Sunday, July 17, 2005

Town & country

Moscow is extremely well maintained, when you compare it with the rest of the country. 145 million people in Russia, and 80% of the resources go to a small percentage of the population of 11 million in this city. You can feel it. Modern neoliberal capitalism is doing quite well in russia.

I went to Tver, a city of half-a-million outside of Moscow. It looks like a gigantic squatter village ... unmaintained public spaces, rubble falling off the buildings, a kind of wild west with a Baroque backdrop. I'm told that St. Petersburg is very much the same. Parts of Moscow, off the beaten track, are similarly abandoned-looking, but not for long, with property so expensive there.

People feel rather unempowered, as they do in the US and elsewhere. "Moscow is a train" and old communist director told me "it sets a direction, and you either get on, or you stay off the train." Happily, there's lots of people very interested in staying off Moscow's train ... in the same way that most of the US doesn't give a shit whether Manhattan thinks it's the center of the universe or not.

Even Moscovites get off the train.

Every weekend, the road from Moscow is packed with people headed towards country life -- either villages or dachas. It's a major part of modern russian culture to return to the country, whether an old village that was collectivized in the 1920's, or a settlement of dachas (country houses). The culture in these places can be extrordinarily bucolic, almost a subsitance level of existence. And people love it. With good reason -- it is very real, and very wonderful: fetching water from the well, taking wood-fired saunas, jumping into swimming holes, making tea in a samovar, drinking homemade liquor, eating fresh vegetables, using the outhouse, keeping a garden and barnyard, interacting with your neighbors etc. This movement is the great hope of russian culture, really. It's an aboriginal culture, a native one, that is deeply ingrained, and which acts as a counterbalance to the anti-people policies of the national government. It makes russia seem more ripe than the US for, I dunno, a "green revolution". Combine the people in the country & cities outside Moscow, with those who want to escape Moscow, and you have a super-majority ready to demand social expenditure again.


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