Russia IV

St Petersburg, June 22, 2014

So what does a tourist see upon a visit to Russia? From my quick visit (12 days), I would judge life has become much easier for the average Russian and does not resemble the stories we might remember from the 70’s and 80’s.

While unemployment remains relatively high nationally, in the major cities in the western part of the Russian Federations, jobs are not a problem. People are not standing around waiting for a job.

Even though Russian life is far better than just twenty years ago, we must remember there have been some significant bumps in the road before arriving at today’s situation. Wide spread shortages of all sorts of products (blue jeans were often unavailable) and even national default took place before the free market began to take effect.

Today, Moscow and St Petersburg host all the big name stores and brands now seen throughout the world. There are no shortages albeit prices are somewhat higher. Citizens and tourist hustle around purposefully while others stop for shopping or for a coffee.

Coincident with the move to a free market economy, Russia instituted their version of democratic principles. Here, also, there has been progress but there is still room for full implementation. Free speech and political descent are often met with what appears to be strong government reaction. The Government is ever mindful of how quickly public expression can get out of hand. Never the less, everyday life in Moscow and St Petersburg seemed normal and did not show any signs of public misgivings.

The Russian public’s consensus appears to be “don’t rock the boat, the country is headed in the right direction” (Pussy Riot excepted).

This approach may be wise. The free market is not fair to everyone all the time. Gaining experience with free market principles will require years and runs at times counter to some advantages citizens saw with their former socialized system. The same can be said for democracy. Free speech comes with responsibilities as well. A country, such as Russia, with a history of authoritative governments, will require time to gain new traditions of governance and citizen responsibilities.

Russia public arts, museums, or palaces from the Czar’s time are very worthwhile visiting. Most of the palaces have been restored and display a beauty and sense of order that takes ones breath away.

For reasons that are not clear, in juxtaposition, no one seems to care about cutting the grass, even the grass at public offices. The streets themselves are clean but where there is grass, it is full of weeds and shaggy. The only grass cutting I saw was done with “weed-wackers”. Given the relatively drab colors of many buildings (outside of the Kremlin or Red Square and the various former palaces), the unkept grass gives a touch of third world appearance.

I wonder whether this is a holdover from the communist era and the Russian people’s belief that someone else will take care of it?

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