August 16, 2015
We are at the police station in Batajnica, a small town in which I lived before I immigrated to Canada fourteen years ago. I came to the police station to complete the so-called residence registration. It is a remnant of the old communist system that used police registration of residence as means of controlling visitors to the country. Now the main purpose of this registration seems to be improving the cash flow for police stations, since you need to pay for this “service”. As my short story will show, some police officers have found other purposes for these registrations of residence. For example, some use them as opportunities to improve their damaged self-esteem.
The police station in Batajnica consists of one room, which is accessed directly from the street. As my aunt, who is my host in Batajnica, and I enter this room that reeked of cigarette smoke and looked like it hasn’t been cleaned in months, the police officer that seemed to be in charge stared at us.
Police officer: “Did anyone tell you that you are allowed to come in?”
Me: “Well, we didn’t know whether or not we are allowed, but now we’ve got the answer. Thank you, we’ll wait outside.”
We went out and waited for half an hour on the sidewalk.
Another officer comes out after about half an hour and gives us a hand signal to enter.
The first police officer looks at me with a sneer: “Look at how you are dressed. You can’t come to the police station in shorts and sandals. Do you know that I could send you back now?”
Me: “It’s not a problem. I can come back.”
He continues to scan my passport.
Me: “You know, in my neck of the woods police stations don’t have this rule, so I did not know.”
Police officer (hands me back my passport): “You have the right to stay in the country for ninety days.”
Me: “Is that all or there’s anything else?”
Police officer: That’s all.
Me: “Thank you and goodbye.”
Some things in Serbia have changed over the years, but police stations are not among those things. Home sweet home!