Greg Walters reports on life in Russia's Capitals
Greg Walters '03, a politics major and former editor-in-chief of The Oberlin Review, received a one-year scholarship from OCREECAS to work at English-language newspapers in Russia. He arrived in St. Petersburg in Mid-July, where he worked at the St. Petersburg Times until early September. He now lives in the north Moscow suburbs and works at The Moscow Times, where he plans to stay until at least late spring 2004. Working in Russia, Greg has published articles on Russia and the Kyoto Protocol, the international matchmaking industry (otherwise known as the "mail-order bride business") and other topics. He invites anyone in the Oberlin community interested in Russia (especially those he hasn't seen in a while) to get in touch with him through his outside-the-bubble address: email@example.com.
It's already been a while since I touched down in Russia, so I'll catch you up in brief. I first arrived in St. Petersburg on July 14 (as near as I can now recall) and was immediately faced with the problem of finding a place to sleep. Food and shelter: the essentials. After a couple of phone calls from the airport, I soon zeroed in on a cheap, central hostel on the north bank of the Neva river. But when I arrived after a brief and over-priced taxi ride, I discovered the downside: the hostel was right next to Kresty Prison. This was not so bad, really, but it meant that I would soon discover the local tradition of standing around outside the local jailhouse on the morning after your friend/boyfriend/husband/grandson (it's a men's prison) has been arrested and trying to communicate with him by yelling through the bars. Loudly. And so I awoke on my first morning in Russia, jet-lagged to beat the devil, and, through the haze of transatlantic incoherence, i vaguely remember hearing a woman's voice shouting at someone named Kolya about how he should never have stolen that microwave.
Or something. I confess it was hard to make out the details.
I quickly got settled into St. Petersburg. The SPTimes turned out to be a great place to get started in Russia. I soon made friends with Tom Rymer, the editor, and Pete Morley, the Arts Editor, who helped enormously in getting me oriented. The election for St. Pete governor was heating up, and the newspaper office was a great vantage point to watch Russian politics up close. It was a sordid, messy business. Matviyenko, Putin's favorite, creamed the competition and held all the cards from the very beginning. (The political analyst Sevtsova has called Putin, very accurately I think, an "elected monarch.") But there were a lot of antics before the actual ballots were cast. At one point, the number-three candidate, a man who was losing the race to two women, started posting fliers around town which read: "Governor -- It's A Man's Job!" (That's "Muzhkaya Rabota," for you russophones.) Then the number two candidate (whose name escapes me) organized a campaign in which volunteers stood on Nevsky Prospekt with a live horse and a questionnaire asking, "would you vote for a horse for governor of St. Petersburg if Putin asked you to?" --- a dig at Putin's (at best questionably legal) support for Matviyenko. By the end of the day, passer-by's had issued an categorical, if not emphatic, "yes."
Moving to Moscow has been interesting. St. Petersburg, while charming and full of personality, is really a provincial town these days. Forget what you've heard about Russia's "Window to the West" --- today, Moscow is Russia's most European city by a long shot. This is where the foreign investment comes in, and this is where all the money in Russia is. In Moscow, I discovered I could get sushi a la carte in the supermarket next to my apartment. (In St. Petersburg, I don't think I ever saw a real Western style supermarket.) Moscow boasts a Hard Rock Cafe and real Latin American food. The large, American-looking gym near my apartment offers Aikedo lessons. Don't get me wrong --- Moscow's ain't exactly Paris --- but I was surprised to find that this city seems to be more globalized that St. Petersburg. I had expected exactly the opposite.
Okay. That'll have to be it for today --- I have to go work. Next time I'll tell you about my epic (and yet unfinished) quest to register my visa.
Click here to read one of Greg's most recent articles with the Moscow Times.
Greg sent us another article from the Moscow Times. Click here to read it.
Update!Another article from the Moscow Times. Click here to read it.