At the Narva customs post, it’s more peaceful now, year-on-year: stricter controls and tougher laws have significantly cut smuggling. Even so, customs officials need to constantly be all eyes.
Upon arrival, Tax and Customs Board Narva border point head Voldemar Linno receives us under a big multicolour picture of the new border checkpoint long dreamed about – a contemporary one. «Next year, as you come, the picture will be totally different,» promises the man. The present building is somewhat small indeed, and work out. And not normal, one finds, to have the exit/entry sides separated by a flimsy partition.
We are more interested in the incoming path, which is split in two as well: one has green stripes, the other sports red. People will decide, if they have things to declare or not, and walk accordingly.
Wednesday before noon, not many people are coming. So the pretty young customs girls order almost all bags to be opened. The rule is to do that by sampling. «Absolutely all are checked in North-Korea only,» says Mr Linno.
When something «extra» gets discovered, the border-crosser is invited to another room for additional check.
According to Mr Linno, most crossers are locals, well acquainted with rules regarding goods carried and norms of behaviour at customs. No trouble with them. Still, errors do occur.
Mr Linno warns us we might not see contraband during our short stay – but we didn’t come for that; we just came to see how things are done and what is currently being brought from Russia.
Here comes Mikhail, a dweller of Narva. He is nice to us, ready to reveal what he bought in Ivangorod.
The bag is full of foodstuff, mostly baby-food which is 20 to 30 percent cheaper over the river, says the man. For the family of the young man, currently unemployed, this is great help. He goes to Russia twice a month, according to as is allowed. And he rarely brings alcohol – he doesn’t drink that.
There is less contraband, basically. As helped by good job dome by customs officials, as the toughened law vastly restricting both the amount of crossings and amounts of alcohol/tobacco allowed in.
It used to be that some crossed the border multiple times a day, carrying back huge loads of vodka and cigarettes; not, goods under excise are only allowed once a day. And: only two packs of cigarettes may be brought, twice a month. And a litre of vodka or four litres of wine, once a month.