“Come to Moscow, Brother...”
By Paul Richardson and Mikhail Ivanov
The merciless July sun sets alight the five, newly gilded domes of a resurrected Christ the Savior Cathedral... A double amputee veteran of the war in Chechnya patrols lines of stopped traffic by wheelchair, asking for assistance... Pensioners battle developers to save a grove of trees they planted near their apartment building 30 years ago... Countless construction cranes roost about the city, as if waiting to pull yet another new, glass-faced building up from the earth... Ten thousand American, Dutch, German and other expatriates revel in Fourth of July fireworks at Kuskovo, a tsarist-era estate... 50,000 “hidden” street children haunt city streets in search of food, drugs and shelter...
Welcome to the new Moscow.
Moscow today is a metropolis on steroids -- a bustling, burning city trying to muscle its way into the late 20th century in less time than it takes to bring a child up to reading age. It is a hundred Romes being built in a day-- restaurants, banks, grocery stores being sculpted from the carcasses of behemoths that once housed bureaucracies, institutes and barren eateries. It is become a magnet for foreigners and things foreign. Narrow, 17th century alleyways and broad, Stalinesque avenues bulge with Mercedes, Jeep Wranglers and Chevrolet Minivans (most of them driven by rich Russian bankers and merchants). It is a city where liberty has spilled raucously over into license, where metro tunnels are crowded with booths selling everything from pirated porn flicks to Italian leather bags to Snickers bars.
The contrast with Moscow ten, or even five, years ago could not be more striking. Ten years ago, Moscow was the dusty, gray edifice of crumbling communism. It was the secretive capital of a police state that censored out most all things Western. Then, a copy machine was kept under lock and key, Playboy was confiscated at the border and political activism was a hugely dangerous pursuit. Now, there are copy shops on every major street, Playboy is published locally and political activism receives the same jaded review it gets in the West. Then, food was cheap and shops were empty; food lines were commonplace, sugar was rationed and foreign consumer goods were available only to those who could travel abroad. Now, there is always a 24 -hour minimart or kiosk within walking distance, food is plenty and prices are high. Flashy display windows of crisp, clean shops show off everything from Hugo Boss clothing to Davidoff cigars to fine Polish crystal.
Creme de la creme
And yet, much about Moscow remains unchanged over the past decade, or several decades. For one, Moscow has always been a state within a state, an unequaled fiefdom with its own laws, power structures and priorities. And one very high priority, as is true of any imperial center, is to reserve to itself the best the “empire” has to offer. The best food supplies, the best schools and roads, the best apartments, etc. have always been in Moscow.
Having, or being, the best makes Moscow a magnet for outsiders, whether it is foreign investors or provincial Russians looking to climb the social ladder. “Moscow, Moscow, how I dream of Moscow,” waxed the heroine in Chekhov’s famous play about provincial life, “Three Sisters.” This sentiment continues to this day, as tens of thousands of workers stream from the provinces to a booming Moscow, often taking jobs native Muscovites shun.
In spite of the massive influx of workers, Moscow’s jobless rate is unbelievably low. Moscow Deputy Mayor Viktor Korobchenko said that there are less than 46,000 unemployed persons in Moscow, or less than 1 percent of the city’s population. According to Korobchenko, this is the lowest unemployment rate in Russia.
“Only a lazy person can’t make money in this city today, well, except for the handicapped and elderly,” said Valentina Vasiliyeva, a robust 62-year-old Muscovite carrying two heavy bags filled with newspapers. “So many jobs are on offer in Moscow now. I know many foreigners who, for example, would ask you to walk with their dog or work as baby-sitters.”
Vasiliyeva means the foreigners living in her “sales area” -- Leninsky prospekt, where she sells newspapers every day by standing at the metro entrance. She goes each morning to the Moskovskaya Pravda newspaper complex, located at 1905 Street. This is where all street and metro newspaper sellers come to buy 10-20 copies of several different newspapers at wholesale prices. An native Muscovite, Vasiliyeva went into this business four years ago. She now sells about R500,000 ($90) in newspapers each month, which is a nice supplement to her meager R300,000 pension. Bowed under the weight of her copies of TV-Park, Sem Dney and Moskovsky Komsomolets Daily, Vasiliyeva seems to get by, but she can’t help grimacing from the hardship of carrying such a weighty parcel.
