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Ten years ago, I was on a train traveling overnight from Berlin to Moscow. Part of the paperwork I had to have ready for the trip was a transit visa in order for me to pass through the country of Brelarus. There were several visas required for that trip and I had them all together tucked inside my passport which was safely zipped inside a pocket of my shoulder bag.
My accommodations on the train was a small compartment with a phone booth-sized bathroom with a toilet and a sink.
I think we left Berlin around mid-morning and it was an interesting, but not spectacular, ride. I do recall that the last stop before I fell asleep was Warsaw.
I was startled awake in the middle of the night by someone shouting in the corridor outside my compartment and banging on my door. I sleep in a T-shirt and skivvies, so it took me perhaps 30-seconds to pull on a pair of jeans. The pounding continued until I yanked the door open.
Standing outside my door in the corridor wearing military uniform was a fiftyish woman with shoulder length dyed blond hair. Flanking her and a half-step back, were two uniformed soldiers, each carrying what, as a laymen, I can only describe as a submachine gun. All three wore military uniforms.
The woman barked something which sounded like “papers” and I handed her my passport. She scowled
as she flipped though the pages. Then she spoke another couple of words to me and raised her voice while repeating the phrase. This time she nodded her head toward the door of the tiny lavatory and I reached out and pulled the door open. It was empty of course.
Taking a little tool from her belt, she punched a hole in the transit visa, then tucked it into a pouch on her belt. She pressed a small rubber stamp onto a blank page in my passport and, rather than simply handing it back to me, flipped it disdainfully onto my berth. Then all three of them moved off down the corridor. Altogether, start to finish, it was a thoroughly unpleasant experience lasting no more than two minutes.
I thought about that little incident this morning when I read that a commercial airliner belonging to Ryanair had been forced to land in Belarus by a military jet. It seems a passenger on the flight was a journalist and political dissident who has become an annoyance. He was removed from the plane by the authorities after it landed at Minsk, the capital city of Belarus.
At the time, I was outraged at the treatment I received on that train. But, looking back, it was nothing compared to forcing down a commercial passenger jet and arresting someone who has been writing things that pissed off the Belarus president, Alexander Lukashenko.
As we might expect, the world is outraged. Well, everyone except the Russian authorities, who think arresting a dissident journalist is fine, although I suspect they think forcing down a commercial jet is a bit heavy-handed. They prefer to poison their dissidents.
This article first appeared on www.trainsandtravel.com
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