Saturday, August 2, 2008

Kazakhstan vs Russia : A Comparative Analysis of Bribe Tactics

During the course of our trip we've been exposed to multiple examples of bribe and police corruption, in Russia, Ukraine, and Kazahkstan, to date.

I feel that Kazahkstan has a long way to go, in terms of tactics and methodology to reach the level of success that Russian police have attained. It's important to note that the Russians have had a stronger infrastructure for much longer and it's really a testament to their engineering efforts to allow their police force to fleece motorists much more efficiently and effectively.

In Russia we were passing a huge monument to Soviet dominance (?) when I drifted into the passing lane to allow for a better shot for Cloud to snap. In their usual manner, the cops had lined both lanes of traffic with wand-wielding officers pulling over potential marks one after another. We almost always got pulled over in Russia when we were spotted, mainly because we look foreign. This time was no different.

The officer quickly pulled me over, waved me out of the car, asked for my papers, my passport, my license, the car insurance, the car this and that, and each request, I would shrug my shoulders as if I didn't understand what he was saying. This is pretty normal. The less you understand, the more frustrated they get, the more time they waste on you the less time they can spend on people who will simply hand over cash.

He took me into the roadside office, and sat me down at his terminal. He asked me if I wanted jail jail jail? I responded with smiles and shoulder pats and showed them my empty wallet. He didn't like that and got a few other guys in the room and they found some wormy little tech to get on the computer.

He smiled smugly and brought up Babelfish, and nodded at me knowingly, pointing at the screen. He typed in 500 euro fine ride center lane no seatbelt bad license.

He pointed and asked me if I understood. I convinced him that I got into the center lane because his partner waved me to the lane. He got instantly frustrated and called that cop in, who from what I could tell, said that it was probably true.

I laughed and said Ok bye? He got pretty upset and sat me back down and took my license and did scissors motion with his hands and put it into a cabinent and locked it. Then he pointed to the screen, as if the 500 euro would make all this go away.

I just shrugged and smiled.

He then got out a pad of tickets and said

"Protocol understand? Protocol!!!"

I said, "Ticket? Ok ticket! protocol! and got my pen out."

He then kept on and got his boss who came in stammering and yelling, I said that I had no money that the 'Soldats at the border took every penny'.

They laughed about that...and showed no sympathy. I then offered cigarettes and american whiskey. They quickly nodded and waved me back to the car, 45 minutes having elapsed.

I grabbed 4 of our bribe packs, Marlboro, American, and a bottle of Hungarian dessert wine, Tokaj. Hardly whiskey and worth 3-4 dollars.

I went back to the station and the chief there invited me for a drink, and I said NO NO expensive, Russian Vodka? They all liked this, and we had a shot each. It was pretty surreal, doing vodka shots with Russian cops in their office mid-day.

I wanted to get out quickly, before they opened teh bottle and realized it wasn't American, wasn't expensive, and certainly wasn't whiskey.

We drove on.

In Kazahstan, police bribery isn't all that common, to be honest...but there are pockets where money has rushed into areas and made corruption a bit more common. The worst area we've found, really the only bad one so far, was in Quislorda (sp?) an oil-rich city in the south central of the country. We got pulled over 5 times total in less than 2 hours on the road.

On our way out, we got pulled over by the two biggest hillbilly cops imaginable. One tall and lanky, with a mouth of gold teeth, the other fat and stout with a toothpick dangling from his mouth and a holster on his side. A careful glance showed it was empty.

Steven and I quickly popped out of the car and shook hands fast, and said hello, and were as friendly as possible. It's the best tactic, and getting into their faces fast usually confuses them and takes away their intimidation edge.

These two were really struggling to find something wrong. They spent a lot of time looking at the class of our licenses and Goldie tried to tell us that Cloud's E license was invalid since in Kazahkstan a B license is required to drive a car. His screwup was that the E class was actually a class that allowed you to drive anything! So even if it didn't match, it still allowed him to drive whatever he wanted on the roads. Nice try Goldie. I showed him mine, and said that my C class was the same as a B and that it was just different. He tried to push on his fat parner to keep that train of thought going but Stout Kazahk was smart enough to know it was a dead end.

They went around and tried to say that our Mongol Rally stickers were peeling and that was a violation. I shrugged and acted ignorant of his pleas, and he got bored.

Stout Kazahk then went into our car and looked around, while Goldie pantomimed me performing sexual acts with Kazahk women in the middle of the road. It was surreal. He wanted to know how many of the local girls I'd had my way with. I kept saying I was married and pointed to my ring. He pointed to his teeth and said "NO marry too baby".

Yeah that's probably why you aren't married, Goldie.

Eventually they had both poked into the car and in our carelessness we'd left in plain sight a pile of money from the last shakedown (we pulled cash to hide it so we could turn our pockets inside out for cops), a bottle of Johnny Walker (bribe whiskey) and a carton of cigarettes...all laying there for the taking.

They talked it over and then Stout Kazahk's cell phone rang and they jabbered a bit and he ran back to the car to answer it. He pointed to us and said GO America! Go bye. We waved and saluted and got ready to get back on the road.

Goldie took one step back, one last ditch effort to get some of our loot, and Cloud stepped between him. He was on a ridge so with his scary beard and a newfound height advantage, it took the wind out of the poor cop's sail.

We honked and said Love Kazahkstan!! and waved to our new friends. They said Love USA!! and waved back and gave us a hearty police siren counter-salute, and drove up the road to set up their next location to stage out of.

We drove on, with mixed emotions. It was nice to walk away unmolested, but we couldn't help but feel a bit bad for the two of them, and their inexperience and ineptitude with fleecing foreign motorists. I think with time they'll get better, if they are given the chance to grow and excel.

Steven and I are off to the Russian border now. Updates will be sparse.


Josh said...

ahaha, sounds like you are having fun

R.M. said...

Did you just add that "showed him my wedding ring" so I can be more at ease especially with all these cute girls singing "Hotel California" to you in restaurants? *sigh* Hurry up and get to Mongolia, I miss you.

Tim said...

Did Steven actually fight that cop? Chest that cop? Or Shoulder that cop?

susie cloud said...

Steven..I am so proud of you..but remeber it has been a few years when you did the karate. I still have your belt to prove it. I do hope you will be on the way home soon. This sounds to much like your writting a book some where.
Love Mom

Lee said...

Awesome. :)

dado said...

having fun, ha? :-)
i hope ill will next year...
greetings from croatia

Rae said...

I spent my summer (2007) in Kazakhstan, I loved it there but yes- Bribery is rampant. It sounds like you had quite an adventure though! It's always fun to randomly find people who have been where you have!