Tuesday, May 17, 2005

A little something about Belarussian Bureaucracy…

I mentioned a little while ago about a tax problem Tatyna ran into and I thought I would write about it here today. I actually have a lot of things I would like to write about, but I am feeling sort of workerish these days and so I feel great compulsion to finish things I have started. I think that this also applies to the Yasha story I had started before I had that other bureaucratic calamity over my passport. So I will try and get to that as well as other things as the format allows. Ah, the things I do for literature!

This story though concerns a call Tatyana got from Nologinaya Inspectcia, the local tax organization. And again, and for the millionth time, I have to tell you that sometimes Belarus is simply a gas to live in and our president must be trying to set some kind of modern record for belligerence. Mr Lukeshenko, said president, must be trying to raise money for his constitution breaking run for a third term as president because he is grabbing and groping for every last kopeck he can find here in our beautiful $100-a-month heaven. And this episode is as bright an example of this as any that I can think of.

The call came about a week and a half ago. To say that this was probably the last thing in the world Tatyana was expecting would be an understatement. In fact, from the moment the call came, I think that Tanya was thinking that all of this must be some kind of a sick joke played on her by the folks at her work or something like that. The second thing she did was to blame me. However, she blames me for everything so this is not anything special. But what I am about to tell you is absolutely the truth and here is what happened.

It seems that some money that was sent to Tatyana for Egor for his birthday last July from her ex-husbands Mother was the cause of this. Tatyana is divorced and her ex lives in Ukraine with his family. The breakup was messy as these things usually are, but mixed with a little alcohol and inter-sex boxing and deprived the sort of common sense any such that horse might employ, the husband managed in the course of things to get himself banished not only from the house, but from Belarus entirely. This was several years ago and he has not seen his son Egor since. Occasionally, and in between bouts of complete insanity, or so it seems, the ex has been trying to gain access to his son. Usually his method is to buy and burn up a phone card trying to talk her into it, often employing all of the emotions of his vodka laced heart. Tatyana has never bought any of his lines, often delivered in a drunken haze, and has left as her main argument against that the father has never paid a dime for his son since he has left. I don’t know what all has changed, but last June, about a month before Egor’s 9th birthday, the argument apparently hit home and the above mentioned gift was sent via Western Union. Sort of a “See, I sent money now let me see my son” argument.

The amount of the gift was all of sixty bucks. Now I know that on the scale of how much money people get her for salaries, this may seem like a lot of money, but in fact it is only what it is and is no particular great marvel when it comes to buying things. However, a gift is a gift and sixty bucks is sixty bucks, so what the hell; thanks for the money, I appreciate it and yes, I would say that this would go at least some distance as far as proving that you are no longer a crazed, abusive, violent psychopath. Even if the money did come from your mother. However, there was one thing that Tanya did not understand about the gift.

Tatyana at the time had no idea that this money was taxable. Actually I am not sure that anyone in the country knew at the time that it was or that the state was inspecting Western Union’s incoming transactions. No one at the Western Union office said anything about a tax at the time and nowhere in her normal tax forms from work did they mention that such things needed to be declared. All of this was absolutely out-of-the-blue.

And in fact, she had only read that there was such a tax in the newspapers sometime in February. I remember her telling me about this. At the time I thought that this was just another in a long line of new “straffs” the Russian word for penalty, asked for by the state. And really, in the last year the state, or Mr. Lukesheka as he pretty much seems to be THE STATE, has come up with some beauties. Like the one you pay if you have a second dog, that was a good one. Or the one you pay if your car is too dirty, that was good for a laugh. Or the 18% you pay for anything coming from another country by mail and the 300 FUCKING EUROS YOU HAVE TO PAY TO GET A LAPTOP BY MAIL! I myself got hit in the face by that last one and ended up sending the damned thing back because of it. We had to do this of course because we have, like everybody here don’t you know, no such money.

So Anyway she went to the office of the tax inspector, sat down, heard the complaint from the bureau and was also told that in addition to the actual tax, something like 10%, she would have to pay an additional fine of something like $20 for not paying the official tax on time. Tayana cried that she had no idea that such a thing was taxable. The tax inspector informed Tatyana that because she was Belarussian, the law is the law and knowing about the law or not did not make any difference. She had to pay up or the deal might include a larger straff and possibly prison.

You can imagine how she took this news.

So this is when I first heard about this last week amidst the tears and the hysterics and further accusations about how, inevitably all of this must somehow be my fault. And again, really, we have no such money. So as we talked it out Tanya remembered reading in the newspaper something about the straff. So we checked it out and found that if the money came from one family member to another (a great flaw: Surly we must all be related somehow!), There would be no taxes levied. Aha! The next day Tatyana returned to the tax office again, this time armed with her loophole. Of course she doesn’t have to pay the tax, the gift was from Egor’s grandmother for his birthday. End of story.

The tax inspector looked at the documents on her desk and then back to Tatyana and asked her to prove it. What do you mean, prove it? It says on the transaction who sent it and who got it. It was from Egor’s grandmother. We both have the same name. We all have the same name. The inspector smiled one of those “you will enjoy winters in Siberia” smiles and simply slid the copy of the Western Union ticket across the desk. Oh.

Now this normally would have been easy, and perhaps even the Inspector would have ignored the file, except that as the grandmother has recently remarried, she therefore now has a new name. Tatyana tried to explain all of this. Again, prove it.

So as of this moment, Tatyana has put in a call to Ukraine asking for a copy of the new marriage certificate. However, and of course you know where this is going, getting something from the “crazed, abusive, violent psychopath” side of the family requires a bit of ‘prid pro quo’ (if I wrote that right) and so the machinery generating those documents is of course rolling on un-greased wheels.

Several simple if greasy solutions to the problem exist:

1. Pay the tax and the fine and never, ever receive money from Western Union ever again. Or
2. Send the kid to Ukraine for the summer.

And so this is where we are at the moment. Ah life in the workers paradise. But in the end I think that giving credit where credit is due is always best. Our president… Our president…

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