The method is the same across the former Soviet Union. Police spot checks are conducted at random street corners, whether in the heart of town or outside some backwater. They stand patiently in drab green uniforms, a Russian-made Lada parked just beside. Cars race past, eyed suspiciously by the pair who twirl their batons from their wrists, ever conscious of their authority to enforce a litany of obscure laws on a whim.
True to form, Georgia is a bit different from the rest. In most republics, the sight of a police checkpoint causes a little anxiety shock, and a little extra weight on the accelerator. When a policemen points his baton at a selected driver, there are moans and groans all around. You pull over and settle in for another theater production of argument and negotiation over some petty and dubious misdemeanor inevitably ending with a ‘fine.’ Why can’t Georgian police instill the same fear?
I was standing on a street corner waiting for a friend to arrive not more than 20 meters from such a checkpoint. This should be a novel attraction to pass the time, I thought to myself. A fat policeman flanked by a short and stumpy sidekick stood in the classic pose, baton lazily dangling from his wrist. Just after he had flailed his baton at the first victim, I did a double-take. The car continued to speed past. The pair turned around and stared at the disappearing car for no more than a moment and spun back around at the onslaught of more approaching vehicles. Did that car just run the checkpoint? They seemed so nonchalant about it, as if they didn’t care. Perhaps there is some mysterious traffic signal code I speculated, ready to look more carefully. Maybe he was just telling him to slow down.
Next up was a dark green Skoda, and this time I saw clearly as the fat policeman unmistakably aimed his baton right into the whites of the driver’s eyes. The female driving waved her hands at them vigorously and pointed at the road ahead of her. Without a hint of astonishment, the policemen gave a rather feeble shrug while he watched her dart straight past, as if the humiliating disregard of his authority were a very sad routine.
When my friend arrived, I asked what was going, why was everyone ignoring the long arm of the Georgian law? Right on cue, it happened again as a white Niva floored the gas pedal and whizzed past his fully extended powerless baton. The policemen noticed us staring at this embarrassment and I couldn’t help but meekly crack a slightly mischievous smile. When they each returned a self-conscious grin, my friend laughed as well. “They are either too nice or too naive,” she offered.
“I feel really sorry for them. Imagine the psychological complexes these people must have.”
“You shouldn’t feel a bit sorry for them. Some day they’ll get it right and they’ll make lots of money in bribes.”
We jumped into a taxi and I nodded goodbye. “Arrivederci!” shouted the short stumpy one and we left them there in a trail of dust.