Russia - final thoughts
Trip Start Jun 29, 2005
235Trip End Nov 30, 2009
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Anyway, Russia can only be described as an amazing and bizarre country as it rushes head-first toward a more conventional democracy and market economic system, so I thought I'd add a short entry relating to all those little things I noticed whilst here but which didn't make it into specific blog entries.
Firstly it is a sophisticated society despite years of repression and backward stepping. It's remarkable that throughout so many turbulent times it was able to retain key elements of culture such as the arts, architecture and religion - against all odds. Efficiency is found in the most unexpected places, like the metropolitan transit systems. The ability for such a large country to emerge from Communist rule quickly and reasonably smoothly is a by-product of this worldliness. Of course there will be hiccups and exceptions but the archaic, apathetic and sometimes ridiculous country of my expectations was blown away in a whirlwind of progress and development that is modern Russia of today.
Despite concerns regarding top political figures and the 'corporatisation' of the economy (basically the transfer of power to large business interests), I was surprised with the editorial freedom shown by publications. An English language paper called The Moscow Times (http://www.moscowtimes.ru/indexes/01.html) I managed to find was surprisingly frank in its criticisms of President Putin and some of the large deals being done by high rollers (mainly in the Oil Industry - Russia is the second largest oil producer in the world). Like many other changes, I'm kind of impressed that this has occurred so quickly after the transformation. If history is any guide however, it might not last for long.
Change and increased freedoms have manifested themselves in other ways too. Gambling is big business across the country and the advent of roadside poker machines as mentioned in the Irkutsk entry can't be a healthy development. Beer is drunk like soft-drink and the stories about Russian vodka consumption are not exaggerated. Advertising, in particular adult content, is equally eye-popping. After being told that Russian society is generally very conservative, I suspect that this is due to a lag in legislation as opposed to any cultural acceptance of such practices and it will be interesting to see if things get better or worse.
I suspect increased consumerism has both masked and exacerbated growing socio-economic divides. Generally monthly wages are very low but there is a high level of conspicuous advertising and resulting consumption. People look good on the street (well, the beautiful women anyway) but everyone is grumpy and no-one really smiles. Is that cultural, situational or both? Who knows...
Anyway, I've waffled on enough but at the risk of regurgitating old cliches, Russian is a land of interesting contradiction and of dashed expectations. In a lot of cases that's not a bad thing, just different and sometimes confronting. But that's one reason why I travel, to be confronted and sometimes amazed - and Russia certainly did that.
Over and out.
Next entry: Old and beautiful Tallinn
God knows what this thing is but it's one of the scariest things I've seen outside of a Mad Max movie. Hope it never comes to a road near you!
Apologies for the photo quality - I was running away at the time!