Posted by: patenttranslator | July 23, 2019

You Can Obtain Your ID at the Magistrate

This was the SMS text on my phone that I have been awaiting for such a long time, over 10 months. I thought a Czech ID would be the easiest ID to obtain, because in every other country where I registered my domicile as a resident and sought an official local ID, it was a routine procedure.

But it turned out to be much harder for me to get the Czech one, much harder than the IDs entitling me to permanent domicile that I had received in Germany, United States, or Japan.

In Germany, still called West Germany back in 1981 when I became one of a few thousand refugees there from Poland, Czechoslovakia and Hungary who somehow made it across the Iron Curtain to Germany, it was a simple enough procedure and it took only a few weeks before I received a letter informing me that I can pick up my ID at the City Hall.

The ID was sort of a blue passport, entitling me to travel anywhere (except communist countries, where I would be immediately arrested for having committed the horrible crime of leaving and not returning to my home country, surrounded back then by miles and miles of barbed wire and watch towers to prevent happy citizens from leaving their socialist paradise.) I could travel anywhere else with the blue “passport” as long as I returned within a two-year period to Bundesrepublik Deutschland where I was gainfully employed.

So I gladly exchanged my green Czechoslovakian passport, which I afterwards never saw again, for the blue German Reiseausweiss. As I was finally able to travel in Western Europe, I then joyfully went with friends from Poland and Slovakia on trips to Italy, Switzerland, France, Holland, Luxembourg. In the end, I used the same German Reiseausweiss for the last time to fly to San Francisco a year later once my US immigrant visa came through.

To obtain a local ID in San Francisco was the easiest thing in the world. So easy, in fact, that I don’t remember much of it anymore. All I remember is that a kind black lady at the Social Security Office issued a Social Security Number for me when I showed her my visa in the blue German Reiseausweiss and I assume that with that number and my address I was then issued an ID by the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles.)

When I moved four years later to Tokyo, obtaining a local foreign resident card was only a slightly more complicated affair. I remember that the ladies at the Shiyakusho (City Hall) could not make sense of my white passport, which again was not really an actual passport because at that point I was not a US citizen yet. It was a white booklet that looked like a passport, it had the outline of all the states in United States on its visa pages, but on its white cover, instead of Passport, it said Reentry Permit. It was also good for two years, but every year I had to return to United States to maintain my official residency there.  

The ladies at the Shiyakusho couldn’t make sense of it because they never saw anything like that before. They were discussing the problem freely among themselves because they did not realize that I spoke Japanese, since people who looked like me are not supposed to speak their language. Then, finally, one of them figured it out and exclaimed “Ah, are wa Amerika no gaijin da!” (That’s an American foreigner!) and the mystery was solved. They then promptly issued a little blue booklet for me that every “gaijin” living in Japan is supposed to carry on him or her at all times. The correct polite form of the Japanese word for foreigner is of course “gaikokujin”, and “gaijin” is kind of a mild slur. But it is a very popular word in Japan, and as I said, they probably did not realize that this “gaijin” understood what they were saying.

So, after my positive experience with obtaining a local ID in three different countries on three different continents, I did not expect any impediments on the part of the employees of the City Hall in Ceske Budejovice, which goes by the majestic title “Magistrate” in Czech. After all, as a dual US and Czech citizen, I was in possession of a valid Czech passport and of a Czech permanent address certificate, which was issued to me without any problems a few days prior by the same “Magistrate.”

But I was in for a rude awakening. That was because the women at the magistrate deciding who would and who would not receive an ID, passport or driver’s license started demanding Czech translations of various documents, some of which I had, some of which I had no clue how to get. In my mind, I started calling the women comrades, because they reminded me so much of the comrades from the previous, totalitarian regime – which officially was supposed to have died thirty years already, but perhaps did not die completely.

The first comrade demanded about four or five documents, among them “an original copy” of my birth certificate, and “original copies” along with translations of my marriage certificate from California from 1984 and of my divorce decree from Virginia 34 years later.

I figured, well, maybe a do need to prove to them that I am no longer married and ignored the request for translations of other identifying documents. So I had a translation of the divorce decree prepared by a local translation firm, which was provided also with a certifying statement and with an officially looking stamp and something like three months later, I gave it another try, took my number from the number dispenser and waited my turn in a room full of anxious looking people.

The second comrade, a different one this time but looking very much like the first one, looked approvingly at the translation of my long-lasting, yet ultimately unsuccessful marriage adventure, and said “Well, all I need now is a more recent copy of your Czech citizenship certificate. Yours is too old, it may not be older than one year.” To my question where could I receive such a certificate she replied that I could obtain it at the local Court Building.

So, naturally, I hurried to the Court Building, which was not very far, took yet another number from the number dispenser, and waited my turn until my number appeared lighted on the number display on the wall and a computerized voice announced my number.

