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Thursday, August 17, 2006

Mail a Package, Buy Some Stamps and Grab a Bottle of Vodka

Back in the old days a citizen of the Soviet Union could count on a few things. The KGB would make sure freedom of speech was not a bother. The women's track and field team could win most bar room brawls. And there was always plenty of vodka. Things have changed, especially in The Republic of Tatarstan.

In the post-Soviet era some rules have been written as things come along. Tatarstan is a constituent republic of the Russian Federation. The Tatarstan Constitution says it is associated with the Russian Federation, but it also points out the republic is a sovereign entity.

Much of Tatarstan is rural and a key part of life for the last 500 years or so has been vodka. Small shops and roadside kiosks kept residents supplied with vodka and many used vodka as a form of currency. That all changed in July when a new Tatarstan law required individuals to obtain a license to sell alcohol. Most vodka stands closed, complaining the licenses were too expensive and the bureaucracy too daunting. Since vodka supplied profits to stores selling other needed items, the closure of shops in rural areas has been a major problem for some communities.

The old Soviet black market also soon emerged to fill the vodka void. The government did not like this idea so the Tatarstan Pochtasi -- the Post Office --applied for a license to sell vodka. The post office has long been a gathering place in rural Tatarstan, selling goods like general stores in rural America during the early part of the last Century. Now 24 of the 58 post office run shops in rural Tatarstan sell vodka, along side milk, bread and other essentials. Tatarstan Pochtasi officials plan to extend alcohol sales to 1,058 of its outlets in 44 districts -- creating a virtual state monopoly over vodka sales.

It makes you wonder if the art of letter writing will be revived in Tatarstan now that the post office has become the local boozer.

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