“Of course I am nostalgic for the old days,” Vasiliyevna said, “but mostly because, as I realize it now, it was my youth. Muscovites now tend to look more cheerful, they dress better and with better taste. Before, in the Soviet times, we all dressed alike, and even those gray outfits were hard to find.”
Yuri Alexandrov, a lifetime observer of Moscow and author of over a dozen books on its history and byways, concurs. “The Muscovites of the 1930s and 1940s were all big collectivists. Whatever they did, they were doing it all together, they dressed alike, they acted alike, it was a kind of a gray mass. They were also very cautious about their behavior and even wording. But now the city has been Europeanized, or Americanized, depending on how you see it. People’s behavior is more relaxed, more outgoing.”
At her post near the Leninsky prospekt metro station, Vasiliyeva has been watching this swift Europeanization in the thousands of commuters that pass by her each day. “I recall, in the early ‘90s, that people looked more multicolored, though it was all cheap Chinese or Turkish stuff. Now they dress more tastefully; the clients are now more diversified. And in what they read, too. Workers all buy Moskovsky Komsomolets or the Vechyorka (daily, evening newspaper). But the rich or middle-class people tend to buy more TV review magazines -- they have more time for leisure reading.”
The Dust Heaps of History
Some, apparently, are using their leisure time less productively. The workers at the Ozeleninye (Greening) agency, located on 1905 Street, not far from Valentina Vasiliyeva’s wholesale newspaper market, see only the downside wrought by “more relaxed behavior.”
“Just come over here at 7 a.m.,” said Zoya, a 66-year-old, full-time worker with Ozeleninye. “You will see all those [trash] urns filled with American cigarettes and empty German beer cans, and overturned. All the benches have cigarette burns. You call it relaxed and outgoing? I call them barbarians, these youngsters who are necking out there in the park. In the old Moscow, you would not even find a burnt match on the street! And the militia would issue you a warning for kissing on benches.”
Who is to blame? “It’s all because of all these priezhiye [newcomers from the provinces],” Zoya said. “Old Muscovites would not do this to their city.”
Lyuda, a co-worker twenty years Zoya’s younger, disagrees. “I came here 25 years ago and I would think twice before throwing garbage on the grass. I think it’s not about being Muscovite or provincial, it’s about the generally degrading level of culture and education.”
Among the 16 workers of the Greening agency responsible for the 1905 Street area, very few were happy with the way Muscovites handle their garbage, especially in summer, even though this is when they make the bulk of their earnings (R1 mn per month, vs. just R400,000 per month in winter).
“Instead of showing off, [Moscow Mayor Yuri] Luzhkov should have taken all those mayors here, to see all these empty bottles or the dirty bomzhi (homeless persons) sleeping on the benches,” Lyuda said, referring to the recent, high-profile international conference of world mayors held en grande pompe in Moscow this summer. These comments notwithstanding, all the janitors of the Greening agency complemented Luzhkov for “the new beautiful sites,” “better food supply” and also the “nicely renovated zoo” (which is located near the group’s cleanup territory).
Indeed, Luzhkov seems to have very few detractors. Widely cheered as a “doer,” he has made remarkable changes to the face of Moscow. “It is amazing how much Luzhkov has achieved in just five years,” said Lev Kolodny, a columnist for the popular Moskovskaya Pravda and author of some 20 books on Moscow. “Take the Poklonnaya Gora memorial. The first stone was laid down in 1958, under Khrushchev. And nobody, including Yeltsin when he was the Moscow party boss in the late 1980s, could do anything to get things moving. Luzhkov did it all in two years.”