I thought that if I could get now a more recent certificate, for which no translation would be required, I could go back to the Magistrate and finally be allowed to apply for a Czech ID. But that was definitely not what this comrade, a third one already, had mind. Instead, she told me that for this certificate, she would need to see first: 1. translation of my marriage certificate (the same thing that the 1. comrade requested and that I ignored, 2. birth certificates of my two adult children living in United States, with translations and something called Apostila (a new request), 3. a more recent certificate of Czech citizenship (another request of a previous comrade I had ignored), and 4. a Czech translation of my US naturalization certificate from January of 1989. That was it, unless I forgot something (which I probably did).

I was majorly pissed. At this point I knew that the comrades were playing with me like a cat plays with a hapless mouse because each of the comrade requested different documents from me. But instead of erupting with justified rage, which I was very close to doing, I scheduled an appointment with a legal aid office for senior citizens (free of charge), where I told my moving story to a very pretty young female lawyer.

And she knew just what to do. She called what is called here the Ministry of Internal Affairs, after some digging figured out who was the appropriate person to talk to (I doubt that I would be able to do that), and found out the following:

There was no need for me to have any of the many documents that the three comrades so far requested from me. All I needed was 1. a valid Czech passport, and 2. a certificate of permanent domicile in Ceske Budejovice. Both of these documents I had on me and showed to each of The Three Comrades at the Magistrate and at the Court Building. Details of my marital status would be required by the Magistrate only if I wanted my Czech ID to indicate whether I was single or married. But I could also choose not to have the ID reflect my marital status.

So now I had a confirmation from an official source that The Three Comrades at Magistrate and at the Court Building, whose job it was to make sure that people like myself would be provided with proper identification for proper payment of taxes and the like, where for some reason instead doing their best to prevent people like me from having proper identification.

About a month later, I went to the Magistrate again to give it yet another try. This time, I was going to request my Czech ID from them, because this time I knew what kind of document they could and what they could and what they could not ask from me. If they refused to give me what I wanted and was legally entitled to, I would threaten them with a legal action, I thought to myself. And I would probably follow through, because as I said, I was majorly pissed.

This was like living in a communist country again, only worse.

I was not going to put up with this abuse of power anymore!!!

The fourth person looked to me just like the previous three female comrades. She merely glanced at the numerous documents and translations I was placing before her, said “I don’t need those” and concentrated on my Czech passport and certificate of permanent domicile.

Then she confirmed to me that this was all she needed and that I did not need to have my marital status stated on my ID, unless I wanted it there. She also said that there could be complications in the future should I want to get married again, and that I would then need an official confirmation of my marital status from the Supreme Court in Brno, but that in the meantime, this would not stand in the way of my right to have a proper Czech ID. (It obviously broke my heart that I could not get married easily now, but I was prepared to live with that.)

She took my picture, gave me receipt … and that was it. I could not believe my luck!

But why where The Three Comrades, unlike their counterparts in three different countries on three different continents many years ago, trying to make it as hard as possible for me to get the damn ID, which I definitely needed and to which I was obviously entitled? Why did I have to the Magistrate three times before I finally encountered a normal person who was doing her job the way it was supposed to be done?

I don’t know the answer to this question, I can only speculate. Maybe The Three Comrades do not like Americans. Or maybe they hate equally all people who return from any foreign country to their old town. Or maybe, as one Czech lady suggested to me, they simply envy people like me because they know that we receive every month much more money then they do, even though we are pensioners and they must still work for their money. Or maybe they simply do things like this to everyone because they enjoy abusing their power, although the create more work for themselves and their colleagues in this manner.

Whatever the case may be, I now have the Czech ID, for which I had to wait 10 months, in my wallet, along with my Virginian Driver’s License, which is still good.

I am very glad that I still have my US Driver’s License and Passport, because it means that should decide to leave the EU and return to US, all I have to do is buy a ticket and hop on a plane.

Maybe that’s what The Three Comrades were envious about because that kind of freedom is something that they never did have and never will have.


Responses

  1. Before the socialist paradise was put in place, Franz Kafka had a similar job as these Czech comrades. Apparently this kind of bureaucratic labyrinth inspired him to write The Trial and other major hits.

    Maybe one of the ladies will strike it big in literature someday, and your suffering won’t have been (entirely) in vain.

    Like

    • Yes, the ladies would be very much at home in a novel by Kafka. After all, his novels are from Austria-Hungary, predating the imposition of socialism, soviet style, in Eastern and Central Europe.

      Dne 7/24/2019 v 3:08 PM Patenttranslator's Blog napsal(a): > WordPress.com >

      Like

  2. Portugal is the same!

    Like

  3. Are they as nasty even to Portuguese citizens with a valid Portuguese passport as the Czechs were to me? I have a friend, American, who lives in Portugal and was complaining bitterly about American bureaucracy (at the embassy) and the Portuguese one too I think.

    Like


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