate this, but it would certainly explain the delays. I've crossed the Polish/Ukrainian border by bus before and it took about 90 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Anarchists have been pointing out that the EU is a fortress for years. It's only the I'm-alright-jack-I-live-in-the-rich-man's-club people who haven't grapsed this elementary fact.

Anonymous said...

So, are or were the border guards on strike or not? Maybe a work action?

Is there any corroboration that the "normal" wait time is 5-6 hours?

Has anybody else experienced a 14 hour wait?

There's something missing here in this story.

Anonymous said...

try this:

Anonymous said...

But have you seen how hard it is for us Europeans to get into the US?

With 20 million illegal aliens living in the United States, it obviously isn't hard enough to get into the US.

I've never heard of anybody having any troubles going to the US from Europe, except - and this is a big exception - for young people who don't have jobs or any apparent means of support. The US consular officers rightly view these most of these young people as would-be illegal workers.

Anonymous said...

Just to add another exception. If you are a British citizen named Yusuf Islam, and you raise money for Hamas and Hezbollah, you're also going to run into some trouble traveling to the USA.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps this is really a much broader issue, is what’s happening on the border a highly visible snap shot of the inefficiency of the civil services as a whole. If Poland is to get it’s “economic miracle” then this will need to be remedied.

There are still a lot of habits from the days of the PRL and not to mention the society, as a whole has never been acclaimed for its discipline, organization and efficiency.

I would be curious if people felt that there has at least been some progress made towards "western efficiency"?

Anonymous said...

Well, there ya go. A reported work to rule job action -- slowdown.

5-6 hours as the norm? Any checking of that claim?

Also FYI: Given the advent of 9/11 and the decline of the relative value of the US dollar, it now typically takes 2-3 hours on weekends, holidays and during the summer months to cross the border bridges from Canada into the US.

Anonymous said...

To be frank, all the Polish border guards I've ever encountered at land borders were arseholes. Customs officers too. Strangely tho', both border guards and customs officers at airports here are fine.

As for getting into/out of the USA, even British government ministers have problems if they look a bit muslim. My best one was being followed around Miami airport by an armed guard when I was four years old, we were going to the Bahamas but British Airways had forgotten to mention that the codeshare flights to the Bahamas from Miami go from the domestic terminal so my parents hadn't got me a visa. They both had visas but my sister and I didn't. So my father had to put down a sizeable bond and hire two armed guards (one each for me and my sister) to follow us round the airport.

Anonymous said...

5-6 hours as the norm? Any checking of that claim?

Sure. That is my experience. 2.5 hours to Ukraine and 6 hours back.

It looks like this: your bus arrives at the border and spends a couple of hours in the queue. Then they let you enter the actual crossing. Unfortunately, the shift change is due in an hour, so no, they won't control you until the next shift arrives. The new shift arrives and does paperwork for an hour. Then some guys go out. They take out cigarettes and start talking. After half an hour they go back in. You wait. Another guy goes out, starts playing with a dog. Then he goes back in. After an hour, the border guard goes out, takes the passports. You move to the custom control. You wait another hour. A guy enters the bus, asks some questions, looks around. Leaves after two minutes. You wait. Another border guard enters the bus, gives you back the passports. You're clear to go, have a nice stay.

So, yeah. Several hours wait, but the actual business takes a couple of minutes.

My impression was also that these were the Polish guards, not the Ukrainians who were causing the problem.

beatroot said...

Jeez, so what is going on here? They get paid by the hour - maybe they should get paid by the person checked? It seems unbelievable that such ...I don't know what the word is ...can continue.

One thing is certain: I am never going to go through that crossing. Ever. I'll get the plain. Any cheap flights going that way, yet?

This is a scandal. Thanks Opamp and Iza.

GM said...

I remember the bus ride to Ukraine being fine leaving Poland--getting back was a real struggle, about 8 hours total in waiting the last time I was there. I suppose they were busy pretending to be looking under the bus to find some smuggled Lucky Strike cigarettes.

By train, I've waited 3-4 hours at the border, so I suppose the one hour wait reported is a major improvement.

In comparison, things aren't nearly so inefficient on the Slovakian or Czech borders, nor were they ever, even in the early 90s.

I recall being a teenager and going across the border just to buy cheap Czech beer--we'd spend literally 30 seconds at the border crossing, unless they suspected us of carrying more than the alloted amount of beer that could be transferred at one time. In that case, they'd actually count the beers, by the bottle, taking 5 minutes maximum.


Brad Zimmerman said...

I haven't had the chance to visit Ukraine yet, but I have crossed the border from Poland into Slovakia and back... Czech Republic and back... and Germany and back.

Most of the crossings have been on a simple tourist passport stamp and every time I'd re-enter the country (and here's the key) no matter how old the stamp was (in one case just two weeks old) we would spend 15-20 minutes verbally sparring with the border guards. Each time I was quoted different rules and how I was breaking them but "ok we'll let you in just this once." sort of crap. Oh and twice coming back from Slovakia the guards looked at my US passport for all of five seconds and waved me through. No stamp, nothing.

After I got my karta pobytu I haven't had a problem.

Coming back from Germany was probably the longest wait in a line and it was at 2am. There were probably 40 cars waiting in line at the border. I think we waited about 20 minutes and spent about 5 minutes off to the side while they looked at my stay card and passport.

Whenever I've flown into the country I haven't had any problems. The lines are sometimes a bit long but seem to keep moving, albeit not really quickly.

Despite the fact that I've got a karta pobytu now I'm happy we're entering Schengen... but I'm not really looking forward to driving to Ukraine. Maybe we'll fly instead.

michael farris said...

I can't say I've ever had a problem with Polish border guards. Even when I was here in 1984 the Polish border guards were courteous enough (barely). I was even able to leave Poland with a couple of hundred 'unofficial' dollars that I told the border guard about (coming back into Poland from a trip to Budapest I didn't get a currency form).

The closest to nasty border guards I've come across have been Slovak (and only a couple of them in crossing the Slovak border about a dozen times).

But on land I've only entered Poland from Germany (east and unified) and Czechoslovakia (and its modern components) and all but once by train. The longest wait I ever had was the only time I entered by bus (Kostrzyn on the German border). We had to wait almost an hour as cars took precedence, but very quick once they got to us.

I'm considering going to a conference in Ukraine next spring, I think if possible I'll take the train or fly.

Anonymous said...

Bloody try flying into Gdansk airport from Ireland and the UK its easier to get into China even with the new anti terrorist laws there since the olympics.

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