Gogulski discusses his life as a stateless ex-American. His decision to formally renounce his citizenship, what lead up this decision and how he did it.
Mike Gogulski, “Why would you want to be part of the largest and most criminal organizations in the world? Because that is what nation states are in my eyes. “
Els Duran and Evelien Vehof traveled around the world to see how stateless people live. Today in the latest episode: a guy who is stateless on purpose.
In the past 2 years we interviewed around 50 stateless people. Every one of them would have loved to have citizenship. During the investigation we stumbled across the remarkable tale of Mike Gogulski, former American in Slovakia. Through his weblog we came in contact with him.
Gogulski wants to share his story with us so we visited him in Bratislava. He picked us up at a cafe in the center. It is 15 degrees below zero, there is nobody on the streets, that’s how cold it is. On the way to his apartment he buys a little stash of cigarettes. Mike became stateless in 2008. “I would recommend this to anyone, really” he tells us surrounded by noisy computers and full ashtrays in the living room “Why would you want to be part of the biggest and most criminal organizations in the world? Because that is what nation states are in my eyes.”
In 1997 Mike realized for the first time he wanted to leave America. “I was planning to emigrate, to ask for a different nationality and then give up my American citizenship. When in 2003 the US invaded Iraq for the first time, I was sure: I wanted to break myself free from the American nation in every possible way. I wanted to lose my citizenship, regardless of whether or not I would get citizenship in a different country.”
Mike investigated the procedures and laws surrounding nationality. He decided after a trip through Europe not to go back to the US and settled in Slovakia. In the US it would have simply been impossible to give up his citizenship. “With all the filled out papers under my arm I went to the American embassy here in Bratislava. They of course asked me if I was sure of my decision and tested to see that I wasn’t crazy, or under the influence. I came through all of the tests fine, luckily.” Two weeks after this Mike received a certificate that said he was no longer an American citizen, together with his blacklisted passport.
Mike was relieved. “I was finally not bound to the state that does such horrible things in the world. I was no longer an American and an citizen of no country! Those nation states we have to get rid of anyway. Call me an anarchist.”
How the world should be organized instead, he doesn’t know yet. “I would prefer to see that there was a state for every person separately. But people could also organize themselves per block or neighborhood. There is always a doctor, handyman, a teacher without a group like that. You take care of each other without interference from a state.”
Unfortunately for Gogulski, he has to have a recognized form of identity to be able to survive in this world. He applied for a passport for the stateless at the Slovak immigration office. “Now I have an official ‘1954 Convention’ travel document for the stateless, with which I can at least freely travel within the Schengen area. Outside of that area I need to apply for a visa, for America too. I don’t know if I will ever want to go back to my old country, because I don’t trust that state at all. What if they arrest me for the fact that I turned my back to them?”
In 2007, when he decided to become stateless, Mike started a website “First of all because I wanted to share my choice and how it would all end up going, but also to sort of have a foot in the door. I couldn’t go back any more, because the whole world could read on my website I was really going to do it.” He even now gets a lot of reactions through his website. From Americans who want to give up their citizenship to questions from people who are thinking about becoming stateless. “I help them as best I can. The first thing I advise people to do it to investigate the situation in their country. Can they, for instance, even get a travel document for the stateless? Because without papers you are nowhere in this world, you have to stay realistic.”
Mike lights yet another cigarette. “I want to make clear that you definitely shouldn’t compare my situation to the majority of the 12 million stateless people. Most of them didn’t pick to be stateless, are treated really badly and can’t go anywhere. In that way I am privileged. I have a permanent residence, a house, I work as a freelance translator, and can easily look after my own livelihood. It is for me one of the best choices I have ever made.”