Wednesday, August 22, 2007

[russia] depoliticization and the scramble for comfort

[Dollar is currently worth 26.8 roubles. Pound about double that.]

The exciting thing about the fSU is watching the changes. It's like what happened in the west from the 50s on, all happening within one decade here, with Russian differences, of course.

Take housing. The long, ten story housing block here is a different thing to the poor areas of London - security doors, domophone, heating in the stairwells, two lifts, double glazing, two foot thick concrete walls [I just measured them now].

Inside each flat it's what you want to make it. Mine has lacquered parquet floor giving a golden hue in the morning sun and then the modula furniture is entirely what one wishes. Furniture shops abound and we just priced a new kitchen - 8000 roubles [or $320] for the cupboards and shelves.

This is more the local variety of girl where I live - better in the flesh than in photos

My flat is regarded as a "one room" although it is a half "L" shape, twenty feet long and twelve feet wide.

It has the bed/cupboards at one end, the living area at the other near the balcony and half way, on the convex side is the computer station and behind me the door through to the short corridor.

To the left is the kitchen, regarded as large by Russian standards and then the bathroom and separate toilet coming off the corridor to the right. The kitchen is a living area over here, with padded seats in an "L" and a large, all-purpose table.

The price hikes are the downside and an indictment of the bankers and it's this which really started my train of thought I've inflicted on you in many posts. In 1996, this flat was worth about $8000 and by year 2000 - about $12000.

Then, from 2001 through to 2007, the prices went through the roof and you couldn't get this place now for under $80000 if you were lucky because it's well positioned.

In that time, my official salary at the university [barely covering the service costs of the flat and nothing else] went from $70 for the month to about $180 now.

Small shopping for basic necessities - fruit, meat, milk, bread, costs about $30 a pop, lasting about three days - so about $300 a month. The general wisdom here in this city is that one cannot survive below an income of about 12000 roubles or about $450 a month.

So there's a severe shortfall in income and rocketing inflation. What to do?

You have to make it up somehow and this turns every Russian into a "businessman", let us say. By definition, the cash must come in. Must. No one in his right mind uses the state medical services so that's a cost on top of it all.

This is the sort of young lady I'll be forced to work with again from September.

Into this scenario comes credit. Now bear in mind that the post-Soviet Russian is essentially a child, with a handout mentality, a pay later mindset and so credit sits very nicely in that mindset. Sign up for anything, on any terms and say all the right things with a winning smile.

It's credit which has forced the steep hikes and put three times the number of cars on the road in three years, to say nothing of the pollution levels in the atmosphere - almost everyone, including me, has some sort of bronchial problem.

On the other hand and a testament to the genuine popularity of Putin, we're sticking it to the west and refuse to be dictated to by their cabals - we have our own here.

Thus there is still quite a deal of freedom left, that precious commodity, not through any altruism on the part of the government but because they haven't got round to restricting it yet. People are too busy making ends meet to get political.

Don't be fooled by the vocal spokespeople much touted in the west - the average person is far more involved in making money and as change is impossible to effect anyway, a certain depoliticization is in place.

Like you, the scramble is for a better lifestyle [they utilize the English word and call it kom'fort] and any political move which supports that ideal gets huge support over here.

Not unlike you over there.

Below is the Old Russia - the place I lived 10 years ago, when this was taken. Today foreign cars abound.


jmb said...

This is a very interesting post James. You are answering questions which I have never had the nerve to ask my good Russian friend. She lives in Moscow, was a scientist herself although now retired. She comes with her physicist husband twice a year to Vancouver for two months at a time, for him to use the cyclotron and has done so for more than ten years. She speaks a little about the difficulties of life in Moscow although not much.

However last year both her husband and mine had malignant melanomas, both removed in operations, his with serious side effects, my husband with less side effects, but still nasty.

She told me that it cost them $8,000 while it cost us nothing for the two ops my husband had under our medicare system. I can't imagine how they could have afforded it, but they did somehow.

They have never owned a car and she does not drive. I don't know what his arrangement is here, if he is paid additionally by someone here. One doesn't ask but I do know that life is not easy for them there and she loves her life when she is in Vancouver. She says she feels more at home here, probably because she has made very good friends in this international group of women that I consider my friends.

Welshcakes Limoncello said...

Yes, fabulous post. You really bring home the rate of change there. Such a nice description of your flat, too and I see where you are coming from on credit now. Couldn't you get these articles published in a British newspaper? They'd be real eye-openers for most people.

Colin Campbell said...

You bring a very realistic perspective on day to day life James. All we get is that Putin is a bully and wants to cause trouble. I think the only thing I read about Russia this week was the return of practice bombing runs by Russian Planes towards the UK. The photograph was fantastic, obviously taken from the cockpit of one of the planes.

I can understand why you might want to raise some blog income, given the cost of living. This seems to be a world wide issue. Australian inflation is heading up and we have seen an explosion in the cost of almost everything in the last five years and very noticeably in the last two.