Moscow Begins Checking Shopper IDs


When Vera Korolkova, a retired Moscow factory worker, set out on her daily scavenger hunt to neighborhood food stores, she took a worn cloth sack for her purchases, as usual. But she also took the internal passport proving she is a Muscovite.

As of Monday, the document was needed to buy products ranging from bread to beer in the food shops of the Soviet capital, as the City Council barred outsiders from the stores to dampen a wave of panic buying and stem the influx of goods-hungry shoppers from other regions of Russia and as far away as Central Asia.

Stores in Moscow, veritable horns of plenty when compared with their counterparts in Tula or Tashkent, have been besieged since the Soviet government on Thursday announced economic reforms that will lead to steep price boosts on food.

The passport checks, to ensure that the 9 million people of Moscow have a reliable food supply, are to last for only two weeks, reportedly because the Moscow City Council is afraid that a longer ban on non-Muscovites would make authorities in places like Tula retaliate by barring shipments of the goods they produce to Moscow.


Outside a wine store in central Moscow, the unruly crowd that usually stands outside the door was organized into a straight line by a police officer checking customers’ passports for the registration stamp, or propiska, that shows they are entitled to live in Moscow.

There were angry outbursts from customers and cashiers alike not used to the new regulation, and epic-length Soviet lines at one supermarket slowed down even more as personnel checked ID papers. “Passports, citizens!” a cashier roared. “Only Moscow or the Moscow region!”

Korolkova came home to her apartment carrying two liters of milk, a few large cucumbers and a pound of normally hard-to-find cheese and said the passport controls might be a good idea. “Yes, there is a small holdup, but if it means non-Muscovites can’t raid our stores, then maybe it’s worth it,” she said.

Another Russian woman, however, said the answer to the country’s consumer woes doesn’t lie in limiting demand, but in ensuring that the Soviet people have more to buy--something President Mikhail S. Gorbachev assured the nation on Sunday that the government’s economic program will accomplish, though not without pain.

“Maybe this will do something for the government, but it is not giving us anything but a long line,” Lena Aizina, 26, a sound engineer, said of the new passport controls. “The root of the problem isn’t out-of-towners taking all the inventory; it’s lack of supply to the stores.”