I didn't realize that there had been a war in Russia while I was in Bulgaria on holiday and that the city of Moscow had been bombed. Even as we watched the Russian news from a safe distance in Varna, the government-controlled Soviet-style TV channels said nothing about a catastrophe. Imagine my shock, therefore, when I got off the metro in Чистые Пруды this morning and saw that everything from the metro station to Упица Сретенка was under frantic reconstruction. All this in the middle of the inevitable downpour of rain. Great barriers had been erected and the pedestrians were worming their wet way single-file through makeshift corridors which, due to the total lack of a functioning drainage system in Moscow, meant that they could not employ their usual tactic of stepping around the automatically formed, impromptu lakes but had rather to plop along ankle-deep in murky waters. Amid all the jackhammering, shouting, digging and grunting, I just knew that a desperate repair job was underway. Had the Nazis paid a posthumous airborne visit?
Exactly the same thing was going on up the road in Сухаревская, and I was beginning to wonder what the actual extent of the carnage was. I looked at the gray, disconsolate skies for signs of enemy bombers....when suddenly I remembered!! This was not the aftermath of war; rather it was all part of Mayor Sobyanin's glorious overhaul of the city. Silly me! Let The Games Begin!!
Yes, my friends the epic summer of demolition and reconstruction is already underway. One of my students remarked this morning (when I finally arrived at my destination by making a complicated detour around the roaring debris) that "Moscow has lost its face." I was struck by the simplicity and truth of this single statement. This mayor is wiping out, at a stroke, the city that Moscow once was. Some will argue that it's for the better, and, frankly, I am somewhat in two minds myself. On the one hand, if you support the mayor or even think of him as a kind of visionary, you will applaud him as a "man of action." Sure, as this line of reasoning might proceed, he is putting the old worlds of Moscow to the sword but replacing them with something that we will all be proud of one day. The act of creation -- as any artist will tell you -- is not usually graceful; in fact, it's a bloody mess most of the time. But with great art, the result is worth the wait. If you take Sobyanin's side, you will support this point of view. There is no question that there have been some breathtaking accomplishments during his tenure.
But I think that I am a dreamer for dreaming that Sergei Sobyanin is a dreamer. At best, he is using ruthless and cynical tactics to achieve a perhaps laudable objective. The thing is, nothing he ever does seems to be for the benefit of the average Russian citizen, but rather for the superficial grandeur of the State. It was with the same cavalier disregard for human suffering that Peter ! built St. Petersburg in his own lofty image. But, indeed, now we have the great city of St. Petersburg. So, draw your own conclusions. Yet I believe that our mayor is, like Peter I, willing to write off a whole generation of now mostly elderly Russian citizens in order to construct an "Empire" city of his private fancy.
When I first came to Moscow in 2007, I loved the sense of personal freedom that I experienced. I didn't feel as though I was being herded in one direction or the other. But gradually, a sneaky Orwellian horror has crept over me as I realize the limitless power the authorities have over the people. This is absolutely NOT democracy in any form, but a pure authoritarianism. Some people that run Russia fill their own pockets by passing questionable laws, stealing from the weak using trumped up "legal" justifications, bogus ""opinion polls", and by raising false banners of religion and patriotism to hoodwink the mostly ignorant and uninformed nation.
Ok, I happen to like the sometimes gritty "slice of life" aspects of big cities, just as sometimes I prefer cheap women, and just as I genuinely revere a sense of history and tradition, and want it to be preserved. Subjective on my part I admit, and, therefore, many might dismiss it as sentimental schlock. But I believe that huge modern cities, especially those which have grown to unmanageable proportions, should try to hang onto a bit of their past and the character thereof. To use an old-fashioned word: their SOUL.
Are any of your aware of the prediction that by mid-century 70 per cent of the world's population will be living in 5 per cent of its land available area? That's how humongous the mega-cities are becoming.
Open air markets, trams, marshrutkas, krushhovki, neighborhood kiosks -- these have been a part of the Moscow scene since long before I got here. Deciding that they are anachronisms and easing them benevolently into eternity is one thing; raping the city in one fell swoop of these aspects (and assets) of daily life is quite another -- especially when, after such demolition, as a rule, NOTHING HAPPENS and wastelands are left to replace what yesterday were busy, thriving businesses with real people inside. Or when real problems go unaddressed while cosmetic window-dressing takes precedent. I go everywhere in the metro because it is part of my job, and I see what is going on. Usually the pattern is this: a whole city block (or corner of a block) comes tumbling down in the dead of night -- or an exit to a busy metro will be closed, or a street will be dug up -- and instead of having a crew of work me immediately jump in and put the situation right with whatever the replacement plan might be, they just wander off and leave a miasma of grime, broken stone and other depressing rubble. There appears to be no cohesion whatsoever between the mayor's destructive impulses and any forthright plan of action to FIX THE PROBLEMS Everything is done, or seems to be done, in some sort of mysterious -- though doubtness arbitrary -- fashion. The people are left out of the conversation. Yet the Forces of Power can act with stunning swiftness when it really suits their purposes. The places I visited this morning are full of relentless action; on the other hands, schools, hospitals, and pensions...well, all that minor stuff can be put on the back burner.
I can promise you a chaotic, frustrating summer for the citizens of Moscow. And when the krushcovki and all other surrounding buildings and businesses that fall within the designated demolition areas (O what a cunning fox we have as mayor!) have been destroyed and millions of people torn from their homes and jobs, and when chunks of the lunar wasteland (ah but often in prime locations!) are put up for auction to fill the government's pockets, then we'll see, won't we?
Not only elderly people will suffer by being unceremoniously uprooted, but so will young people who have bought into the so-called neighborhoods and invested money in their own private remont and renovation. All up on smoke, children! Sorry about that.
Highrises in distant settings without parking places -- as far as the eye can see. Do you like it? That is the future.
No, thank heaven, there was no war (that was tongue-in-cheek of course, but not really a laughing matter. at all.) No war. But what I saw looked like a war zone.
What it really was, was the might of self-serving and corrupt Dicta...
===Eric Richard Le Roy===
Автор ни в какой форме не выражает протеста против каких-либо существующих порядков, а также не призывает к каким-либо противозаконным действиям, считая их исключительно неверными.
Мнение автора статьи может не совпадать с мнением владельца блога.