Waiting for change in modern Russia
The fact that I agree with much of reporter Bridget Kendall's observations in this opinion column about Moscow and modern Russia, probably says as much about me (westerner) as it does about Russia.
Still, I found this to be an interesting article with many of the same questions that I find myself filled with each time I am leaving Russia. When I see all the neon, glitz, Казино, slot-clubs, sex-clubs, etc. I find myself momentarily agreeing with Ilya Glazunov. And then I realize this isn't what the West has sold or forced upon Russia, but some sort of crazed parody of the worst aspects of western culture - wildly and loudly exaggerated and imitated. Almost like Texas, Russian culture often seems to encourage the largest version of anything ... Russian-style.
This contrast of the new money and ridiculously escalating prices, with the conditions of the more typical working-class Russian (particularly outside of Moscow) really gives me pause. Are there two countries being simultaneously built here? The young and the ambitious of Moscow don't hesitate to leave the rest of the country behind. The American BMW-driving, brie-chomping yuppies of the 1980's had nothing on their 2006 Russian successors.
As the snow blows harder, a friend takes me to a new bar, promising a magnificent view over the city. We step into the cathedral-sized lobby of a glistening new hotel. Under the space-age chandelier, fish-like females in tight black scaly sequin dresses eye my old down jacket and clumpy boots with cold derision.
We swoop up 30 floors, and emerge into a circular bar perched high above Moscow like a flying saucer.
In deep, suede armchairs, more Russian beauties sip garish cocktails. Male cohorts in ridiculously pointed shoes whisper business instructions into their mobiles. And outside, the swirling snow dissolves the city lights into white mist.
This is the new Moscow of the super-rich. And it is not only a weird contrast with the past. It is a strange counterpoint to the rest of the country.
Go just a few stops on the commuter train, and you will find the same sagging little wooden houses in the midst of forests that have always been there, and the same gnarled residents, bent double from years of hauling water and splitting logs every day.
You cannot help wondering: has the high price of oil and gas really empowered Russia and restored the global clout so many Russians hanker for? Or like those snowstorms, is it a mirage, a deceptive covering?