How My Husband Saved Me From Extortion

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In response to "Everyone Pays, Few Want to Stop," a front-page article by Francesca Mereu on June 20.

Editor,
I run a medium-size beauty salon in Moscow. When I bought the salon two years ago, I was faced with several extortion attempts by city fire inspectors.
A fire official paid a visit shortly after I opened and made a list of the salon's fire violations. The official offered to take care of everything for monthly fee of "a few hundred dollars." I told him that I needed time to think about it.
When he came back two weeks later, I told him that I would reject his kind offer and instead spend the money to put the salon in full conformity with fire regulations. The official told me straight out that regardless of how much money I spent on fire protection equipment, the salon will never be in complete conformity, which means that I will have to pay fines in any case.
After rejecting his monthly fee offer once again, I also told him that my husband is a high-placed official in the Federal Security Service. Furthermore, I asked for his identification badge and wrote down his name and number.
Needless to say, the fire official never visited again, and my salon is now in full conformity with the law.
And guess what? I don't have a husband.
Name withheld upon request
Moscow


Russia Cutting Off Its Nose



In response to "AAR Getting the Last Laugh," a column by Yulia Latynina on June 25.

Editor,
In the West, a contract is king. Western business is shaped by the rule of law. Russian companies obviously do not respect the rule of law or contract law.
Russia defaulted on its debts in 1998, and now TNK is trying to wrestle control of TNK-BP in violation of the joint-venture agreement. To people in the West, this is very telling. First, it reinforces our idea that Russia is barbaric, where the mafia and robber-baron billionaires rule. Second, it reinforces our perception that Russian business cannot be trusted. Is it any wonder that Europe does not want Russian companies -- especially Gazprom -- to enter the European market?
Russia must be careful about nationalizing private business enterprises with foreign companies. Venezuela nationalized its oil fields, and Exxon took them to court throughout the world. It also seized Venezuela's assets in Europe and in the United States. The same thing can happen to TNK.
Russia must also be careful about not driving away foreign companies. The country is still developing in many ways and needs foreign labor and expertise. If TNK and Gazprom continue to disregard the rule of law, they might find themselves without skilled foreigners to extract their natural resources.
Shawn Phillips
Houston


Service Is Bad Everywhere



In response to "Service Without a Smile," a column by Georgy Bovt on June 19.

Editor,
I must note that the culprit is not the Soviet system. No -- there is a universal code among postal employees that prohibits either smooth or friendly transactions. You should see the central post office in Chicago. I am convinced that there is a cosmic brotherhood among that class of service provider that forbids any service whatsoever.
Karen Kelly
Chicago


Editor,
As a Westerner who has been traveling to Moscow on business for the past 10 years, I can conclude that Russians cares about two things more than anything else -- being the first and being the biggest. The rest, including polite customer service, doesn't matter.
Westerners, in contrast, think about being competitive. They care about issues that are demanded daily by market conditions -- excellence, quality, efficiency, profitability, cleanliness, service, repeat customers and referrals.
Richard Caracoza
Moscow


America Is No Soviet Union



In response to "America Isn't Much Better Than U.S.S.R.," a column by Alexei Bayer on June 2.

Editor,
Bayer's conclusion is flawed because he forgets that we have many more freedoms in the United States. And while there is no excuse for the human rights abuses committed by the United States at Guantanamo, there's nothing like a gulag in the United States either.
Soviet dissidents were indeed extremely brave and risked everything, but the vast majority of Soviet society knew little about them and hardly voiced any support for them.
Bayer is correct in pointing out the differences between the U.S. protests during the Vietnam and Iraq wars. But the reason the anti-Vietnam protests were so intense in the United States in the1960s and 1970s was the fact that there was a military draft during the Vietnam era. Young people today are not personally threatened by the Iraq war, but I am certain that if there were a draft today, there would have been riots in the streets starting back in 2003.
Letitia Rydjeski
Brattelboro, Vermont


Kudos to Russian Football



Editor,
Russia's football team and forward Andrei Arshavin played wonderfully against Holland. We are charmed by Arshavin and the Russian team. Now we hope that you will reach the finals and win! Love from Sweden.
Karin Wilberg
Stockholm