I was born a Czech, of two Czech parents, in 1948 in Prague.
My father was a Czech refugee in England at the start of WWII, having fled from his boarding school in Dijon when the Germans marched into France.
The British put my father through university, an engineering degree at Imperial College, which sadly he failed, probably because by this time he was struggling with a third language.
In London, he met my mother who was studying at North London Polytechnic. At the end of the war, in 1945, they got married and decamped to Prague, where my father could retake his degree, and study in his own language.
My mother worked for the American Embassy. In those days, the wife took the nationality of the husband. In 1947 I was born, and my Czech grandmother was seconded to care for me while my mother went back to work.
In 1948 the Russians moved into Czechoslovakia. My mother was given the opportunity to leave to return to her home country, taking me with her. The train journey lasted three days; I was a year old. My father was only allowed to leave after a great many forms were completed and a rather large sum of money changed hands, and he joined us in England in 1949. By April 1950 he had applied for, and been granted, British Naturalisation, and I was added to his papers.
I had an English life and schooling, I was able to speak some Czech, and was always very aware of the duality and specialness of being half Czech. But day to day, as far as I was concerned I was pretty much like everyone else in UK, although, as a child I got very fed up having to constantly spell my surname and put up with it being mispronounced.
I married (twice). I had children (four). I worked.
Fast-forward to Brexit.
The day after the referendum in June 2016, I was in my local farm shop and the assistant remarked very loudly that the vote was really good because now it meant they could get rid of all those “Eastern Europeans”. It was the first time I felt I had to choose. I chose Czech – typical Brit: going for the underdog. Oh the irony.
I learnt that not all the people who I thought were my friends voted as I did, and it was a shock. If they wanted refugees or immigrants “out”, I took it personally.
I went on all the marches. I bought a place in France, (which I subsequently sold), and a flat in Folkestone. I started an application for dual nationality, to regain my Czech birth citizenship. Over the next two years, there were some hiccups in this process, some of which involved falling in and out of love and getting very side-tracked in France, while still on the mission to get the paperwork necessary for the Czech authorities.
It was during this period that I discovered that the British system had no recognisable record of me prior to 1970. Thanks to parents who kept every bus ticket and bank statement, I had documents going back many decades, but the problem was that some of them were photostats (remember those?). I suspect that my father had placed the originals with a solicitor for safe-keeping, but as is the way of fate, both my father and his solicitor had died in the 1960s.
I did my best to track, but the original of the Naturalisation Paper has never come to light. My MP made some enquiries for me, and the best advice that the Home Office could come up with was that I could apply for Settled Status under the Windrush Scheme. I was appalled.
Eventually, marriage certificates all apostilled and translated, I made my application to the Czech Embassy for Czech citizenship. The Naturalisation Paper wasn’t legal, being only a copy which the Home Office refused to recognise, but the Czech embassy official thought it would be alright as I had so many other supporting documents. Some three weeks after I made the application, I discovered that there might be an officially recognised copy in the National Archives. Making a telephone call, I found that indeed, there I was on my father’s papers, and I now have a fully legal document. I still don’t understand why the Home Office didn’t check the Archives. I had spent two years thinking I could be put on a plane back to Prague, under the Windrush Scheme!
Since Brexit, I have had a number of very uncomfortable confrontations with people who have told me to go back where I came from. One, a resident here where I live, told me I should go home and stop leaching off his country.
And I can almost taste the xenophobia from the little old lady who lives on my landing. It’s difficult to be polite to these people, and I don’t understand where this all comes from. I look like them, I speak like them, I’ve been here over seven decades, and I have earned my own pension.
Then, on 28th May 2020, I heard from the Embassy that I had been given my Czech citizenship. The relief was enormous. I felt I had my whole identity.
I now live in France, in a small town in La Vienne, and have no desire to go back at all except to visit family. I have applied for my Czech passport at the Czech Embassy in Paris, and it is expected any time! I’m so excited.
All of my children have said they will take up the Czech citizenship that is now their inheritance, and I’m really pleased that I could make it possible for them.
But I still feel angry about Brexit. I’m angry with a weak, self-serving government that lied, and is still lying, and angry with the many voters who simply didn’t take the time or make the effort to research the facts. I’m appalled and frightened by the xenophobia that is now seemingly acceptable in the UK. I’m disappointed that the people who I thought were my friends don’t understand the sense of alienation I feel when they say “but I don’t mean you”.
You do absolutely mean me, and I’m so sad that it has come to this, that I have had to leave in order to be myself again.
lief is enormous. There are still some papers to complete, some documents to confirm and sign, and then the passport. The second half. I feel I now have my whole identity. ©
Susanna Pavelkova, Montmorillon, France
Czech, British and European
This testimony was first published May 2020 on the In Limbo website and updated again December 2020
Disclaimer:The views, feelings and opinions expressed in this blog post are solely those of the original author of this blog article. These views do not necessarily represent those of the In Limbo Project, In Limbo admins & team and/or any/all contributors to this site. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for legal advice from a licensed professional.
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