Every morning the same game: Maybe a fast cigarette with shaking, sweating hands before starting? Shit I don’t smoke anymore. Or a sip of vodka? Bullshit, it’s morning. I feel like puking – have to find to a tree. I am sick. Starting the car means inevitable consequences.
I feel just like in school times before a big mathematics exam. You skipped the last classes, you are not prepared at all, you will fail badly. I am sick. Leaving the house in the morning, going to school means inevitable consequences.
And still I turn the key and start the car. Driving three minutes and you see him from far away. You go slower, even if it doesn’t help, you see his white blue car behind the trees, his big hat. You see him looking at your car, at your foreign number plate, you see him raising his arm, pointing at you. Your heart is beating into your neck, you swallow not to puke. You hate him and you stop your car.
The first time we are stopped by police about forty kilometers after the border to Russia at road junction. All our documents are fine, but the officer asks me to come with him. He shows me, that I went too late to the left lane and that I crossed the line. “My friend, you will walk now – you understand – I have to take your driving license.” I pretend for a while that I don’t understand him. And of course he doesn’t want my license but money, more concrete: a hundred dollars. He shows me a book with Russian road rules – it’s not the last time on our trip that I will see this book with this stupid rules. He sends his partner away, not to disturb our fruitful conversation. Finally agree on 75 dollars and I feel so bad, so angry about him, about myself that I paid.
In other cases they will say “In Poland you don’t fix seat belts? I think your seat belt wasn’t fixed. Paying immediately or writing a protocol?”, “You waited too long at the crossing. That’s dangerous. Cost a thousand rubles. Oh – you have only 500? So 500 are fine to. I will do the bank stuff for you. Just give me the money.”, “Welcome to our republic. You have to register here. Please come with me. Ah, yesterday you didn’t have to register. Okay then. Have a good trip.”, “This is an insurance paper? See, that’s how a real Russian insurance document looks like. Yours looks different. You have to pay – you understand – money.”, “You are the owner of this car. So only you can drive here, not your husband. You have to pay a fine.”
What to do? Shoot back!
You can’t do much about getting stopped by the Russian road police. They are everywhere and you will meet them every some minutes waiting for you. Especially at the inner state borders they block the whole road and stop everybody. From normal policemen you can try to hide behind a big truck. But they are not always around when you need them. At least stay close to another car in order to hide your foreign number plate.
If you are stopped, don’t go alone with the policeman. When they want to get bribes, Russian policemen love to talk alone about that topic, obviously not to have witnesses. “We are a family and we always go together” is a sentence they don’t like, but they don’t have good arguments against it. Sometimes Hanna started to play with the policeman and made negotiations easier. “We don’t have any money left, the cash machine doesn’t except our cards” helped as well several times. The most effective tip we got unfortunately quite late on the way back to Sochi: “Shoot back! Even Russian police officers are afraid of media and proofs.”. So Anna always took the camera, when an officer looked through our window.” That helped a lot.
Nearly everybody is paying the officers in order not to have any problems. Unfortunately the Russian state fails to do anything effective against it. Turkey and Georgia show how to solve the problem: pay your officers normally and make them being afraid of losing their job, if they take bribes. Due to such measures both Turkish and Georgian people told us, that the awful times of paying police are over. They will be now offended, if you offer them any money.
We learned by experience that corruption is an awful thing. Even now – in the save Georgia – first time in my life I always fix my seatbelt and our both hearts are still beating faster when somebody with a white shirt is standing at the road. We still count police cars we pass by, police officers which didn’t stop us, to who we didn’t have to pay. We will not go back to Russia with a car until things changed there.
Our first book is out!
We have published our first book (for now just in Polish:) about our Central America Trip.
See, read and order here »
Poor you! Glad that the Russian nightmare is over!
Continue doing what you’re doing and have a safe trip ahead :)
Ahhh, it is too bad, bribery really sucks, it makes you stand helpless in the face of the police. It is aweful, I know that from the arab countries! Anyhow, I hope you enjoy your stay.
Thats why I never learnt to drive
i’m sorry to say it’ll take more than just a pay rise to stop this happening: the problem is that people don’t understand it’s actually WRONG to give/accept bribes. in the case of real offences, the corrupt system is also much easier for everyone involved – a few banknotes change hands, and that’s the end of the problem.
p.s. here’s an interesting footnote:
Must have costed many blowjobs to visit Russia
Too late to give advice about Russia, but, coming back from a family car trip to ex-communist countries (similar to yours, in fact), here it is:
1. DON’T PAY.
Refuse. Don’t give documents, only photocopies.
2. Drive away if the guy turns nasty. (Sic)
3. Tell them they are being recorded (car cam) and uploaded to YouTube.
A case in point: I ended up shouting in Turkish at their border and telling every officer that they have a mess, disrespect people’s time, and talked to the Turkey sputniks (aka “fellow travellers”) to raise hell about it with their politicians.
What you experienced in Russia we experienced in Ukraine on the way to Moldova in 2010 while being on tour with my band in a german car. We even got pulled over by fake police/military. We felt the same fear like you when we saw police on the side of the road. Terrible drives. But we also went on tour in Russia 2 times in 2009 and 2011 with our van and never had big problems on the roads, just once and they let us go although we have been “too fast”. Not speaking any russian helped. Beside that we only had good experiences. Anyway, it is a fucked up feeling.
Thank you for writing this blog! I have so much respect for you and this trip!