Love, Marriage and Ministry of Foreign Affairs

14. October, 2008


Maija Kāle

Foto: Nomi and Malcolm

t turns out that love is not a good enough reason for marriage. What is then? “Long-term relationship,” a Foreign Ministry official informed me.

etting married is an important step and not an easy one to take. In today’ s world, technology allows us to reach places tens and thousands of kilometers away in a matter of seconds. And it so happens that, in the modern age, Latvian mademoiselles do not always marry lads from the neighbouring village. “There are hundreds of them, you cannot imagine! Hundreds of Latvians marry all sorts of Pakistanis and Hindus!” I am told by a high-ranking public servant at the Consular Department of the Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. It is one of the most humiliating remarks I am subjected to by this official who, having learned that I am planning to marry a citizen of Morocco, has embarked on a monologue spiced up by racist comments.

If you want to marry a Moroccan and, moreover, show your country to him, you will have to go through hell and high water. Frequently the process feels like punishment for the crime of choosing a “despised person of color” (feared by people in almost all regions of Latvia, as the study by Latvia 2030 revealed this year[1]) as your husband, instead of “ a descendant of Aryans”.

After joining the Schengen Area in January this year Latvia has shown some notable “success” in protecting EU borders from potential illegal immigrants. Some examples: two young musicians from Armenia, guests of the Festival of Sacral Music, were not allowed to enter the country; a Georgian poet invited to take part in the annual Poetry Days was initially denied visa, too.

A private conversation with the Consular Department official showed how hard, long and expensive could be the process of obtaining a permission for my fiancé to enter my country.

No visas for boyfriends

If I want to invite my future husband to Latvia I have to marry him first. If he is just a boyfriend he is not eligible for a visa. We had a first-hand experience of this, which I will recall briefly.

Thinking that getting married in Latvia would be easier than in Morocco we decided to apply for a short-term visa. According to the information on the Foreign Ministry’s website such visa can be obtained at the German Embassy in Morocco (there is no Latvian diplomatic mission there). I go to the Office of Citizenship and Migration Affairs and get interviewed by an official. She asks me if we really want to get married, if our intentions are honorable, if I am ready for such decision. After the interview, I receive an official invitation for my fiancé to enter Latvia for the purpose of getting married. I pay 10 euros for it while my fiancé buys the ticket to Riga (280 EUR). He also buys insurance (35 EUR), then submits papers to the German Embassy and pays 58 euros for the visa.

Unfortunately, having already spent all this money, we find out that the information on the official website is misleading. The German Embassy in Morocco is only responsible for the short-term tourism visas. The aim of my fiancé’s trip, marriage, is beyond their jurisdiction. I find it out after a lengthy correspondence with several embassies – the German and the Swedish one. The Latvian Foreign Ministry’s Consular Department says it will comment on this unpleasant situation within the legally required two weeks. In the end it is my fiancé and myself who end up paying for the incomplete information published on the website. And moral damages exceed the financial ones, considerably so.

In spite of the fact that the Migration Office had issued my fiancé an official invitation, the Consular Department behave as if there is something suspicious about the whole affair. They reply in writing and suggest to go to the nearest Latvian embassy outside the Schengen Area. It turns out the nearest one is in Turkey. Besides, as I find out during a conversation with a Consular Department official (who agrees to talk to me after a lot of persuasion) the official reply was a mere piece of paper and the hope for my fiancé to receive visa is still very slim, even if he goes to Turkey.

The unobtainable certificate

We had decided to get married and, come what may, were determined to do so. If not in Latvia then in Morocco. However, the Consular Department official still thinks our marriage a suspicious affair. And tells me: ”Among my closest friends, nobody has in the recent months declared a wish to get married, so I do not believe in your honorable intentions and true love!” According to him, love is not a good reason for getting married anyway. Even pregnancy is not. I am baffled – if these are not good enough reasons then what is? “Long-term relationship,” he informs me. I think for a moment whom do I have long-term relationships with. A couple of girlfriends, teachers, a few school friends… But I am not planning to marry any of them.

