It was an amazing time to be in Moscow in 1993. Although I was there only 2 days, I got a great impressionist swirl of a nation in flux. I remember distinctly the rudeness of people in the service industry (I guess because, until very recently, they’d all been state employees where there was no reason to be polite to comrades; salaries were guaranteed).
Teams of ancient babushkas behind trestle tables sold coupons for the Metro, rather than automatic ticket machines, because the recent communist government wanted full employment, no matter how menial – and no matter that the recent currency crash meant that I could buy 400 metro tickets for one pound. Someone told me that no-one could use public telephones any more, as they all used 1 kopek coins, which were unavailable as people were melting them down: the value of the scrap metal was greater than the face value of the coins.
I remember walking round Red Square for hours, feeling hungry and realising that I had seen nowhere to eat at all – and ended up at the new McDonalds, filthy food though it is, simply because I had seen nowhere that I could identify as being a restaurant.
I recall being amazed that people would still carry banners of Stalin – but I guess the certainties, however evil, of the past were better than the craziness of the present.
In contrast to the “never change” brigade were the punks that I met, posing in front of a graffti-covered bust of Marx. They invited me to go and see Iron Maiden, who were playing somewhere on the opposite side of the city, but I didn’t fancy a solo ride across Moscow in an unlicensed taxi cab back to my cheap hotel near the airport, even thought the collapse of the USSR was so new that the mafia hadn’t completely taken over. And the fact that Iron Maiden are shit, of course.
It was an extraordinary two days, though I wasn’t sorry to leave – and get some food. For someone who’d been a member of various far-left parties as a student, it was odd to see socialism being so comprehensively rejected, except for a few old people and diehards. I’d be tempted to go back, though, especially after seeing the Commie ladies on the National Bolshevik Party web site.
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