Foreign Assistance in Greece
Where does one begin? Why have I taken so long to write this article, leave it to last….something so important? It’s not procrastination; it’s not insecurity. It’s fear. Fear of writing something which may lead the reader (more often than not, the victim) on the wrong path to his/her quest for the much coveted Greek nationality. No fault of mine. The laws change so quickly that even now as I’m writing this I got a call from my lawyer whom I use in such cases, tellingme to stop writing. She just got word that the law changed once again. It was just yesterday that I was at her office for a nationality case, and now more and more papers are needed, some actually making others useless that were valid just days ago.
The pressure of being up-to-date in a backwards country where laws randomly and senselessly change is great. They change only because the ones before were so haphazardly thought up and implemented that just the sheer ambiguity of them pressed the lawmakers for change. The ones who drafted the laws themselves couldn’t understand them, let alone the various public ministries that had to implement them.
What can I say when I wrote about how to transfer your foreign driving license to a GR (Greek) one when the ministry of transportation, without any warning, added a new requirement. Even the Athens News wrote how to do this transfer last week and failed to see the change made and the new requirements. They, a newspaper, completely omitted the new rule, so what was I thinking when I called them to inform them of this and they replied, “ well, this is what someone wrote to us; we are not responsible.” What does that mean? If an Australian comes to Greece for this purpose, spends time and money only to find he can not transfer the license, what do you say to him/her? Sorry? I know I’m off topic and just rambling on, but for those of you interested, apart from what I wrote on this matter, the applicant now needs an AFM tax number to transfer the driving license. What does a tax no. have to do with a license is anyone’s guess. Or is it just that some fat bureaucrat was reprimanded by another slightly fatter bureaucrat close to some minister that the first was not doing enough to justify his/her fat salary and had to come up with something, an amendment to some law for example. So he/she came up with this brilliant idea about an added AFM requirement. He/she now enjoys unabated tenure and an increase in salary.
Some poor American wasted a trip to Greece .
This is 1/100th of the changes constantly being made in residence permits and Greek nationality.
After 4 years helping my clients “doing it alone” I finally had to face the awful truth: you can’t do it alone. I finally, after screening lawyers for integrity (difficult here and I’m sure everywhere else) and commitment, I latched up with one who helps me every step along the way. She doesn’t just take money and put your folder in a draw in some air-conditioned office, and your having to call from time to time only to hear, “the case is progressing” when actually it remained where you saw it last.
Bureaucracy? Is it a wonder why most if not all multinational companies, after getting a taste of it, drop out, cancel, and go do business somewhere else? (I’m getting off topic, but bear with me for a while, it’s worth it) In one plain phrase in perfect English: Greece if not business friendly….Greece is not citizenship friendly. Let this be a starting point , although I will get off topic many times, stay with it.
The tree, I almost forgot. The almighty tree. What is it and why is it your only arsenal in your “fight” to get this nationality? The unholy Greek ministry of interior (and all others at that) have masterminded a plan which makes it so difficult to obtain nationality that it staggers the imagination. The Greek consulates everywhere will make it sound easy….wait ‘till the papers arrive here in Athens. Let’s talk about the tree, the branches and the leaves. Let’s talk about color. Let’s talk about basketball….later. Yes I know, I’ve been taught, institutionalized, brainwashed in my eight years of pursuing my Ph.D. in English how to be detached, an observer, emotionless, and so on and so forth. My teachers throughout the BA, MA, and Ph.D., waste of time, had never tried to work, live or do any kind of business in Greece. If they had, they would have had a different outlook about are “sacred” institution of academia. You don’t go into a lion’s den holding a book by Virginia Woolf. Joyce, you may stand a chance. Kafka? Your in business.
First of all, don’t waste your time and money by envisioning any chance of obtaining nationality because some ubiquitous, distant relative lived in some equally unheard of village in northern Greece, and from some distant cousin you feel that you are blood relationship….and the person in question lived there in the 1890’s, then you might as well apply for citizenship in Oulagawoo, Africa. There is no such place , but invent one, make out an affidavit that you were born there, and your chances of citizenship are much better than in Greece.
Before I start the boring legal stuff, I’ll do something I haven’t done before: 2 case histories. Both have been pending for the last 2 years. I slightly changed the names of the victims.
Name: Marcos Shiezen.
1) Born in Egypt from a Greek mother.
2) Changed his name to Ranas (Greek name, mother’s)
3) Applied for Greek citizenship in California.
4) Greek consul in LA recognizes Greek background from Mother, maiden name, Ranas.
