This is an attempt to stop the police’s practice of imposing bribes on Russian tourists
Abkhazia’s traffic police have been warned against pulling over cars with foreign number plates, unless they have been tipped off that a violation may have been committed by a given driver.
The warning came from the republic’s interior minister Aslan Kobakhia and in response to an ever increasing problem on Abkhaz motorways – illegal tolls routinely collected from foreign motorists (most of whom are Russian tourists) by Abkhaz traffic policemen.
Abkhaz traffic police (who still go by their soviet-time name GAI, an abbreviation standing for “state auto inspection”) are a standing joke and a regular object of discussions on social media.
One Facebook user wrote: “We drove from the Russian border to Sukhum. The entire distance is no more than 100 kilometres, however we got pulled over eight times. Even if your belt is fastened, and the speed does not exceed the norm, and the emergency care kit is ok, they just won’t let you until you’ve forked out a couple of hundreds [of rubles]. And if you’ve really violated a rule, they will just rip you off.”
Another said: “Cars with local number plates fly like Boeings past the GAI stations, and nobody cares to stop them. Oddly, only the law-abiding tourists get pulled over.”
“It is especially bad when you drive towards Russia. Pay the penalty, they say, or else you will be leaving without your driving license. And that leaves you with no option other than paying what they say.”
Truth be told, it is not only the tourists who criticize the Abkhaz traffic police, but also its own high-rankers.
Head of the Abkhaz GAI Nauir Smyr said at a recent press conference that he would gladly sack 99 percent of the police personnel, but could not do so because “those who will come to replace them will turn out even worse”. The interior minister’s warning has caused a flurry of discussions on Abkhaz Facebook.
While admitting that the police have crossed many lines in how they deal with tourists, some bloggers see the new regulations as only protecting foreign motorists and discriminating against the locals.
“Do they mean it will still be OK to extort money from the cars that have local number plates?”
“The regulations must apply to everybody. One can be pulled over if they have violated a traffic rule, no matter what their number plates are! This is mere logic. But, unfortunately, logical reasoning and our government are two very different things.”
“This is the solution – give him a proper salary, and a GAI officer will work as he should – decently.”
“Everybody wants a decent salary, but where does one get it with all the embezzling happening around? Rather than take care of the state budget, the authorities only make sure that their own pockets are full.”
“Surveillance cameras should be installed, if we want bribes stopped. It might also help to set up pay boxes outside each GAI station – motorists will pay their tickets there, contributing to filling the state coffers. Pay boxes are easy to control, highwaymen are not.”