Of course, as Kolodny is quick to note, Moscow has had history on its side for most of this century. “Moscow, being the capital for almost 80 years, gained the upper hand on St. Petersburg, in terms of development. The pace of change here is incomparable to the Northern capital. The level of services and living standards here is, in general, higher than in St. Petersburg. which is why so many show business stars and theater actors have moved to Moscow from St. Petersburg. Good old Piter completely collapsed and lost its luster under Soviet times.
“On the other hand, it is precisely ‘thanks’ to this loss of status as Russia’s capital that St. Petersburg was spared the destruction which Moscow saw. No other city has ever been destroyed in peacetime the way Moscow was under the communist regime, which was seeking to make the city into ‘an exemplary communist city.’”
A Dinner Invitation
The great historical irony is that, 850 years ago, Moscow would not have been a city one would single out as having history on its side. Then, Moscow was little more than a walled village in the Suzdal territory, sandwiched between the much more significant principalities of Novgorod-Seversk and Ryazan. It would take nearly 400 years of struggle by upstart Muscovite princes, plus a few fortuitous events, to bring Moscow to primacy.
The first record of settlement in the Moscow area was late in the 9th century. Yet the year celebrated as Moscow’s “founding” is that marked by an ancient dinner invitation, which is recorded in a chronicle of the period. In 1147, a Suzdal prince, Yuri Dolgoruky, invited his ally, Prince Sviatoslav of Novgorod-Seversk, to a feast with the simple entreaty, “Come to me, brother, to Moscow.” Dolgoruky’s estate in Moscow was located where the Kremlin’s Borovitsky gate is today -- at the intersection of the Moscow and Neglinnaya rivers, and consisted of a wooden church and a few wooden buildings surrounded by a wall. The same chronicle records that the town walls were not laid until nine years later, in 1156. And the next mention of Moscow in the chronicle is in 1177. In that year, Prince Gleb, of Suzdal, “came upon Moscow and burned the entire town and the villages.”
For nearly two hundred years thereafter, Moscow was engaged in battles with neighboring towns and principalities, most notably Tver. The ruthless Mongol overlords, who had conquered and destroyed Moscow in 1237, played towns and princes off against one another, quickly executing any prince who did not properly defer to their authority.
Mongol Power Wanes
Things began to change when Ivan Kalita (literally, “Ivan Moneybags,” because he always carried a money sack -- a kalita), prince of Moscow, obtained the title Grand Prince, in 1328. He enjoyed enough favor from the Mongols that he was selected to collect tributes on the Mongols' behalf from other Russian princes. He began the expansion of the Moscow principality first by combining it with Vladimir, which was also under his control, and then by purchasing up neighboring regions and towns. History had also awarded him a lucky stroke when, in 1326, Metropolitan Peter, head of the Russian church, died while visiting Moscow. Ivan succeeded in convincing Peter’s successor, Metropolitan Theognost, to stay in Moscow, transforming the city into Russia’s spiritual center.
Fifty-four years later, in 1380, Ivan Kalita’s descendant, Dmitry Donskoy, would lead the decisive battle against the Mongols, at Kulikovo field, proving that the Golden Horde was not invincible (indeed, they would return to sack Moscow just two years later, but only in the absence of Dmitry’s army). Further, the victory cemented Moscow’s military primacy, making it a center for resistance against the Mongols to the south and east, and the rising power of Lithuania to the west.
It was during Dmitry Donskoy’s rule (he obtained his second name because Kulikovo field is near the Don river), in 1367, that the wooden walls of Moscow’s Kremlin were replaced by stone.
The Gathering of Russian Lands
Over the next 100 years, Moscow continued to expand and grow in power, despite a bloody battle for succession after the death of Dmitry Donskoy’s son, Basil I.
In 1462, Ivan III (“the Great”) came to power on the death of his father, Basil II (who won a pyrrhic victory in the noted battle of succession). It would be he who would initiate the most significant “gathering of Russian lands,” expanding Moscow and decisively breaking the Mongol hold over Russia. Most significant was his appending to Moscow of the principalities of Novgorod and Tver. But, through purchase, political machinations and military actions, he also added Yaroslavl, Rostov, Ustyug, Perm, Viatka, Dmitrov and Uglich. What is more, a war with Lithuania led to massive acquisitions in the West.
