13 October 2009
This Land Is My Land, This Land Is McDonald’s Land...
As you approach Red Square in Moscow your eyes are immediately drawn to St. Basil’s Cathedral (Annunciation Cathedral) at the southernmost end. The immaculate, brightly colored onion domes have a dreamlike fairy-tale quality to them. The power of the Russian Orthodox Church seems to radiate from here.
To the right, the wall of the Kremlin runs parallel with the square, once housing the Tsar then Stalin (who showed his communism-ness by moving into a former Tsarist Palace - good one Joe. Good one) and now the seat of Russia’s “democracy.” Half-way down is the centerpiece of Red Square - Lenin’s Mausoleum. Six days a week, four hours a day people trudge through to take in the now wax-like visage of the father of the nation. Stalin had dreamed of being embalmed right next to him, but when word got out about the whole killing millions of Russians thing he was plopped out back alongside the other Supreme Leaders.
This is where Red Square gets interesting. Opposite St. Basil’s and next to the Kremlin is the Museum of the State History of Russia, whose exhibits are about neither Russia or history. Finally, opposite the Kremlin (and Lenin himself) is the GUM. What is the GUM, you ask? The world’s most exclusive, most expensive, most fancy luxury shopping mall. Don’t even think about trying to get in if you’re not wearing alligator-skin shoes, a gold chain and - if you’re a woman - 6-inch high heels the width of a toothpick.
Just off the square (but within site of Lenin) is the crowning achievement of new Russia: The world’s busiest McDonald’s, where $9 will get you a Big Mac, fried and a coke. If he hadn’t been embalmed for the last EIGHTY FIVE YEARS, Lenin would be rolling in his grave.
Perhaps the most interesting element of former Communist states is how quickly political power is replaced by economic power. Those who once led the “Revolution” now lead big oil companies. The political elites become the business elites, state rationing stores are replaced by massive department stores and “poof,” democracy! How long might it be before Red Square becomes McDonald’s Square and the government sells the rights to the Cathedral to Disneyland?
As seems to be the most common question here in Russia - WHAT IS GOING ON?