5) Proof of citizenship is OK. Go to Athens and get it.
6) Greek Ministry of interior, city hall, foreign ministry, would not accept it.
7) The nightmare that we endure month after month, back and forth to all the ministries, one not knowing what the other was saying, conflicting opinions, frustrating confrontations with ignorant officials in positions of power, we finally found out that all the papers needed were in Cairo. Apropos, I got as high as actually arranging a meeting with the Greek undersecretary of state, not easy. This is where you have armed guards, body checks, interrogated as to the nature of your business, even though it was checked before when I persistently demanded an interview, about what basketball team I was for, etc. We had a long talk, more than 2 hours where the limit is 10 minutes. Why? It just happened that we both got our MA from Hofstra University, N.Y. , and recalled great times there. He is very intelligent, shocked me, very uncommon in ministries, and, after reviewing the papers we had thus far gave me this advice: FORGET IT. However, he went on to say we could, just for the sake of Ranas, try to get the papers from Cairo. Why I was so adamant about helping him? He’s one of the best artists I’ve ever seen. Many dignitaries and people in high places in Govt. here have a painting of his. He’s a good man and undoubtedly has a right to nationality; his mother is Greek, but…. The conversation from the second floor of that well protected building between the Greek consul in Cairo and from the ministry of interior where I was listening in the room is something to be remembered. I will.
Greek Ministry: Hello Cairo? We have a certain Mr. Ranas , born 1948, of which you have some vital papers we need for his citizenship. Would you check it out and call us back?
Greek Consul : (after 2 hours) Our records show they were sent back to you in 1956.
Greek Ministry : (after 1 hour) OK., we found them. (in the basement where no one had been for 20 years, mice, mildew, you know) All this time Ranas was sweating in the office; I was hungry. Could you send them to us right away? Now get this….
Greek Consul : What! You have them? How dare you have them! You are not authorized to have them. They are the property of the Consulate here in Cairo!
Greek Ministry : Authorized? Let me remind you that you are under our jurisdiction. You are just the consulate. Too many ouzos lately Mr. Consulate? Anyway, since we have them we’ll give copies to Ranas so that he can continue his insane struggle for nationality.
Greek Consul : By law: 456/21899/ 1569/ 1954/ . 35742/hyh, you have to send them back to us and then Mr. Ranas will have to make an application to us to get copies of them. When we get them from you (5 months , I know from experience) we’ll process his application (another 5 months)
Greek Ministry : Why not give them to him now, they are on my desk and he is here now. He’s fingering them as we speak.
Greek Consul : Touching them?? He’s not allowed. He’ll have to go through the bureau…..I mean, the legal process.
Greek Ministry : But his residence permit expires in 2 months. How long will this take?
Greek Consul : Tell him to go back to California. We’ll notify him in about 5 yea…I mean 5 months.
(Let’s not forget that it was the consulate in California that said everything is fine and he’ll have no problem)
I went back to the undersecretary of state the following day. I told him the story. He said, “I told you so.”
To this day, Sept. 28 2006, after one year, nothing has happened. The fantastic artist, asset to Greece, one who so much wanted his citizenship, and one who will sincerely be missed by Greece, abandoned hope and left the country. His whereabouts to this day is unknown. His tie to Greece was flatulently obvious, He was and is Greek. But he never played basketball. What I’m trying to say is: what is obvious is not seen as such in the Greek bureaucratic system. In other words, are you alive, do you exist? Well sure, I’m talking to you, I see you….not enough. Give me papers to prove it. That’s the mentality with the govt. offices here.
The second case is even more sad..A “jr” after your name can cause havoc; such is the fear the Greek authorities have of being perfect in the paperwork less some boss sees an irregularity and fires the clerk below him . Let’s not forget that perverse attention to detail effects a confusion and ultimately creates tension and strain due to delays in any type of paperwork. For instance, there was never a 9/11 in Greece. Greeks use the month first and day after, so for Greece what happened in New York happened on Nov. 11; the day Kostas and Maria broke up their engagement to the horror of the village.
BASKETBALL? Here’s something which would not be too much of a stretch in imagination.
--Applicant: I want my Greek citizenship.
--Immigration: Any tree?
--Applicant: My grandfather visited Argostoli, Kefalonia, and met a fisherman called Giorgos and became friends , fished together for 20 years.
--Immigration: That’s too far back, no records, no town hall, no people, no paper. No mayor.
--Applicant: He married the fisherman’s daughter.
