An Interrogation in Belarus

The portrait above, of a friendly militia/security guard in Kherson, has nothing to do with the following incident, except that the gun seemed kind of appropriate...

One night, in 1993, I stayed the night in a hotel in central Minsk.

The circulation of foreign currency was of extreme value. At the time the Belarussian rouble - unofficially called 'rabbits' (zaitchiki). The currency had devalued so much that you had know to read an additional two zeros on to any note - so that what looked like a 100 rabbit note was actually 10,000 rabbits. I first found this out when I went out to eat in the centre, having changed $100 into rabbits. When they brought the bill, it looked like it came to nearly the whole $100 and I was shocked. Then the waitress explained to me how the notes worked, and that the meal cost 100x less than I had feared.

So far so good. I booked into the hotel, paid for the room, and left my passport in the safe with Reception desk as required so that they could register my stay.

Taking my key, I went up to the floor and was shown to my room by the dezhurnaya, the woman concierge in charge of that floor.

I had been cycling for over two weeks, and this was my first night in a bed, and I fell into a deep sleep. That night, at around 4 in the morning, there was a hammering on the door. I opened it, and two men in leather jackets came into the room. They were apparently from the economic crimes unit of the KGB. They sat me on the bed, turned a lamp into my face, and began interrogating me. Just like in the films.

My Russian at the time was embryonic, and I was still half asleep and at first confused about where I was, what was real and what wasn't, but I did my best to answer their questions, and bit by bit it became clear that they were interested in how I had checked in to the hotel, and how I had paid. Someone had apparently denounced that I had bribed the dezhurnaya to be allow me to use a room unofficially, and that I had given her foreign currency.

After twenty minutes or so of interrogation, they had realised that I had checked into the hotel and paid officially, and that my passport was with the hotel administration, and they disappeared.