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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

FACES & VOICES: Stripping for The Tax Cops Saves a Bribe




Take my advice: When you reach the stage of performing a striptease dance in front of your local police constable and the tax inspector, do not delay any longer. Do not wait for the men in white coats to come for you with a straitjacket. Just go quietly to your nearest airline office and buy a ticket to leave Russia - for a little while.


What is this all about? Nothing really. It is just the story of the straw that broke the camel's back.


It began when the apartment block bombs were spreading terror in Moscow. I had a visit then from my local police constable. He asked to see my passport and a copy of my rental contract. I showed him the documents. He seemed satisfied. I felt comforted by the visit. Somebody was taking care of my security.


A few days later, however, the constable returned and said he was unhappy with the kind of rental agreement I had with my landlord. It had not been made in the presence of a notary. It seemed that my landlord was trying to avoid his tax obligations.


I was very sorry about that, I said. I paid my tax honestly but I could hardly be expected to answer for other citizens.


The constable asked me to tell the landlord that he wanted to see him. I did. The landlord just laughed, took his money and disappeared for another month.


So the constable came back, accompanied by a blonde tax inspector wearing a baby pink jumper and matching lipstick. She proceeded to sit down at my kitchen table and copy out all the details of the unsatisfactory rental agreement. I was cool. They were doing their jobs. My conscience was clear.


Then the constable, still standing in the corridor because I had not allowed him to walk into the kitchen in his dirty boots, winked at me. "You could have avoided all this fuss," he said, "if you had just allowed me to give you a little consultation. You know how poorly paid we constables are."


At which hint that a bribe was required, I went off like a ballistic missile.


"The consequences of your visit," I screamed, "will be that my utterly irresponsible landlord will raise the rent and I will end up paying his tax for him. I am already paying a horrendous amount of tax. I paid so much this year that the bank clerk nearly fell off her stool in shock. And what does the state give me? Health care? Decent roads? Reliable police? But no, you want more. Here, take the clothes off my back."


And I stripped off my jumper. And then my shirt. I was standing in the hall in my vest and bra.


"Calm down, lady," said the horrified tax inspector. The constable's eyes were popping out of his head.


I have always said that to survive in Russia, one must maintain a Buddhist-like serenity. But I was a nervous wreck.


So I flew away for a holiday. I am aware that this option is not available to the majority of Russians. I can only respect their superior endurance.


Now I am back, in good mental health, ready for all the madness that Russia can throw at me. The constable has not paid any further visits. Obviously, he is busy, sending other citizens to the verge of insanity.