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On 31 October, several dozen Daghestani lorry drivers gathered at the customs post on the Azerbaijani border demanding an apology for insults directed at them by a Daghestani customs officer.
The demonstration came in response to a video widely circulated on social media in which a customs official at the post demands a bribe from an Azerbaijani lorry driver, calling his Daghestani colleagues ‘fools’.
‘Don’t look at these fools, the Daghestanis, who tell you things at the checkpoint. […] They think because someone was detained here, now they won’t [give] money… OK, we don’t even ask them [for money]. Do you know why? We don’t need anything from them. But you’ll see for yourself what sort of problems they’ll have here. Don’t take an example from them’, one of the customs officer said.
Daghestani security forces detained several customs officers for extorting money from drivers. following strikes earlier this year by lorry drivers.
The ‘Golden Bridge’
The protest involved several dozens lorries, which were driven towards what is locally known as the ‘Golden Bridge’, over river Samur separating Daghestan from Azerbaijan in Magaramkent District’s village of Yarag-Kazamlyar.
The name ‘Golden Bridge’ refers to frequent demands by border guards and customs officers on both sides of the border for bribes.
A second customs official can be seen in the video, recorded secretly by the Azerbaijani driver, filling out documents.
Protesters were demanding a public apology from both officials; according to the drivers, they have been assured that the officer speaking in the video has been dismissed, however they are still demanding an apology from the other.
‘The video has already been shown on Azerbaijani TV and several thousand people have viewed it on Instagram. Do you understand how he compromised the whole customs system?’ Abdurashid Samadov, Chairman of the Union of Carriers of Daghestan told OC Media at the rally.
‘He not only called us fools, he also threatened us! He is a disgrace to Daghestani customs officers!’ another participant of the rally introducing himself as Musa, told OC Media.
‘The one sitting and stamping documents is also from Daghestan. Why was he silent while his colleague behaved this way? Where was his manhood? Have they sold out for money?’ Samadov said.
‘We fought against the Platon road tax, but we have so much to fight against locally, too. Now we don’t pay money at this customs post, they slowly take people one by one into the office where there are no cameras. They are angry at us because we stood up against their corrupt system and they don’t know how to get back at us’, Samadov continued.
Another driver, Gamid, told OC Media how much money he had to pay at the customs post in bribes.
‘Customs officers took from each us ₽4,800 ($83) for “customs clearance”. If we refused to pay, they’d stop the vehicle for inspection. Then the sanitary service would come: “Will you give ₽5,000 ($87)? If not, we will quickly find a quarantine facility and impound your vehicle”. Any driver can describe to you how this robbery continued for years! We’ve had enough of this problem!’, Gamid said.
According to him, Daghestani lorry drivers are no longer pressured to pay bribes at customs, but foreign drivers from Azerbaijan, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, and Belarus still are.
A customs officer addressed the crowd in the evening to try and persuade them to leave, but the drivers continued to demand the officer who had offended them publicly apologize. No one else came.