The Russian Consul of Alaska

"Life in the USA is not that luxurious and happy as we see in movies"

A son was born into a family of Russian emigrants in Shanghai in 1939. He lived in China with his parents for 15 years. In 1952, the family moved to Canada. Over the 20 years, qualified mass communications journalist, a graduate from the North Dakota University, Mr. Smirnov came to Alaska. He worked at the Alaska branch of America's ICA Company for 30 years. During 1991-1999, Steve Smirnov worked as a special consultant of Anchorage mayor. In 1994, then-president of Russia Boris Yeltsin appointed Steve Smirnov Honorary Consul of Russia in Alaska.

Recently, the Magadanskaya Pravda newspaper interviewed Steve Smirnov, the aide to the reelected Alaska governor and the Honorary Consul of Russia.

— What does the status of an Honorary Consult mean and why was it conferred upon you?

Since I came to Alaska, I became a kind of a free-lance assistant for the Soviet Consulate located here. I was often asked to help solve problems connected with Russian fishermen, sailors staying in Anchorage or other places in Alaska for any of several reasons. While official representatives of Russia and the USA were investigating disputes, the people were kept in Alaskan jails. I visited them there and did everything I could for them.

— As far as we know, this is a volunteer job.

Indeed, this is not my service but rather voluntary work. It's a pleasure for me to help Russians in Alaska.

— The emigration from Russia and former Soviet republics to the USA has seriously expanded within then past 10-13 years. What problems do Russians have to face in Alaska?

Getting a visa is the most serious problem now. People from Russia's Far East who have been already rejected business or tourist visas at the USA Consulate in the city of Vladivostok often appeal to me for visa support. In many instances, the rejection of visas is justified as people fail to bring enough documented evidence to convince Consulate officials the purpose of their visits. As a rule, people are rejected visas if Consulate officials are dubious about some things surrounding this issue. The problem is that within the past ten years many people, even businessmen, never returned to Russia after visiting America. That is why regulations for granting visas have been toughened.

There are 6,000 Russians now living in Alaska; over 100 people more enter the state every month. It is quite natural that the US Emigration Service wants to know about the newcomers and the period of their stay in the state. Some manage to get married within the period of staying in Alaska; as soon as they get green cards they try to move their relatives to the USA as well. This is one of the problems where people ask me for help most of all.

— Numerous marriage agencies that have opened websites on the Internet are one of the easiest ways to get to the USA and settle there. Women and seldom men use the agencies to find a match in America. What is your opinion about it?

The Internet is promoting advertising of men and women as prospective spouses. These are mostly people wishing to leave Russia or the CIS. It is also good business for companies bringing people for good reasons as well as bad. Sometimes there is no picture of the chosen one on the Internet, in this case Americans don't know who is to come to an interview in the Embassy.

People offering themselves are often lonely and disappointed. I recommend people to get acquainted in real not virtual life as such Internet acquaintances may end in a real tragedy for both sides. When people try to establish this kind of contacts they hardly realize what consequences it may entail. I know many instances when elder American men married young Russian girls with a view to create good families. Unfortunately those families fell apart as soon as girls became legal citizens of the USA. The US Emigration Service is working on the problem now. One of the main objectives the Service pursues is to find out whether marriages are fictitious or not.

It is a tragic mistake for Russian women to seek marriage with American men. Leaving Russia for the USA they hardly have a notion of the mode of living of Americans, their culture, law and psychology. That is why Russian women in America often find themselves in a miserable situation having no money to get back to Russia. Such doings are typical of Russian girls from poor families who hope to find fantastic life in America. But life in the USA is quite different; it is not that luxurious and happy as we see in movies.

— As compared with European countries, America seems to be a more democratic country.

Indeed, people have more opportunities in the USA to fulfill themselves. But people have to work hard to be a success here. The American laws are more liberal, Americans themselves are frank and sincere, and others often make use of it. The cult of a family has become traditional for the USA. Unfortunately, the number of divorces is increasing now; international families divorce more often, even those that have children.

Each state has regulations of its own. According to the legislation of many states, women have priority with respect to family property in case of divorce; they get maintenance from their husbands who also pay insurance for the children. Divorces are ruinous for the health of the nation. Marriages of convenience cause really tragic pain to those who sincerely wish to create families. Special rehabilitation courses are held in the USA for people suffered as a result of divorces. We also have such a school in Anchorage that helps people understand the situation and restore their psychological health.

The economic crisis Russia experienced five years ago brought lots of emigrants to the USA through marriages of convenience. The economic and political situation in Russia has become stable; the living standard of many people has improved. There are less people in Russia who wish to get to the USA at any price. Many Russian women whom I helped were disappointed with the life here and got back to Russia. Those people, who purchased landed and movable property in the USA but had to leave the country because they were rejected residential permits, were even more disappointed.

— As is known, 4 million of children and teenagers disappear without leaving a trace every year in the world. Nobody can guarantee that the statistics is precise, as the number may be bigger. Nobody knows where to look for these children. Have you ever faced the problem in Alaska?

I know instances of illegal adoption of Russian children. Boys and girls are brought to the USA allegedly for vacations, but later they disappear. Then such children are moved to other states where they are illegally adopted.

Children from children's homes are dreaming to have parents; many families in the USA would like to adopt children but legal adoption is very expensive here. Besides, the adoption procedure is very long and expensive as well.

— You have no fixed working schedule: people may call late in the night if they have problems, and you immediately go to help these people.

You are right, if some Russian falls ill or asks me for help, I go to the hospital and settle his problems. In case if some Russian is arrested, I also have to go to jail and help the arrested. It may happen even at 5-6 a. m.

My everyday work is assistance in prolongation of visas, in getting Russian passports in case if previous ones already expired, I help people with the procedure of inviting relatives to the USA.

My work brings me really happy moments sometimes. I am happy to see grown-up adopted children in American families. However, sometimes even tragic situations occur. A year ago the Russian Consulate in Seattle asked me to check-up an adoptive family in Alaska. They gave me the address of the family, but when I came there I saw just a mail box there; there was no home or office there. I addressed to the FBI, and officials from the department on adoption of children were detained. An investigation connected with disappearance of the adopted child still continues.

— I know there are many Russian students at the universities in Anchorage and Fairbanks. What would you wish them?

I wish them to get good education in America and get back to Russia to help change the life of the country for the better. I know that about 90% of Russian students get back to the country after graduating universities in the USA.

Anna Vernaya

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Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov