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Chapter Fifteen


When Poland was one of the few countries to fight side-by-side with the US in Iraq, big hopes arose that America’s borders would open to Polish citizens. However, even Republican President Bush was unable to move a Republican-controlled Congress to fix a broken immigration system. This would come to haunt President Obama, who for his entire two-term presidency was unable to do so either. His successor would only go out of his way to make matters much worse. The bitterness in Poles was unmistakable, and often I wondered whether I was paying for occasionally expressed deep-seeded resentments. A 2004 article published in the Boston Globe makes this clear in its title: “In Poland, support for US on Iraq seen as unappreciated – From contracts to Visas, a feeling of mistreatment.” From this article that was first published in the Los Angeles Times:

There’s a lot of disappointment among ordinary Poles,” Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said in a recent interview. “Poland is the most pro-American society in Europe, yet there is so much criticism” of the United States these days.

What angers Poles most, however, is a four-letter word: Visa. The US Embassy in Warsaw charges Poles $100 per Visa application, whether the document to travel to America is granted or not.

“We put a lot into the Iraq war,” said Karol Domzala, a student at Warsaw University. “But there’s still this Visa embarrassment. We’re one of the US’ best allies, but we have to line up and feel like second-class citizens. The Cold War is over, but I think America still looks at us like we’re those poor people in the east.”

However, it was sheer opportunism that motivated Poles to participate in what has been soundly judged as an immoral war based on a false premise by the George W. Bush Administration, that weapons of mass destruction existed. As the article continues:

Polish disenchantment is rooted in bruised pride and money. More than 70 percent of Poles opposed the Iraq war, but they believed Washington would reward them with huge oil and reconstruction contracts.

Instead, Polish companies have about $70 million in rebuilding contracts and a $13 million weapons deal with the Iraqi Army.

As the shared opportunism of the US and Poland in Iraq led to the terrible consequences of further destabilization of the Middle East and the rise of ISIS, the politics of immigration in both countries took a disturbing turn. Neither country has any reason or right to take a moral high ground, where it comes to immigration, or to treatment of foreigners, as countless of thousands of innocent Iraqis died in that war. Further, what I endured as a foreigner in Poland only made me more sensitive to the gross injustices foreigners often face, whether abroad or on my native turf.

Click on the following article for a case study:

 Polish immigrant deported by N.J. hospital after crippling stroke

During the Iraq war, there was a young woman, a private student of mine, whom I was helping to keep her English skills from becoming rusty. She had been living in the US for three years and committed the cardinal sin of staying a bit past the expiration of her Visa. Her sister, who had married an American, had obtained citizenship, and my student did not wish to leave her behind. However, the penalty for her failure to depart on time was far worse than mine for making a payment to the alcohol department a day late. She was informed that she could not apply for another US Visa for five years and when she finally did, her application was denied.

The amount of paperwork and office crawling was staggering and, like dealing with the alcohol department, there was zero tolerance for error.

There are many hoops one must jump through to obtain legal residency in the US. Nor is it easy for an American to do the same in Europe. Regardless, Americans can live in Europe as long as one has financial means and maintains a tourist status. Generally, one can stay as a tourist for three-months without any Visa requirement. Until the formation of the European Union in 1992, this regulation was rarely enforced. At worst, renewing one’s three-month stay only required crossing any border between European countries and getting one’s passport stamped upon leaving and reentering. However, the erasing of borders in ’92 meant that passports were no longer stamped, unless one traveled by plane. To complicate things, after 9/11, enforcement of a maximum three-month stay became noticeably more strict.

As a limited EU member, Poland has still not adopted euros as its currency and, likewise, crossing the Polish border still requires having one’s passport stamped. Since Wrocław is not far from both the Czech Republic and Germany, I simply crossed one of the two borders by car, bus or train when necessary, had my passport stamped, turned around and came back.

This was an inconvenience that would waste an entire day, but it was nothing compared to once I ran a business. As a non-European citizen, not only was I was required by law to form a Polish limited liabilities company, but I had to apply for a yearly residency and work permit. This entailed a tormenting annual ritual of making my way through a several months-long labyrinth to obtain a long list of required documents. The amount of paperwork and office crawling was staggering and, just like with the alcohol department, there was zero-tolerance for error. Invariably, I would go to the many offices with my manager or assistant, which sometimes took up entire days, as there usually was a great number of bureaucratic details to tend to. Meanwhile, I had to continue to contend with the almost daily crises and emergencies of operating the restaurant. As I would learn concerning alcohol permit payments, the cost of not holding the hand of my assistants in each and every instance ultimately proved to be devastating.

After five long years of this redundant annual ordeal, it was finally possible to apply for a five-year residency. During one of countless trips to the residency office, I stood in line next to someone who did this professionally for the foreigners who worked for Toshiba, a luxury I had never known. This time, I was put through even more rigorous investigations and interrogations than ever, the whole ordeal resulting in a rejection from Warsaw. The reason? They went over the prior five years of my history of filing applications and discovered that three years earlier the same assistant, who had paid for my wine shop license one day late, was two weeks late in starting the yearly administrative permit process. For those two weeks out of the previous five years, I was told, I had unknowingly been living in Poland illegally. Despite having gone through this tedious procedure for half of a decade, and despite the fact that I had been granted the yearly permit each time, the extended residency application was denied.

The most absurd irony in all of this is that the woman in charge of my case had only one priority in mind: that I hired Polish workers. And God only knows, I had employed, provided rare training to, and paid taxes and medical costs for more Polish workers than I can recall. Nevertheless, it was due to a young Polish employee’s delinquency three years earlier that I had never known about until then, that I was denied residency and a work permit – without which I could no longer hire anybody.

Such ridiculously self-defeating punitive mentality I came to call “Polish logic,” but back home in the US, unbeknownst to me, foreigners were being deported at an alarming rate under equally absurd, often heartbreaking circumstances. Nor was I anticipating the outright refusal of the right-wing-controlled US Congress to act on desperately needed Immigration Reform, or the Party’s ugly xenophobic rejection of refugees desiring to live in a country that was created by immigrants.

Tragically, racism is an inherent human flaw that runs against everything my work as an artist stands for. Rather than become bitter and take sides, as an American of Eastern European Jewish ancestry, being victimized as a foreigner made me more sensitive to others facing similar victimization. No one should be held responsible for the acts of others, simply by virtue of identification with a race, religion or nationality. This is especially senseless when it comes to becoming implicated by association with policies of the powers-that-be, even policies from the distant past that almost no one alive has anything to do with.

NOTE: I wrote this chapter before Donald Trump had announced his candidacy to become President of the United States and the extent whereby he would, upon victory, ratchet up the insanity of grossly generalized immigration policies to another inhumane level. 

Click here for Chapter Sixteen: The Royal Zasadzka