Get the latest updates as we post them — right on your browser

. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Accountants Find Paperwork Taxing

In Russia, there is nothing that brings back bad memories like a line.

Though most lines — for shoes, bread and women's sweaters, for instance — disappeared with the fall of communism, the pesky queues can still form in a flash when tax time comes.

That is when accountants working for everything from oil companies to kindergartens race around the capital to comply with reporting requirements. They file six different reports with six different offices in six different parts of the city.

And as the routine avoidance of taxation in post-Soviet Russia starts to change, these accountants wait. And wait some more.

On Oct. 30, outside Moscow's Central District Statistical Office, they waited at least four hours. The nondescript, two-story building is the second-to-last stop in the arduous process of financial reporting for more than a third of the city's businesses.

Most of those waiting work for small businesses. This group, which has neither the money nor the connections to get around the rules, is particularly vulnerable to bureaucratic hurdles — and about a fifth of Moscow's working population is employed by a small business.

The system works like this. Every three months, accountants from all over the city stop at the six offices: the tax office, pension fund, social security fund, medical insurance fund, employment fund and the statistics office. At each stop, a bureaucrat receives and reviews material before awarding a stamped receipt to every supplicant waiting patiently outside his door, one by one.

At the end of last month, the deadline for small businesses to answer questions about how they spend their time, this line ran out of patience. Up front, an elderly man, who said he was a war veteran, rushed the door, which was guarded by two policemen.

"Hey, baldy, I saw you cut!" shouted a wiry woman who identified herself only as Galina, an accountant. "Don't think I won't remember you."

Snaking down the stairs, out the door, through a courtyard and most of the way down a normally quiet city block, the scene resembled a Soviet-era bread line. Passers-by gaped at the hundreds of people, who passed the time reading, doing crossword puzzles or just waiting.

Toward the front of the line, the accountants were getting restless. For one thing, it was drizzling, almost raining, and after almost three hours of waiting outside, moods had soured. Secondly, part of the queue was trapped under a flock of birds that had settled in the overhanging trees, causing people in the line to swerve and duck to keep clean.

The question arises: Why not mail in the forms?

Well, the post office is consistently unreliable, and some tax offices demand a stamp from the statistics bureau before they agree to accept a company's financial report. No one can afford to lose the appropriate form. So most kept waiting, shifting from one foot to the other, and clutching their documents, which were new.

"Remember the planned economy?" asked Larisa Kuznetsova, chief accountant for a delivery company with 67 employees. "This is it. They have to change this."