Moscow's Strict Regime
- By Mumin Shakirov
- Oct. 11 1997 00:00
Moscow's Strict Regime
In response to "," Oct. 11.
I am a third-generation Muscovite, but left the capital for the Urals and Siberia in 1981. I have since visited Moscow on many occasions, and have had an experience confirming the article's description of Moscow's police.
I was stopped near my house this May by two armed young men dressed in camouflage. They checked my passport, searched my bag and asked for my train ticket to prove that I had stayed in Moscow fewer than three days. Because I was returning from a scholarly conference in Riga on a group ticket, I could not produce it for them. Despite my arguments to let me go, I was taken into custody at police station No. 10 off Tverskaya Ulitsa and kept there until I signed a protocol. The officer on duty there wouldn't even show me the order by Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov that was the basis for my arrest.
Luzhkov has made the local police into a force that punishes those whose appearance they don't like and who don't want to obey the city's unjust laws.
Moscow can only be characterized today as a strict-regime zone -- the term used to describe the second most severe regime in Russia's labor camps -- despite the city's capitalist way of life and prominent democratic mayor, Yury Luzhkov, who is beloved by prosperous Muscovites.
Even after the pompous celebrations of Moscow's 850th anniversary, the Russian capital continues to be a police state that resembles the closed cities in which secret nuclear facilities were found. The only difference is that guests are allowed to come to the city if they pay enormous sums of money.
According to Luzhkov's degree on visitor registration, any person from another city, regardless of his citizenship, has the right to be in Moscow not more than six months. An exception is made for people with special status, such as diplomats, workers of international organizations, foreign citizens from outside the Commonwealth of Independent States and others.
Every citizen of the Russian Federation who does not have a Moscow residence permit and does not live in the Moscow region is obliged to register at the nearest police department within three days of his arrival at the home of friends or relatives. An exemption is made for people who are staying in hotels or are in the hospital, where they are registered by the local administrators.
Guests of the capital go through a true bureaucratic meat grinder for several days. This is because all the places in which they are required to register are found at various ends of the city. Moreover, the guests must be accompanied by the owner of the apartment throughout the various legal procedures. No one cares whether this person has free time or not. Moreover, if he does not obtain the written agreement of all members of the family, the registration is not valid.
First, a person staying with his friends is obliged to pay for the utilities, even though they are paid by apartment owner himself. Second, he must register as a renter of his host's apartment and pay the Moszhilservis agency for this obligatory operation. The guest pays money regardless of whether is a friend, colleague or distant relative of the host. In other words, to be a guest of an acquaintance means to be a renter in his apartment. The visitor must also pay for passport services at the police department that issues him the registration permit.
In the end, the Russian citizen will have spent around $60 for these forms. (The average monthly salary for a Russian citizen is 845,000 rubles, or $144.) Such is the price of staying in Moscow for 45 days. Even if the visitor registers for, say, 10 days, he is obliged to go through these procedures from beginning to end, although he pays an slightly smaller sum for utilities.
What happens if he does not submit to the Moscow government regulations? If he is held by the police without a registration permit, he can receive anything from a warning to a fine of up to $75.
This directly contradicts the Russian Constitution, which states that every citizen of the Russian Federation has the right to move freely and choose his place of residence. Moreover, the majority of citizens are not in a position to pay such large sums of money to register.
Citizens of the CIS countries other than Russia pay an even larger sum to be in Moscow -- $110 -- even if they have simply come on a pleasure trip. And the average wage of all the citizens of the CIS is well below this figure. If a foreigner is caught without a registration permit, he can be forced to pay anywhere from $80 to $300. And if he is caught more than once, he can be forcefully expelled from the city by law-enforcement officers.
It can be said that Moscow is a city for the chosen. It is mostly citizens from developed capitalist countries who are able to afford a stay here.
It should also be noted that close relatives, which includes parents, children, brothers and sisters, have the right to exemptions. But they must still have legal proof of their relations, and each of them must go through the same registration steps, with the exception of the payment for rent.
Every day, hundreds of thousands of people come to Moscow. Of course, the majority do not register, because they do not want to pay such astronomic sums just so that they can visit the city.
The revenues that are generated from these dubious regulations go to the rank-and-file police who check the documents of people on the streets and at trading centers of Moscow every day. The visitor is fortunate if he has a Slavic face and can lose himself among the Muscovite crowds. It is quite another matter for people with Asian or Caucasian traits.
And it is precisely these people who are filling both the city's coffers and the pockets of uniformed men. The police understand that the overwhelming majority of the capital's visitors do not have permits and therefore literally hunt these people down.
I understand the mayor's attempts to rebuild the city, provide for pensioners, stop the activities of criminal structures and become a real master of the city, which he has partly managed to do these past few years. But why create a police state and shake down visitors to the city?
The rules for a temporary stay in Moscow give the impression that a state of emergency has been introduced in the country.
Mumin Shakirov is a staff writer for Novaya Gazeta. He contributed this comment to The Moscow Times.