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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Extra Charge for Expats Struck Down

A ground-breaking court case may finally wipe away the hefty "foreigner surcharge" that forces those without a Russian passport to pay up to three times as much for hotel rooms, travel tickets and entry tickets to museums and other places of interest.

The principle that foreigners pay more seemed to be invincibly enshrined in Russia. At least until last week, when American Irene Stevenson won a civil suit against a hotel owned by the Russian government, after the management refused to return her passport until she paid three times as much for her room as her Russian colleagues.

"This was the straw that broke the camel's back," said Stevenson, a trade union expert based in Moscow, who said the incident took place in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg in December 1995. "I was furious because there was no prior warning of the higher price."

Although no stranger to life in Russia, having lived here for the last eight years, Stevenson decided to press charges against the Oktyabrskaya Hotel on the grounds that this affair was a clear case of discrimination against foreigners, thereby breaching the Russian Constitution and a number of laws and international norms ratified by Russia.

Stevenson's case essentially rested on Article 62 of the constitution, which stipulates that "Foreign citizens ... have the same rights and are equally liable as citizens of the Russian Federation."

She initiated the action at a Yekaterinburg city court as a firm matter of principal rather than for financial gain. The subsequent ruling in Stevenson's favor awarded her 1 million rubles ($180) for "moral damages" -- a slim return -- but it sets a precedent in the Sverdlovsk region, if not the whole of Russia."We didn't expect to win," said Stevenson's lawyer, 21-year-old Marina Krasovitskaya. "Although on December 1995 be shown to the court.

At the next session the hotel produced records for July 1996, which did apparently confirm that all guests paid the same rates. But when records for December 1995 were finally presented for inspection upon the judge's insistence, these indicated that with just one exception foreigners paid more than Russians, regardless of their status.

The Oktyabrskaya introduced flat rate charges for all guests after Krasovitskaya filed documents for the case in March 1996, before the case formally came to court.

The hotel director had little to say about the matter. "The court's decision must be respected," said Viktor Nazarov in a telephone call Friday. "Now everyone pays the same in the hotel."

Yevgeny Kolpeshev, deputy head of the Sverdlovsk regional government, said that there would be no appeal against the ruling.

"Everything was resolved correctly and justly. Foreigners should not have to pay more than Russians," he said, adding that the hotel would nevertheless retain a system of discounts for guests of the Sverdlovsk government, regardless of their nationality.

The Oktyabrskaya is by no means alone. Russian hotels routinely charge foreigners higher prices. In Moscow, the Varshava Hotel quoted a price of 195,000 rubles for Russian citizens, and $55 for foreigners.

Krasovitskaya said Thursday that on the grounds of the Russian Constitution and other Russian and international legislative acts and agreements, all foreigners may theoretically contest nationality-based price variations in all spheres of private and government activity.

But while people may feel comfortable challenging big companies like Aeroflot, who charge foreigners at least a third more for internal flights, it seems unlikely that constitution-brandishing foreigners will now take to the streets.

At the Pushkin Museum, for example, where foreigners are charged three times as much as Russians to enter, the 30,000 ruble ticket price for those who are not citizens of the CIS is still comparable to museum prices in the West.

The museum director, Irina Antononovna, was adamant about the correctness of the price variations.

"For foreigners these [surcharged] prices are negligible -- do you know how much it costs to visit the Louvre?" she said indignantly. "The constitution has got nothing to do with it. We don't get paid our wages any more. These entry prices are what we live on."