The Right to Bribe

Have you any idea how much it costs to replace one’s driver’s license in Chechnya? 4,000 rubles (133 USD). But that is only if you are satisfied with the old-style paper certificate. The new plastic version costs 1,200 rubles more. For purposes of comparison: in neighbouring Ingushetia, if you need to replace your license because it has expired or is lost or damaged, you have to pay an official state fee of 200 rubles.

But that is only if you obtained the license legally, by passing your driving test and presenting a medical certificate. If the license is an illegal one, i.e., it was bought without all that, you have to add 500 rubles for the driving test certificate (also fictitious, but necessary in case the traffic police want to see it), plus commission. As a result, in Ingushetia a document that for motorists is more important even than a passport ends up costing more than 1,000 rubles.

All of this I recently found out for myself. At a Russian checkpoint the duty policeman noticed that my license bore the stamp of REO, the former Ichkerian driver vehicle licensing agency. This had been noticed before, but without any unpleasant consequences for me apart from a loss of time. If anyone found fault with the document, I said that there had been no other authority in the republic at that time, that back then it was also recognized by Moscow, and that I was nobody special.

Usually it worked, but not this time. There was no getting round this cop. He did not interrupt me, but could not take his eyes off the license. He had noticed that it was a few days past its expiry date. In the end I had to agree to his proposal to come to an honourable agreement. The “agreement” was cemented with a 1,000-ruble banknote.

I am no miser, but I don’t feel much inclination to go around squandering that kind of money at checkpoints. There was also the possibility that they might impound the car. In doing so, they would be acting within the law, and it would be followed by all kinds of things including court proceedings, parking fines and other headaches.

As soon as possible, therefore, I headed for the nearest police station. There it was explained to me that a) licenses could only be replaced at the Chechen interior ministry’s driver vehicle licensing agency which is located at the entrance to Grozny, and b) there was no point in going there without four or five thousand rubles in my pocket. And this not in order to obtain an illegal license, but one that was completely legitimate, one that bore not the picture of a wolf but the official heraldry of the Russian state in a conspicuous position.

I took a minibus and travelled to Nazran. At the Ingush traffic police office I had no difficulty in finding people who agreed to replace my license at a reasonable price. But then an insurmountable obstacle rose before me: according to some internal statute, a replacement license could only be issued to me in my place of permanent residence. The Ingush traffic policemen could not explain the origin of this regulation, but they offered to solve the “problem” by writing my name on a photocopy of a passport that bore one of their local serial numbers, and lo and behold, I would have a residence permit. For this “service”, of course, they were going to charge a higher price.

It is one thing to drive with an illegal license, and quite another to be added to the files of the traffic police with passport data that is not one’s own. Out on the roads the war is not yet over, the authorities are struggling with the terrorists who all too often falsify documents and thus attempt to evade the law. In solving the issue of travel by driving my own car I could create a serious problem for myself. I had to refuse the policemen’s kind offer, and returned home empty-handed.

For the past week now, like some Chechen guerrilla, I have been avoiding checkpoints and choosing roads were where there are no military or police. A couple of times I was caught. In one instance I was simply released, but in the other I had to fork out a wad of cash. Driving of this kind gives one more than the usual adrenalin rush, but even so, I feel that I can’t go on like this for much longer. I have now attained an age when every encumbrance causes more detriment to the body than advantage.

I will have to buy (the word “replace” obviously does not apply here) that ill-starred license. And not just anywhere, but in Chechnya, granting my consent to what is in essence a legalized racket. As I understand it , if someone endowed with a little bit of power uses it as a source of private income, that is corruption. And when in exchange for an enormous sum of money he does what the law requires him to do at a fixed and established rate, it additionally smacks of extortion. Or perhaps I’ve misunderstood something?〈=1

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