Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Viktoria Loginova
Agence France-Presse

p. T5.

Russians find iron in EU's visa curtain

MOSCOW — Being young and attractive is a serious handicap for Russian women wishing to spend their holidays in Europe as an increasingly harsh European Union visa regime forces Russian vacationers to look elsewhere.

Natalya Ostrovskaya, an official with the Russian tourist information agency Banko, said some EU countries are afraid of letting in Russian prostitutes. "In fact, we advise our female clients to give the ugliest photos they can find of themselves to consulate officials in order to enhance their chances of obtaining a visa," she said.

Another group that claims to be discriminated against are young men from Chechnya and other Caucasus regions.

As a result of the difficulties Russians are experiencing of breaking through the EU's bureaucratic curtain, tourism to Turkey has been booming.

Last year, about 625,000 Russians chose to spend their holidays in Turkey, compared with 221,000 in Spain, 115,000 in Italy and 75,000 in France, official figures show.

Compared with the obstacle course presented to Russians in European consulates in Moscow, where every possible discouragement is put in the way of would-be visitors, Turkey rolls out the red carpet by allowing them to buy entry visas directly at the border for a mere $10 (U.S.).

Although they attract the highest number of Russian tourists within the EU owing to the high number of applications, the toughest countries to get into are Spain and Italy, Banko officials said.

Nadia, a 25-year-old designer who originally planned to spend her June holiday on Spain's Costa Brava, but finally had to settle for Turkey, agreed. "They asked me to bring a document proving that I earn in excess of $700 a month, and another attesting that I had bought dollars here that I would spend in Spain," she said.

"What it really amounted to was that I had to prove I was not going there to be a prostitute. It was so humiliating," she complained.

Although she complied with all the Spanish consulate's requirements and had all her documents in order, Nadia was eventually denied a visa.

Alvaro Alonso, an official with the Spanish consulate's tourist office, admitted that their demands could scare off visitors, but insisted that the precautions were justified.

"Every day, we see tourists who enter Spain and never return. It's natural we should ask for these documents," he said.

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Created: July 25, 2002
Last modified: September 9, 2002
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