--Immigration: Now we’re talking! So you have a tree, but unfortunately, women didn’t count then, it’s the father who counts not the mother. We now in Greece are progressive, we are modern; we now recognize women as human beings. Not then, I’m afraid. We can’t establish a tree for your citizenship. If your grandmother were born after 1990, then it would be an entirely different…..
--Applicant: How old would that make me? Mr. IQopoulos (to himself)
-- --Immigration: Well, for obvious reasons (wow, he saw it) this issue is a non issue. By the way, you are tall and athletic looking. Do you play basketball by any chance?
--Applicant: Well, actually, I did play for my home team in high school in Dunkpoint South Dakota. I was voted player of the year. I’d love to play for a Greek team, if I get the residence permit and then nationality.
--Immigration: Why didn’t you say that before? Sign here, your papers will be ready in no time. We always stick to our fishermen.
........Yes I’ll get to the “ tree”, patience..........
Name: John Glounas:
Facts: John was born in Mississippi in 1945. John’s mother and father are both Greek. They married in the US but never registered the marriage at the Greek consul there. Now John himself got married to a non Greek woman. Here we have another problem.
Let me go a bit apropos here for some good information: This is important. If you are of Greek background, whether or not you have officially established your nationality, you are Greek. All Greek marriages to a non-Greek have to be registered either at the Greek consul or in Greece. If, you get a divorce from a non Greek spouse, then that divorce has to be registered!! If you just get a divorce, it’s finalized by the court, legal everywhere in the world, it is not legal in Greece. In other words, the entire world recognizes your divorce but not Greece. You have to go through the Greek courts. The Greek court will decide if you are divorced. This can take up to 4 months or more and a lot of money. In John’s case, a year has gone by already.
What I’m trying to say is that, everyone knows you’re Greek but for a small technicality like this one, you can be refused your Greek nationality and subsequently citizenship.
……And this is not all. Some of my clients go out of the way, even traveling long distances to get baptism papers, as they think it is needed in proof of nationality. This is wrong! Baptism papers have nothing to do with acquiring nationality. They are not needed at all.
He is obviously Greek. Now watch this fiasco; Those of you who want a lesson in Kafka; he is alive and well in Greece.
I’ve been fighting this case for two years now; I kept with him in his cause, and even threatened the Greek consul in Florida with exposure to the press on their ineptitude and simple stupidity.
Back to John: He is still waiting for a reply from the ministry of interior here. It will be okay. He will get the nationality, but I have to ask why? Really, if it weren’t for the fact that Greece is in the EU, there would really be no reason to go through this. If Kafka were alive today he would have written a book based on Greek bureaucracy.
Off topic: Why is this damn government so corrupt? Why don’t we have equality for all? Why, if you are an American let’s say, do you get more rights and privileges then an Albanian for instance? Okay I don’t like Albanians, nothing personal mind you, except that 1) they stole my motorcycle on three different occasions. 2) stole my wallet. 3) stole my very expensive tool chest 4) stole 100$ worth of food hanging in a bag on my handlebars, from my motorcycle, and in record time; but still, why does the Greek government give special preference to the US, Canada, Australia and ……. Japan.
Yes I can see the first three as there is a large Greek community in all of them (special interests), but Japan? Have you ever heard of Masamokanopoulos in your life? No. It is money. The Japanese bring a lot of money to Greece in tourism and trade and Greece is very money obsessed. Now I’ve learned there are Greek businesses opening up there. That may explain it.
The Sacred Tree Revistited:
I was asked by the ministry of interior to write an article in favor of them and for me to explain to my readers why the process takes so long. More or less for you to see them with a sympathetic eye to excuse the little darlings. I did start out doing this. In turn they became even more belligerent and intolerant with nationality applicants. I started writing my article on their behave only to delete it as now I denounce them tenaciously. Simply citizen falls prey to 1) greedy politicians 2) ignorant law makers 3) puppet civil servants 4) terrified public servants 5) rude public servants and unscrupulous lawyers taking advantage of would be citizen seekers using the above chaotic mess as the tools of their trade. That is not the tragedy, this is the tragedy: This is the accepted mode of behavior, the entire Greek public is used to it and see it as the norm that can not be changed. I know many of you have given up trying to get your nationality and I don’t blame you for doing so.
So after all these ambiguous, arbitrary, contradictory, thoughtless and haphazardly implemented laws what is one to do, get a lawyer? Yes, if you can find one honest enough but mostly it is luck and of course money. Your only hope is that the sacred tree you may possess is healthy.
