A book of stamps, an address form and ... some vodka, please

In the remote Republic of Tatarstan -- yes, there is such a nation -- the post office has gotten into the vodka business.

The autonomous nation within the Russian federation has pretty much run out of the traditional alcohol. In July, state legislation forced individual vendors and traders to either obtain a license to sell alcohol or close up shop. Faced with the overwhelming bureaucracy and the new cost of doing business, many folded.

The demand for vodka, however, has not diminished. It has just made the alcohol a de facto unit of currency in the barter-dependent economy.

"Vodka has been established as a very good currency," explains Alsu Kurmasheva of the Tatar-Bashkir Service unit of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.

Rustem Arslanov, deputy head of Tatarstan's State Alcohol Inspectorate, says, "The lack of places selling alcohol in the villages is leading to illegal trade -- that's to say, trade has begun in bootleg alcohol. So, we need places that are licensed to sell alcohol."

The village post office serves many needs in rural Tatarstan -- post office, library, general goods store, and general meeting place. Olga Kuznetsova, director-general of the nation's postal service, says, "We have 58 shops and we are selling alcohol in 24 of those. When we have shops, they sell everything: milk, bread, and alcohol."

She plans to expand alcohol sales to 1,058 post offices around the country.

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