Of no small significance also was Ivan’s 1472 marriage to Sophia, daughter of the last emperor of Byzantium. It meant an adding of the Byzantine double-headed eagle to the family’s symbology, which was that of St. George (see article, page 21), and the addition of Byzantine court rituals and practices in Moscow (including first use of the title “tsar”, from the Latin, Caesar). It also helped initiate the idea of Moscow as a “Third Rome,” after the fall of Constantinople in 1453. So wrote a monk from Pskov in a now well-known refrain: “Two Romes have already fallen, but the third remains standing and a fourth there will not be.”
Ivan did much to build Moscow, bringing in many foreign, especially Italian, artisans and builders. He also initiated the Nemetskaya sloboda, or German settlement, where foreigners lived apart from the rest of Moscow society. The first stone and brick buildings in the Kremlin (including the cathedrals of the Assumption and Annunciation) were built during Ivan’s reign.
Ivan III was the first truly national Russian autocrat. When the Roman Emperor, acknowledging the growing significance of Muscovy, offered to Ivan a crown, Ivan turned him down, as it would have implied subservience to Roman authority:
“We pray to God that He let us and our children always remain, as now, the lords of our land. As to being appointed, just as we never desired it before, so we do not desire it now.”
The Twelfth Year
During the struggles for succession of the early 1600s (following the death of Ivan the Terrible (see Russian Life, January 1997), commonly known as the Time of Troubles, it was the Poles who threatened Moscow, attacking in the name of various False Dmitrys. On one occasion, in 1612, when the Poles got very close to the Kremlin, Kosma Minin, a Moscow meat merchant, and Prince Pozharsky, rallied an army of Muscovites to turn back the Poles (a statue honoring them stands in front of St. Basil’s Cathedral on Red Square). The next year, the 300-year Romanov dynasty was begun (and the Time of Troubles ended) when the National Assembly elected Mikhail Romanov to the throne.
A hundred years later, in 1712, Peter I (the Great), who hated Moscow and loved the sea, changed the capital to St. Petersburg, having wrested control of the mouth of the Neva from the Swedes nine years earlier. Further, in order to spur construction in the northern capital, he forbid any building with stone except in the capital. After Peter’s death, under Elizabeth I and Catherine II (see Russian Life, May 1997 and November 1996, respectively), building in Moscow resumed its previous pace, with both domestic and foreign architects offering their creations. Most notably, Moscow University, the beginnings of the Arbat region, the estates at Kuskovo, Ostankino, Akhangelskoe and others were erected at this time.
In 1812, the twelfth year of the century again proved critical for Moscow, when Moscow was burned rather than be given up to Napoleon’s advancing troops. The damage of the three day fire was devastating -- some 80% of the city was reduced to ashes. Nonetheless, much of the city was rebuilt in the next half century. Notable architectural additions during this period were the Manezh, the Bolshoy Theater and other buildings in the Empire style which flank the boulevard ring, Prechistenka and other main streets in the city center.
As the 19th century progressed, Moscow’s place in Russia increased in importance. The rebuilding of the former capital, and, later, industrialization, then as now, brought immigrants from the countryside by the tens of thousands. By the time of the 1879 census, the city had over a million residents and was widely considered to be the financial and industrial capital of the country, while St. Petersburg was the political and cultural capital.
Came a Revolution
With the revolution and a desire to spurn all things imperial in favor of things proletarian, the capital was moved back to Moscow. The decree came nine days after the Bolsheviks stole power. The new government took up residence in the Kremlin in March 1918. It has remained there to this day with but one exception, when the government was moved to Kuybyshev from 1941-1942, when Moscow was under threat of German occupation.
