Better than Fireworks

Never refuse a trip to the dacha, even on the 4th of July

Swank for a Russian!
The Good Life
What a weekend! Not only was it the 222nd birthday for
America, it was also my landlord’s (Vladimir) birthday too. Usually I
would join with all the other Americans here at the Annual 4th of July
Festival put on by the American Chamber of Commerce in Moscow , but the weekend of
rain made that idea moot. Instead, I did a more American thing; I went
to a two day BBQ at Victor’s home.

Victor, his wife Ludmila, and his son Pasha, live at their dacha
outside Moscow. Unlike the majority of Russian, they bought their dacha
and did not receive it though a work or family connection. Vladimir is
from Samara, in the south of Russia, and Ludmila is from Siberia. He
remonts office buildings for a living, while Ludmila remonts apartments
as a hobby (ours is one such example). I would say they are quite
successful, with a comfortable, and relatively modern dacha, a huge yard
(very prized in a land of apartments), two greenhouses, a small pool,
and a hot banya.

I spent all day Saturday eating, drinking, and playing with the 20
odd other friends and family of Vladimir’s. Yes, all day. We started
eating salads around noon, and moved onto shashlik (chunks of meat
BBQ’ed, but better) around four, with desert finally served around
seven. During all this food, I learned how to play Russian billiards,
much harder than American pool, and went for a walk in the huge park
that surrounds their home. Fat, happy, and drunk, we started the real
fun. Into the 90 C banya we piled, all quasi nude, then into the 20 C
pool, and back to the banya. After an hour of this, I was exhausted. I
had a bit of tea, and fell asleep in the spare bed.

Yesterday was filled with a mean table tennis competition between an
eight-year-old and me. I would tease him, giving him a few points, then
shut him down with blazing serves and returns. The poor kid, he never
knew what hit him!

Actually, at breakfast, I had an amazing, and very interesting,
conversation with all the adults about taxes. No one, at least no
Russian pays taxes unless someone rats on him. Because the insanely high
tax rates (35% on all personal income +100% gross business sales!), no
visible government services for the taxes, and the general inability
(due to graft and incompetence) of the government to enforce the tax
laws evenly, no Russian or foreigner will even consider paying their
full share of taxes if the tax police do find out who they are. Now that
the Duma (Russia’s parliament) is actively reforming the tax codes to
stimulate payment, there is conversation about what the tax rates and
application methods should be.

All the adults were interested in how high the USA personal income
rates are, how they are applied, and what exemptions there are. With my
broken Russian, I was able to get a fair bit across, including capital
gains taxes and state income taxes, which was digested with intense
discussion. The concept that each state can implement income taxes, and
that cities can implement real estate taxes, gave all pause. There is
such a long history of extreme corruption at the regional level, even
more at the local level, that the Russians mistrust anybody outside of
Moscow to treat the people fairly. At the national level, they can be
assured that everyone will be cheated equally as much as the next
sucker.

I was heartened to learn that everyone here would like to pay taxes,
and be fully legal, but until there is real change, and the people see
something for their taxes, the tax police are going to have a tough job
ahead.