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Russia’s Struggle with Capitalism

September 1, 2008

By Michelle Blanter, Guest Contributor

 

In 1979, the “Central House of Artists” was built in Moscow, Russia. The building housed the Soviet Artist’s Guild, known today as the “International Federation of Artist Unions.” The building is large and gray with sharp angles—edgy and modern for the late 70s and early 80s. It now houses mostly 20th century Russian art and constantly runs exhibits of international modern art.

 

In 2004, the completion of “The Gherkin” in London became one of the most admired architectural projects in the world. The building is modern, energy saving, and stunning. The architect, Lord Norman Robert Foster was awarded his second Stirling Prize for it.

 

Driving through Moscow today, I can’t help but reminisce about the how much the city has changed in the past five to ten years. Moscow is one of the richest cities in the world, has the most billionaires, and is the most expensive—quite the transition from Soviet times when people had to stand in line for hours in the cold only to find out there was no bread left in the store.

 

BMWs, Range Rovers, and Porsche’s are parked everywhere—including the sidewalks—and gas prices are much lower than in Europe—roughly equivalent to U.S. prices. An ad for Rolex stands over the Red Square.

 

Russia is forever looking for a way to incorporate the benefits of western lifestyles without losing sight of the “Russian Soul.” Peter the Great cut Russian beards and brought in western industries but, left the culture of the countryside untouched. Lenin brought Marxism with his own twist. Now, former President Putin seems to have done the same with capitalism and globalization. Moscow may be rich and flashy but the Russian temper is omnipresent and Russian historical sites and culture are celebrated more than ever with a surge in Russian nationalism (it didn’t hurt to beat the Netherlands in the Euro Cup.)

 

But, recent surges in Russian nationalism did not prevent the Mayor of Moscow, Lushkov, from giving lucrative construction contracts to his wife’s company INTEKO. Recently, Russia’s “Central House of Artists,” a building of the twentieth century is now under threat of demolition. Ownership of the building is split between the Tretyakov Gallery—a government owned museum of classical Russian painting—and the “International Federation of Artist Unions.” INTEKO has submitted to replace the building with “Orange,” without even notifying the Director of the “Central House of Artists.”

 

The “Orange,” will be designed by architect Lord Norman Robert Foster and once built will be the largest building in Europe to date. It is going to have condominiums, a hotel, shops, and a small gallery in the center.

 

As I sat in the basement of the “Central House of Artists,” with their attorney she explained to me that there was little they could do if the government decided to take down the building and “oh, that evil capitalism; they are calling this art gallery a barn.”

 

That sums up my experience in Russia: the ever present struggle of Old Russia and New Russia; the Russia that looks to the East and the Russia that looks to the West. The Russia that celebrates capitalism and the one that resents it. The Russia that is nostalgic of the past glory represented in the beautiful artwork of the “Central House of Artists” that may now easily turn into an “Orange.”

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