By far the most dramatic changes to the face of Moscow have occurred this century. At the turn of the century, such masterpieces as the Metropole, Kievsky Train Station and Ryabushinsky House (see this month’s Practical Traveler) were built. Then, in the 1930s, pompous grandiosity held the day. Tverskaya Street was widened, the shops and houses grouped in Manezh square were wiped out and a huge empty square was built that was to extend down to the monstrous (but never built) Palace of Soviets, to be set on the site of the demolished Christ the Savior Cathedral.
In the 1950s, the famous “Seven Sisters” of wedding-cake like buildings (including the new Moscow University, the Foreign Ministry and others) rose up. And then came Khrushchev, whom Kolodny calls “the greatest demolisher of Moscow.” Well-known for the crude “khrushchoby” apartment blocks he had erected throughout the city, he is most notorious for the rampant destruction wrought when he built Novy Arbat (then Kutuzovsky prospekt), wiping out dozens of old churches and old homes to put up the four monstrous hives for governmental workers that tower over the widened avenue. Alexandrov, for his part, termed the Novy Arbat complex “Moscow’s artificial jaw.”
Khrushchev’s successor, Leonid Brezhnev, also made his mark on Moscow, overseeing the construction of hundreds of huge, 14 and 18-story apartment towers in suburbs around Moscow. In 1972, US President Richard Nixon was nicknamed “Moscow’s Chief Architect” thanks to Brezhnev’s tearing down so many old buildings, in particular those near the site of one of Moscow’s first settlements, by the Kremlin’s Borovitsky Gate. Then, in the late-1970s, additional “cleaning” and building was done in anticipation of Moscow’s hosting of the 1980 Summer Olympics. Several large sports facilities, like Krylatskoe and the Dinamo Sports Palace, sprang up at that time, as did the huge Izmailovo and Cosmos hotels.
“What communist rulers did,” Kolodny said, “they all developed Moscow in width. But now, under Luzhkov, Moscow has finally learned to cherish its center, as in all normal cities. Moscow’s rejuvenation now stems from the center ... the land in the center has acquired some value. Now all stores and pharmacies cherish each square meter, the develop in depth, rather than in width, so to speak.”
Mayor Luzhkov’s lead architect in the reconstruction of the city center is Zurab Tsereteli. Georgian by birth, his style is at once grandiose and complex, pompous and provocative. This is particularly true of his 50 meter high monument to Peter the Great, or his memorial sculpture to victims of Stalin’s Purges originally at Poklonnaya Gora. His design of public spaces, specifically the Manezh outdoor shopping complex and his renovation of the city zoo have been much better received, however.
And then there is Christ the Savior cathedral, surely the centerpiece and symbol of Luzhkov’s drive to revitalize Moscow. Built from the ground up in less than two years, the project has been entirely underwritten by private donations and non-governmental funds.
The development of New Moscow is hardly slated to halt after this September’s celebrations are over, however. In addition to continued rebuilding and reconstruction of historical buildings in the city’s older, central districts (aided by banks and larger businesses seeking centrally-located, prestigious office space), there are plans for a skyscraper business district along the Moscow river and a Disneyland-like park (designed by Tsereteli) in the Western suburbs.
Most observers see all this change as only superficial. The heart and soul of Moscow, they note, is unchanged. “Moscow’s skeleton remains the same,” Alexandrov noted. “In spite of all the cataclysms, its natural landscape, its nature, remains the same, and so does its geopolitical situation. In spite of all the destruction and fires Moscow has suffered, such major monuments as Red Square and the Kremlin remain.”
The spirit of Moscow is just as immutable. “It is being on the cutting edge,” Kolodny said. “Being tenacious, being pushy. It is also the bandity and the long-legged, pretty Moscow girls. It is all these things at once. And I disagree with all this small talk coming from the provincials who label Muscovites as arrogant and snobbish. Let me put it this way -- all intelligent provincials arrive in Moscow and become Muscovites.”
Paul Richardson is Publisher of Russian Life magazine. Mikhail Ivanov is the magazine’s Executive Editor.
© 1997, Russian Life magazine