||Oct. 5-6, 1998 Moscow, Russia
The big day arrives as we
are to get our first glimpse into the nucleus of half of this centurys world order,
the epicenter of Communism. It is on this day that we really get to take a peak behind the
iron curtain to hopefully remove at least some of the secrecy, mystery, and intrigue of
this, the worlds capital of all that symbolized the opposite of us and what we
believed in. Much like Dorothy in Oz, we found more hype than reality. A peak behind
the curtain revealed that Moscow was no Great Wizard of the East, but rather that it
was much like cities of its nemesis ,the western world, with one exception.
Although Moscow does have its historic sites, great buildings, broad avenues, and
famous theaters, compared to other cities of its size, it seems strangely quiet, almost
like the façade of a movie set after the stars and crews have gone home for the day. This
analogy also proves to be accurate when we look back on what we, the American public, knew
of the Communist Russia. Our reporters and journalists were allowed only in Moscow. They
were proudly shown this example of Russian life under the ideals of socialism.
Meantime, the rest of the country, those areas behind the façade, were struggling to
barely maintain an acceptable standard of living for their residents. That aside, as
tourists of the new era we allowed to see both sides of this false wall of
Above all, the single thing that struck me most about Moscow, is how this reborn
city absolutely exemplifies how drastically things have changed in Russia over just the
past seven to eight years. Here we are, passport carrying U.S. citizens, just waltzing our
way right into the Kremlin. It is October 1998, and we have been invited, if fact
encouraged, to come with our U.S. dollars nonetheless, to tour this, the very bowels of
the city that was once the most proud and shinning example of the fruits of Communism in
the entire world. Our tour of the Kremlin included a visit to the Armoury (with its
extreme examples of this great countrys golden days such as the renowned Easter eggs
of the Faberge Jewelers), as well as a cold and blustery walk around the grounds of this
huge complex. The highlight of our stroll was being able to stand in the middle of the
Kremlins three great cathedrals, where it is said the powerful leaders of Russia are
all hatched, matched, and dispatched.
Just outside the walls of the Kremlin is the
famous and infamous Red Square. This 1,200 by 450 foot courtyard, flanked on its four
walls by St. Basils Cathedral, Lenins tomb, The State History and Lenin
Museums, Kazan Cathedral, and finally GUM (Gosudarstvenny Universalny Magazin) department
store, has been the scene of the majority of Russias most notable historical
From public proclamations from Ivan the Terrible in the mid sixteenth century, to
1990s rallying calls by President Boris Yelsin, this plot of bumpy cobblestones has
seen the making and remaking of one of the two worlds present day superpowers.
Outside of the walls of the Kremlin, and the boundaries of the Red Square,
Russias other Moscow seems to be caught in a certain type of nether
regions. While the majority of its residents scrape together from family and friends
donations to afford them barely enough eat and live, there are, apparently a number of
other Moscovites who are enjoying the good life. This observation comes
strictly from both the amount and type of advertising that adorns Moscows major
highways and thoroughfares.
The in-your-face billboards for perfumes, jewelry, fine clothing, fancy
sports cars, and above all, magazines (such as Vogue), that further promote and advertise
this type of lifestyle with all its trappings, are everywhere you look. As the saying
goes, where there is smoke, there must be fire. Where there is advertising, there must be
eligible consumers. Building on what can best be termed a shadow economy, I think Moscow,
and Russia as a whole, will survive just fine. Who knows, in fifty years it could be
Moscow who is giving us financial aid, rather than the other way around.
One of the other big surprises of our visit to Moscow was in how safe we felt
while wandering about. Although we really didnt have much chance to wander each and
every street and alley way, we did stroll some of the main streets and get rather lost in
the metro on the way back from shopping downtown. No sign of rampant street crime, the
Russian Mafia, or even many street beggars.
I felt relaxed and at ease the entire time we
were there. In fact, we were so much at ease, we decided to extend our visit on Arbot
Street for a last chance opportunity to mix with the locals. The setting for our foray
the local McDonalds. Yes, McDonalds, the epitome of, and in my opinion
one of the few shining symbols for, unbridled capitalism at its very best. Its funny
how hearing "Would you like fries with that?" while shopping in downtown Moscow
(thousands of miles from home) translated to me as a single, yet conspicuous thought . . .
God bless America! And to those who
may have the fortunateness of calling it their home, may they realize how they have been,
however unwittingly, truly blessed with countless and exorbitant opportunities that others
may only dream of. Please help them both recognize and seize those opportunities so that
they may share with others who were not as fortunate as they.