Wednesday, December 01, 2004

On The Mark: Reporting from Russia, Part II

St. Petersburg, Russia -- I know now why Stalin despised and feared St. Petersburg (Leningrad). I also see why Hitler was so obsessed with it. Why he tried for 900 days to seize it. And why, for those 900 days, the Russians of this great city were not about to give it up. As I walk the streets and tour the well-known and less well-known sites, I can't help but think of Rue St. Germain in Paris or the canals and bridges of Amsterdam. I've never been to Venice, but I'm sure its claim to be the Venice of the North is accurate. St. Petersburg is Europe tucked into an upper small region of this great and expansive land of Russia. Spending a day in Moscow and then a day in St. Petersburg is like traveling between centuries, although Moscow is aggressively modernizing. I have read a biography on Peter the Great, but I realize now that much more needs to be known about this visionary of a man. This city was built more than 300 years ago, and has had several names -- St. Petersburg, Petrograd and Leningrad -- names that went along with the times.

As I speak to more of the people, I begin to realize that the country is like a three layer cake, each with distinct tastes and formations. One layer, let's call them the senior generation, they miss the days of communism. As one person told me, "In the days of communism, they knew exactly what was going to happen every day. If they kept quiet and out of harm's way, they had no worries for the most part. Their social services, food, etc., were all ensured. Today, after the collapse of communism, and the beginning struggles of democracy, their fears of not having food and warmth are stronger than the fears of being arrested under totalitarianism, and it's difficult for them to make a living; most earn the equivalent of $150 USD a month." The next generation, let's call them the neo-boomers, are in a state of flux. They don't know what to expect. The water in their shower, if you will, keeps switching from hot to cold. One day there's hope, the next day there is uncertainty. The next generation, let's call them the up-and-comers, are full of hope. They're too young to really understand the days of communism and totalitarianism, except from the stories they hear at family gatherings. "Not much is even taught in school about this period of our history," one person told me, "We know it's hard now, but we feel it getting better, slowly but surely. We think that in 10 years' time, it will be very good here."

This morning I depart for the deeper parts of Russia, to towns and cities far from Moscow and St. Petersburg.

1 comment:

Paul Sveda said...

Having spent this October in the Czech Republic I can take a moment to echo what you've witnessed in St. Petersburg. The attitudes between the young and optimistic and the old and dreaming of socialism is clear. Its an interesting experience to listen to debates from both sides of the coin and realize that both system have their social advantages and costs. It must be far more polarized in Russia. Looking forward to your next update!

Cheers. P.