First, how do you know you have any claims to it? Don’t assume that just because you heard that your grandfather or great grandfather was born in some remote village between 1820 -1940 that you have a right to nationality. You don’t! Why? Assuming that this village even exists today there will be no records whatsoever to help you. Births, deaths, marriages even in big cities at that time were mostly unrecorded, unregistered and were legal by hearsay only, and this is because few if any residence could read or write. Basketball was not invented then. Perhaps only the major, who was probably the owner of the only taverna could read or write. So how were marrages, births and baptisms performed, easy. For a marriage it was something like this:
“Kosta and Maria are getting married”. The word goes around a small village. They send for a priest from a larger village, who is the only one who can read or write a few excerpts from the bible which he was taught and probably misinterprets those as well; he comes, marries them in a one room church, the brides father gives them a dowery (two goats, 17 chickens) and then the celebration begins. No papers are signed. The mayor, who, let’s not forget has the only taverna, announces free wine and food, such as lamb on the skewer in the olive field near by where the children have already collected the firewood as their contribution. This is the marriage. Where and when the bride and groom where born, no one knows and no one cares. This is good. There were no problems. No bureaucracy.
If this is your only claim to nationality, forget it.
Let’s go further; your father is from this marriage. He was born from this couple but immigrated to Australia or America let’s say, in 1920. He became an American or Australian citizen. Let’s say that he was one of the lucky (or unlucky) ones where technology kicked in, that is to say actual paper and pen and something signed, who has it is anyones guess; however, now there “was” a paper. Surely there was no such thing as civil marriages then, so if there was a paper it had to be signed by a priest. It had to be a priest from even a bigger village. He probably could read and write and had access to paper and pencil, the Pentium One Windows 98 of the time.
The priest is dead and the tiny church doesn’t exist anymore, even the odds that the village is still there is slim. But you know you have roots, you know you are entitled to Greek citizenship. Now let’s have some more fun. Let’s say you were born in the US and you changed your name from “ Taliolokopoulos” which is what you believe your father or grandfather were called, to Tally, good. Now prove this.
Oh yes, baptism, if you can find anywhere any baptism papers to help, good luck but careful: as of 2005, baptism papers are not proof of Greek nationality. They can assist you in presenting you case, but in and of themselves they are worthless.
There are so many impediments and obstacles along the way it would take ages to list them all. Come for a holiday, enjoy the sea, wine, food and get out. But if you insist, if you are stubborn enough to insist then here we go.
The best way is forget about the 1800’s or early 1900’s. Start backwards * in the Greek government gazette there are thirty-four articles, nine pages of the new law 3284, dealing with this issue.
Fact. You are not automatically Greek just because you were born in Greece.
Fact. Being married to a Greek does not make you a Greek national. The new law stipulates you have the right to apply to nationalization after three years of marriage; a process that will take a couple of years if you are lucky.
So let’s start backwards. Hypothetical situation:
a. You were born in Sydney.
An important note here: Greece was forced to abandon its sexist, chauvinist policy that one can only obtain nationality through the father, now one can do it through the mother as well. The die hard old men that still cling to the idea that, “ the man is the man” crumbled under EU pressure.
The Shady Tree
Now what happens when you were born in Montreal:
a. Your father was born in Montreal to a Greek father, ie. Your grandfather. Sounds like a good tree providing all birth and marriage papers are intact right? Wrong.
All divorces of Greeks with non Greeks, have to be approved by the Greek court in Greece. In other words, the divorce is not recognized by the Greek government. Worse, the marriage had to have been registered too, if not, it is another court case.
Only a lawyer can do this and it costs money and over six months for the judge who in-between some murder trial or serious crime such as arson, robbery, Albanians stealing motorcycles will take a second or two to sign your divorce. He probably won’t even look at it, but it will take six months or over. That is the Greek justice system i.e. bureaucracy.
When the court says okay you are legally divorced then the papers go to the ministry of interior for the divorce to be registered. Fun so far? You see some branches of the “shady tree” rotted off through time and have to be reconstructed to “look good”.
A Good Looking Tree
That’s when all marriages and divorces are registered, the name has not changed from your mother and father to you. That’s it.
With some patience, time, and professional help, the healthy tree will bare fruit and you will obtain your nationality. After this step the next step is citizenship which is much easier and with luck can be obtained within a month. After this it is your Greek “EU” passport which should not take more than a week or so.
The question remains, is it worth it? If you, for some god only knows reason, feel it is, then go for it. If you feel – I really mean this – “it is nice to have but not really that necessary”, then take a “necessary” holiday here and have a “nice time”.
Athens, November 3, 2006