Aug 21 2007

While souvenir shopping in Russia, it’s best to stick to matryoshkas and McLenin t-shirts

by in Uncategorized

The alternative could land you a seven year prison sentence:

A Chilean graduate student at the University of Missouri-St. Louis has been detained in Russia for more than two months after customs officials found several Soviet medals and currency she bought from a street vendor.

Roxana Contreras, 29, faces up to seven years in prison, her supporters say. She “acquired USSR state honors illegally” and attempted to export them, according to Russian court documents.

Supporters in the United States say the physics student was visiting friends in the southern city of Voronezh and probably did not realize she was doing anything wrong when she bought the six military medals, currency and coins for $66 (€49) and tried to bring them on the plane home with her.

“They were being sold by a street vendor, so she had no idea they were not supposed to be taken out of the country,” said Sonya Bahar, the director of the Center for Neurodynamics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Most tourists in Russia are unaware of Russian customs regulations, and unknowingly violate the “50 year” antiquities provision by purchasing a $6 Soviet labor medal:

cultural valuables (musical instruments, paintings, sculptures, icons, antique coins, medals and other period pieces more than 50 years old are permitted for exportation on the basis of a certificate issued by the Minister of Culture of Russia on production of a customs declaration in support of importation of the above articles)

Bad luck for Roxana. I agree that it is the responsibility of the traveler to familiarize themselves with a country’s customs rules, but two months detention and a possible SEVEN YEAR sentence for a handful of Soviet coins and a few (what I am assuming) mass produced and widely available WW2/”hero of socialist labor” medals seems like overkill. I will admit to violating the rule myself several years ago (Victory over Germany medal purchased in St. Pete for a few bucks), but in the future I’ll stick to eBay.

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