While it is hard to put into words at times what life is like here in Moscow and Russia in general, I guess, it is even harder to put your finger on the Russian Psyche. Never have I experienced (in my limited travel experience) a nationality who as a collective have so little regard for or love of their country, or even a shred of respect or trust for their fellow countrymen. This is something we have noticed ever since arriving, firstly when asked “what brings you to Moscow ?”, the second question is invariably “WHY Moscow ?”. Sure, for us it was pure unbridled adventure that we were seeking and it was a bonus that we had something to make life comfortable along the way, but unlike the vast majority of expats we didn’t come with the expectation of earning ridiculous sums of money and living the high life, so most Russians cannot comprehend that apart from money there would be no reason to come here and that maybe we are a little mad.
We are continually warned by any Russian friends and acquaintances that we shouldn’t trust any Russians, they will jack up our grocery bill, the goods they sell you will be no good, all the ATM’s have those card readers in them, the women will try to steal your husband (unfortunately haven’t had many offers on that one yet…) or they’ll rob you blind. So far we have not struck any such stealthily, co-ordinated ruses to rip us off, generally we find that we get a fair deal here and in general even feel safer on the streets than in New Zealand, but do wonder how, any long term good can come from a society so completely devoid of trust and respect.
Russian history undoubtedly has a huge part to play, with a large proportion of the current population having spent the majority of their lives under communist rule and only the first generation of “democratically influenced” adults starting to emerge onto the world now. During the communist era I understand that everyone kept to themselves and didn’t trust anyone else for fear of any reprisals, founded or not, and if that is how you lived your life for 40, 50, 60 or possibly even 70 years, 20 years afterwards you may still be adjusting to the change, not fully trusting anyone in power, as you have never been able to trust them before, (and after reading the local papers, what would make you want to trust them now either). Even the first post-Perestroika generation of children will have still been raised by parents who knew nothing other than Communisim, so realistically it is only now that we are starting to see a generation of children being born with some sort of disconnect to the communist ways, so it will possibly be another 20 years at least before any noticeable increase in trust is measurable.
It is commonly accepted here that rules mean nothing, and although there is not the overt police presence here that one is conditioned to expect, it is surprising that this total lack of respect for rule of law doesn’t break down into complete anarchy, but in true Russian fashion, expect the unexpected. In the street everyone just gets on with life, minding their own business, yet everyone still has the basic manners that have long disappeared from so many “me” centric western civalisations, and a man will always get off his seat for a woman, and everyone will offer their seat to a child on the Metro. An old babushka will reprimand you for letting your child out in the cold without a jacket, or hat or gloves, or any other component of an essential warm winter cocoon, but at least they are concerned about your kid. Your child can be administered drugs at school without your consent or knowledge and you can obtain seemingly any sort of drugs you want from the chemist just by asking. No one studying English bothers to go and watch English movies at the cinema, they just download them from the internet a few weeks after their release, “this is Russia you know, things are easier here…”
Society here is also filled with the haves and the have not’s, I guess like many other “successful” western societies, however the gap here seems to be huge with very little in between, you either already have a lot of money, power and influence or you have no hope of ever having it. There is a class of probably illegal workers here who seem to work tirelessly for very little, clearing snow, cracking ice, cleaning or are general errands boys for a rich man. They are usually either Ukrainian or from any number of those Asian former Soviet Republics or Russian republics, like Tajikastan, Dagastan, etc, and despite their working conditions, the ones we have met seem like absolutely wonderful human beings, always saying hello, waving to the kids and stopping to have a chat, even though neither of us understands what the other says, we smile, wave and carry on with our respective days.
Despite all the negatives that are used to describe Russia and Russians in general, it is a country that does possess great beauty, a magnificent if blood spattered history and a resilient people who have survived famines, pestilence, disease and fought some of the bloodiest battles in history, and I believe there is no reason that they cannot shake off the shackles of the past and emerge as a truly international nation without having to go down the road of “Americanisation”.
We experienced a truly heartwarming sight during the last weekend that did stop us in our tracks as we were leaving Sokolniki Park, and for a few minutes immersed us in another Russia as we stood and watched a large crowd of senior citizens dancing away in that snow covered square to 1950’s music blearing out from stereotypical Soviet style speakers on the band stand. We could have been standing there celebrating the end of the war, the feeling was no different, and despite the fact that most of those participating would have been well into their 60’s and 70’s and maybe even 80’s, and some were possibly even here when they did celebrate the end of the war, there was not a single ride-on scooter or zimmer frame in sight, and very few walking sticks. A number of old couples were even seen to pash romantically as they zipped around the square.
It is just the way here, you get on with life.
As much as many Russians would want Moscow to change, there is a certain something about this place that is so far removed from any other place on earth, that once lost will be missed and unable to be replaced.
|Tripping the light fantastic one snowy February Saturday at Sokolniki Park
(Note the couple in the centre about to pash.)