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Hall of Facets & Terem PalaceOct. 5-6, 1998  Moscow, Russia

The big day arrives as we are to get our first glimpse into the nucleus of half of this century’s 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 world’s 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.

St. Basi'ls Cathedral, Red SquareAlthough 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 prosperity.

Savior Tower Gate of the KremlinAbove 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 country’s 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 Kremlin’s three great cathedrals, where it is said the powerful leaders of Russia are all ‘hatched, matched, and dispatched’.

Lenin's TombJust 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. Basil’s Cathedral, Lenin’s 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 Russia’s most notable historical moments.

State History Museum, Red SquareFrom public proclamations from Ivan the Terrible in the mid sixteenth century, to 1990’s rallying calls by President Boris Yelsin, this plot of bumpy cobblestones has seen the making and remaking of one of the two world’s present day superpowers.

GUM Department Store, Red SquareOutside of the walls of the Kremlin, and the boundaries of the Red Square, Russia’s ‘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 Moscow’s major highways and thoroughfares.

Lego model of St. Basil's in GUM department store windowThe 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.

The White House, scene of the 1991 failed coupOne of the other big surprises of our visit to Moscow was in how safe we felt while wandering about. Although we really didn’t 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.

Arbat StreetI 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 McDonald’s. Yes, McDonald’s, the epitome of, and in my opinion one of the few shining symbols for, unbridled capitalism at its very best. It’s 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 . . . . .

McDonald's in MoscowGod 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.

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Last modified: August 19, 1999    Photographs and text © 1998 Scott and Laura Kruglewicz. All Rights Reserved.


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