Thursday, July 06, 2006

Old Wine In New Seals?


It's starting to look a lot like Soviet days in the liquor stores in Moscow, and, no surprise, it's the government's doing:

My friend arrived at my dacha the other night bearing six bottles of wine. Oh joy! I had drunk my last half a glass of shiraz the night before.

“It’s as if I had brought ice cream in 1983!” she commented.

“Or toilet paper in 1978!” I echoed.

The current history-as-farce episode has Russia facing a shortage of imported alcohol. If you had said this to a person living in the Soviet Union in the 1970s or 1980s, he or she would surely have responded with a laugh, saying, “I wish I had your problems.”

Sure, it is easier to forgo good wine and whisky than it is to do without toilet paper, but the remarkable thing about the current alcohol crisis is how much of the Soviet deficit era it brings back. All the hallmarks are there: the empty shelves, the stocking-up, and the purchasing by pulling strings.

.... So what’s going on? As you probably know by now, the Cabinet decided to require new tax seals on all imported alcohol because the market in counterfeit seals was getting too hot. The changeover date is July 1, by which time importers have to unload their inventories: new seals cannot be pasted on old bottles. But no new seals have been printed — apparently because the Cabinet dragged its heels on passing the relevant resolution — so the imported-alcohol market is going to shut down completely in three days.

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