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June 19, 2003 by AK

I went to a birthday dinner party in an upscale Moscow restaurant last night. Most guests were rich by Russian standards; some were rich by any measure. A few seats from me, there sat one bearded gentleman in his late forties or fifties talking incessantly about real estate (his and others’) and speculating in land, trying to sell a few acres to the lady next to him (successfully). Among other things, he talked about his beautifully located country house a hundred miles or so from Moscow. He delighted in the fact that everything was so cheap there — especially the cops. “When I turn into the main road, the road cops salute me. Let me tell you what happened to me once. There’s a speed limit of 40 km per hour there, and sure enough, I was driving at 140 kmph. A cop pulled me over; I stopped the car and stuck my arm out of the window, with a 100-ruble note in my hand. You know what? He was so happy — 100 rubles is big money there — that he didn’t even check my license and registration! Ain’t it great?”

I’ve grown pretty insensitive over years, but this guy made me seriously sick. Every Russian knows road cops are corrupt, and virtuallly all car owners have bribed them off at least once, but most feel embarrassed by the way the system “works”. This type of bragging is perverse.

100 rubles is about $3.25.


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