The role of “best man” is an old and honored tradition. While it includes a variety of duties, the groom’s choice, going back to days of capture & surrender, is important. Men want the man standing beside them to be someone who has & will share joys and sorrows. And so, our family begins preparations for its second wedding & we find this second groom has a problem less personal than political.
The new Czech Ambassador, Petr Kolar, has made simplifying visa requirements for Czechs coming to America one of his goals. The relations between America and the Czech Republic are, as Kolar observes, quite good. This is historically true and was reinforced when, after the Velvet Revolution, the Czech Republic waived visa obligations and fees for Americans. Large numbers of American “Bohemians” camped out in the Czech Bohemia of the nineties; many remain. My middle daughter’s fiancé spent five years there then, teaching English and learning Czech. Not surprisingly, his “best man” is a friend from those years; but he has found a visa is going to be difficult if not impossible to attain.
Our oldest daughter married a German five years ago; not surprisingly, he chose for his best man a boyhood friend, who had no trouble entering our country. In Texas, we can hardly ignore our extremely porous southern border. We feel quite lucky in our German son-in-law and we have huge respect for the immigrants with whom we work; nonetheless, the juxtaposition of the hurdles for Czechs as opposed to Germans and Mexicans makes for the kind of surrealism with which Czechs are all too familiar.
We were used to the arbitrary, messy & nasty in dealing with the old regime. For years, my husband was proposed for Fulbrights and somehow the visas never came through; in fall 1989 he got a call from State and spent the 1990 spring at Charles. Now, the extremely humiliating & difficult red tape comes from the American bureaucracy, providing a constant source of irritation and uncertainty for those traveling to this country
While Bennett is right about the Anglosphere and certainly that is our family’s interests and heritage, the next two influences for us (and many others) are Czech & German. Not surprisingly that heritage is reflected in interests our daughters share with their mates. Both groups have influenced our customs, literature, and genes.
That we understand the Czechs & they us is reflected in much national policy. In 1999 we became formal allies when the Czech Republic joined NATO. Czechs have actively participated in Operation Iraqi Freedom and in the Iraqi reconstruction, shedding blood beside American soldiers. No Czech has been found to have been involved in any association with terrorist activity.
These stands are clearly a matter of principle. Previously on this blog, we noted the Czech willingness to stand up for Cuban dissidents, even against some EU members, when the Czech Republic appeared to be in a vulnerable position. Our political wills and our political values are close. And this blending is historical: Tomas Masaryk, the great intellectual & first president, had an American wife. The Czechs often represented American values in the middle of Europe in WWII pop culture, influenced no doubt by the courage of Jan Masaryk, Tomas’s son, who broadcast from England during those years & was (probably) killed by the communists in 1948.
In 1937 (after only 17 years of independence) Czechoslovakia had the sixth-highest per capita gross national product in the world. The Czechs suffered under Hitler & the Soviet Union as their economy was both plundered and stifled. But Czech ingenuity and business sense have made it boom again post-1990. An indication is that Czechs had the highest death rate (per capita) at the World Trade Center, indicating their embrace of globalized business. Of course, Czechs applying for visas are often independent, well-educated & technologically savvy. They are not likely to want to meld into the American workforce since they see strong futures in their native land. An indication of that can be seen by glancing through various nation’s unemployment rate; while the Czech Republic is well above that of the United States, it is below that of several other EU countries (countries on the Visa Waiver Program).
The arguments for and against large-scale immigration are complicated. Less ambiguous are reasons for a more accessible & user friendly visa arrangement with the Czech Republic. In the human terms of the warmth of a long shared heritage; in political ones, the strength of military alliances & shared values of those who fight beside us; in business, the vitality of shared economic goals and systems: all indicate this is a nation with whom we would want to simplify the red tape of visas. This is a nation of educated, modern workers. It is a country with which we want to do business.
The Czechs and their potential hosts understand the importance of care in issuing visas and understand the need for restrictions. They do not find extremism attractive & understand security. But it is hardly a sign that such worries are taken seriously when we see an arbitrary application of red tape. The “best man” would be here for a week or two, leaving behind his wife and child. In another instance, a third grader was blocked from visiting her grandmother, who had married an American. Families & businessmen with such anecdotes submerged the Ambassador in a Q&A here recently.
Needless to say, the Visa Waiver Program is applied to countries with a less warm and sympathetic approach to the War on Terror and whose economies would indicate citizens more likely to meld into America in search of a job. If the Czech Republic can not meet the requirements of this particular program, at the very least, the visa program could be run more politely and more efficiently. The red tape is so pervasive that such difficulties appear general rather than particularly applied to a suspect applicant.
To us, the quite personal role of friendship is important – Tim should have for his best man the man who plays that role in his life. But in a broader sense, it makes little sense to alienate an ally in the war on terror nor to complicate our relations with a small but energetic economic power. We need not demean those who are willing to stand with us–at the altar and on the battlefield.