In order to get married in Morocco, one has to collect numerous papers from her home country. Among them, birth certificate, certificate stating that I am not married, papers on my income and employment, certificate of my citizenship, medical report, note on criminal record and also a certificate of my capacity of marriage. Each of the documents cost around 4 euros, all of them need to be translated into English (20 euros for each), all of them need to be legalized (20 euros for each affadavit) and then translated into Arabic (20 euros each). By the end, the price of my dossier reached nearly 300 euros plus the time I spent obtaining them.

Another obstacle emerged. Namely, not all documents required could be obtained in Latvia. The Migration Office explained to me that no Latvian authority can issue a certificate stating my capacity of marriage, because the Latvian state does not interfere in private lives of its citizens. But the Moroccan officials consider this certificate the most important in the pile, without it I will not be allowed to marry. I am forced to look for ways around it. Which brings me to the Justice Ministry of Morocco. In cooperation with the Moroccan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it prepares a document stating that I am permitted to submit documents without the said certificate.

Getting married in Morocco is a time-consuming and exhausting affair. It takes two weeks, the temperature stays around 40 C and we spend most of the time queuing in various state institutions, being interviewed and submitting the papers. The Moroccan authorities do not like the “ mixed marriage”, too. The procedure is so tortuous that it really tests one’s determination. Besides, it costs a lot, abound 400 euros. After the wedding, the papers need to be legalized in Latvia. I leave my newly-wed husband and get on a plane. 70 euros for legalizations seems like peanuts, all things considered.

And an x-ray too

After the legalization I have to obtain an invitation. This time, for my husband. And also apply for residence permit. As there is no Latvian embassy in Morocco we have to do it in Turkey. I end up visiting the Migration Office four times and talking to various consultants before I determine what exactly are the papers needed for the residence permit. And even then, the information is confusing. The Office asks for a document, which certifies the availability of funds for living expenses, but it later turns out that the amount of money required (account balance) is twice as big, as previously thought, because the funds should cover not only myself but also my husband. The same story with the confirmation of address. Nowhere on the official website you will find information that the confirmation has to be signed and notarized. I find it out by chance from my e-mail conversation with an official. It is also not very clear what is meant by “report on the results of fluorographic and x-ray examination”. A note from a doctor saying that his general health is good is not enough. A concrete statemet is needed confirming that my husband does not have tuberculosis and we also need to attach an x-ray of his lungs to it, which is something that the Latvian Embassy in Turkey handles with reluctance. By a lucky coincidence I get to talk to a young and polite official of the Migration Office. She explains that only one more certificate is required (something not mentioned anywhere), namely, that I will support my husband financially.

On the last night before going to Turkey I find out that I also need the original of my property papers from the Land Register. Hoping that that will be it, I put all papers in the file and go to Turkey. If it turns out that something else is missing we would have to prolong our stay in Turkey. Which is expensive. Numerous telephone calls later I find out that my husband has been granted a residence permit.

European values?

My husband arrives in Latvia during the last sunny days of the season. Right on time for the financial crisis when the employment opportunities are shrinking and everybody is getting ready for a hard winter. Meanwhile I find out that my husband is to receive a tax book only after the first 183 days in Latvia. However, if he is lucky and finds a job prior to that he will have to pay taxes on every lats he earns, because the untaxed minimums will not apply to him. I also find out that the Border Guard officials will visit us to find out if we are not involved in terrorist activity. There are many more things we are yet to find out.

I do not mind running around dozens of state institutions and obtaining documents (in a way, every such visit is provides for an exciting anthropological study). However, I do object to the ethical standards, or the lack of them, in these institutions and discrepancies between their words and deeds.

So far, there have not been studies that would confirm the existence of institutionalized racism in Latvian state institutions, that is why it is hard to tell whether my experience is unique or not. However, I have read many remarks on Internet and listened to stories of other women who are married to foreigners, and the phrase I heard most often is, “What a nightmare[2]!” So deep is the trauma left by the poor quality of some institutions’ work and manifestations of pure racism. The remarks Interior Minister Mareks Seglins about the “English pigs” is nothing compared to things that we have to hear if we are getting married “ to all sorts of Pakistanis and Hindus”.


[1] I had a chance to take part in public forums organized by the working group for the Strategy Latvia 2030. In every public discussion, be it in Vidzeme, Zemgale, Kurzeme, Latgale or Riga, people shared their fear of newcomers, particularly Arabs and Chinese who may enter Latvia as guet workers.

[2] A reference to the procedure of obtaining a residence permit raksts

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