Sunday, July 11, 2010
General impressions of Russia
The Russian People
Our guide told us that the large majority of the people in Russia are poor. Many take summer jobs away from their families in order to exist through the long winters. The contrast between the magnificent, opulent palaces and gracious buildings with the new developments around the city is noticeable and stark. Our guide (a St Petersburgher) seemed bemused by the changes that have occurred in his country and his city. I’m not sure if he has soviet leanings or whether the changes have been too rapid. Once upon a time everyone was subsidised with apartment, heating, transport, jobs etc. There was no crime because the KGB were police, judge and jury and were allowed to arrest anybody without reason and impose sentence. Now, they are on their own to create their own lives based on how hard they work and how much they earn. Apartments are very costly, heating is expensive and there is tough competition for jobs. The poor have become poorer, they have over 10 million illegal immigrants and crime is a problem. There are crime riddled, no-go areas in most cities. The conundrum is that they have democracy - whether they want it or not.
Russia is very different from any other European countries we've visited. As Shernoff says," In Russia the streets look normal and the people look more or less like average Americans. But that appearance belies a culture, history and a way of thinking ... that couldn't be more different than any other you've encountered elsewhere. This paradox makes Russia alternately maddening, mystifying, enchanting and exciting."