December 01, 1996

The Changing of Customs?

The current Russian word for customs, tamozhnya, originated in the times of the Mongol-Tatar yoke. The word tamga, in Tatar, meant ‘a customs tax, the official who collected it, and the stamped seal or statement verifying that it had been paid.’ Each market had its tamozhnya, and the right to collect duties could be purchased from the State. This right was often acquired by powerful merchants.

But the Russian customs service predates even the Mongol Yoke (1237-1480). Some three centuries before, in Kievan Rus, taxes were collected for transporation of goods through the frontiers of its individual princedoms.

Thus, Russia has had a customs service in some form for the past 1000 years. And, for most all of that history, it has been much more than a force for keeping out contraband. In fact, it has been a powerful, highly politicized administrative organ, serving mainly protectionist leaders.

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