This week I witnessed the third sign of the post-crisis Russian apocalypse.
I arrived in Moscow in the spring of 1998. When I got here, the scene reeked of undeserved success and sex. It was an exciting time, but I always had this feeling like I just arrived at a party at 11pm, and something really cool happened a half hour ago which I missed, and everyone else was still talking about it. It was cool to be there, but I definitely wasn't there when "that thing" happened.
Then, almost as if a twisted blessing, The Crisis™ hit. Man, that was a hell of a time. It's like someone hit the reset button on the big Atari we call Russia, and Pitfall started up again from level 1. From devaluation, to expat exodus, leading up to Russia's version of the missing link a la the new biznesmeni, decadence, face control, a rebirth of chauvinism, a tightening of federal powers, through to better engineered social architecture, leading right up to the revised baby boom of today, I've been here all the time.
Now, anything as spectacular as the last 10 years obviously has a lifespan, and one needs to watch for this. Well, I'm here to put say on record that I know the three signs of the death of post crisis Russia, and the third just aired last week on MTV.
Russia's never been a place that can do anything in moderation, and when it was in the throes of a financial crisis, it pulled out all the stops. Conversely, should "stability" ever rear its ugly head in this land, it won't come in the form of comfort and prosperity. I don't believe this place has the inner convictions to truly allow its citizens (i.e. others) to feel at ease and free. The Russian model of stability will come in the form of near-religious Puritanism, aimed at focusing the population on production, output and controlled expression with the goal of maintaining the highest possible prosperity for Russia's power play makers. Work hard, shut up, make babies. Simple as an MTS campaign. When the post-crisis Russia finally kicks the bucket, I want to be making plans to gets da flock outta here. Right now, Russia offers all the benefits of a banana republic, without the nice weather. Once the fun bits are gone, well, what's the point?
The first sign of stability: The proliferation of credit and mortgage advertising.
This began to take place just over a year ago. Credit isn't anything new, and The eXile did a great job of covering the instability of Russia's new ubiquitous credit trend. The offers and ads hit hard. Credit booths are even found at Gorbushka, Russia's largest pirate CD/DVD and electronics market. If you haven't been there, you need to make the trip just to see this. It's very well organized, with hundreds of indoor booths, well renovated, selling the latest Hollywood blockbusters, sometimes before they're even released in North America. On occasion, the authorities make a show of cracking down on intellectual property violations, and the vendors at Gorbushka hide their pirate wares under their countertops. They'll still offer you pirate DVDs, they just won't have them on display for a few days while the authorities tour some WTO committee exec to show them how Russia's situation is improving.
GE Money bank, Alfa Bank, Raiffaisenbank, most of the major local and international players began to invest heavily in promoting their programs. Anything from television, to outdoor, direct mail, internet, point of sale, and so forth. Finding credit options is now as easy as opening your eyes.
The second sign of stability: Automated parking on Tverskaya.
Up until end of last year, parking in Moscow was a much heated issue. Some years back, Mayor Yuri Luzhkov announced that parking was free to anyone who left their car on the street. This created an opportunity for groups of independent parking attendants, who would approach you after you've parked your car, and told you that they'd "watch" your vehicle for a few rubles. You were, of course, not obligated to pay them, but your car would be assured to remain safe should you decide to hand over some money. In addition to this petty extortion, it meant that parked cars blocked up sometimes two to three lanes of traffic on either side of a road. Recently in an effort to cash in on this lost potential revenue, Moscow's authorities finally introduced municipally designated parking zones. No, this does not mean that they built any additional parking garages (although they have introduced tow trucks recently), instead they rounded up all the parking thugs and told them that some turf had to make money for the man. In an effort to make this look civilized, Moscow's authorities recently planted automated parking machines on Tverskaya Street, the main drag in Moscow. The whole ruse gives the impression of legitimacy.