Twenty years ago this year, communism came to an end in the Czech Republic following the so-called ‘Velvet Revolution’ of November 1989. In 1999, this former member of the Soviet Warsaw Pact became a member of NATO, and in 2004, a member of the EU. Yet although so many things have changed massively over the past twenty years, one thing seems to have remained completely unchanged in the Czech Republic – Czech bureaucracy.
This is something that cannot be blamed on over forty years of communist government. Apparently, it goes back much further to when this country was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Although the empire was dissolved in 1918 at the end of the First World War, it’s legacy lives on in the present-day Czech Republic over ninety years later.
One of the founding principles of the EU is the free movement of people and labour between member states. Therefore, as Sybille and I are respectively, German and British citizens, we have the legal right to live and work here. But the Czech authorities do require us to register with their ‘Foreign Police’ if we are going to be here for more than ninety days, in order that they may issue us with a residency permit and a social security number. Without this proof of residence and a social security number to quote, it is almost impossible to do anything in this country except eat and sleep.
On the recommendation of my Church Council, we engaged the help of a private agency who specialise in helping non-Czech speakers achieve their registration with the Foreign Police. Andrea from the agency was very helpful at our first meeting. We were presented with a long form in English to complete, to give all the information she would need to put on our Czech application forms. The reason why some items of information were required was totally beyond my comprehension. For example, we needed to give the full names of all four of our parents including our mothers’ maiden surnames, their respective dates of birth and addresses where each of them were now living. At least the last item was a little easier than the others to answer only requiring us to write ‘deceased’ four times!
However, one question revealed a ridiculous assumption lying behind the whole of this registration process. What is your permanent address? We both immediately gave the address of our flat here in Prague. “Oh no!”, said Andrea, ” You can’t put that down”. “What is your permanent address in the UK or in Germany?” “But we don’t have an address in the UK or in Germany – we live here now and will do so for the next eight or so years. This is our home”. Whilst Andrea could see the logic of our answer, in order to gain a residency permit in the Czech Republic, you have to be able to give a permanent address outside of the country. EU law says we can reside here until we die. Czech bureaucracy still thinks that no foreign citizen will ever do so – they all must have a permanent home outside of the country!
In due course, Andrea sent us a whole batch of completed forms for us to sign. But not simply to sign – no, we had to sign in front of a notary who took details of our passports and signed and stamped (the rubber stamp is extremely important to Czech bureaucracy) to say we had done so. And we had to sign five times in total between us, at 30 Kc a signature + 19% VAT!
We also had to produce our marriage certificate. Not a problem! Ah, but it needs to be apostilled. What is that you may ask – and I did! Despite being on the government stationery of a member state of the EU, our marriage certificate had to be sent back to the UK to be stamped and sealed on the back to declare that it is a legal document. The British Foreign & Commonwealth Office will do this for you but at the cost of £33.00. Ironically, the office that does it is in Milton Keynes, twenty minutes drive from where we used to live! Now we have it back, duly apostilled, it has to be translated into Czech and the translated document certified before a notary.
The final piece of this amazing bureaucratic nightmare has produced the ultimate ‘Catch 22 situation’. We need a form, signed (and stamped of course!), by the owners of our flat, declaring that we have their permission to live here. The form also requires us to say how many rooms there are in the flat, what the area of it is in square metres etc, etc.
The flat was purchased in the name of the English-speaking parish of the Old Catholic Church in the Czech Republic, my congregation’s correct legal name as registered with the Ministry of Culture. A Czech speaking member of the Church Council found the details of our registration on the Ministry of Culture website. It shows that the person who can sign on behalf of the organisation is the previous Chaplain, John Philpott, and the organisation who can change the signatory is the Old Catholic Church.
We immediately asked Bishop Dušan if he would write to ask the Ministry to change the signatory to me so I could sign and stamp the form myself. Bishop Dušan duly wrote the letter requesting the change. What did the Ministry of Culture write back in reply? Can you please let us have a copy of Rev’d Yates’ residency permit and his social security number???????!!!!!!!!!!!
I love the Czech Republic but NOT Czech bureaucracy!