#29 - JRL 2009-233 - JRL Home
Kennan Institute
December 4, 2009
event summary
The Changeable Faces of Moscow: Global, Multicultural, and Russian

The symbolic landscape of Moscow has experienced four trends in recent years: Westernization, de-sacrilization of Soviet space, Russification, and diversification. At a 4 December 2009 Kennan Institute lecture, Olga Vendina, Senior Researcher, Institute of Geography, Russian Academy of Sciences, and Galina Starovoitova Fellow on Human Rights and Conflict Resolution, Woodrow Wilson Center, discussed the characteristics of these four trends and their impact on the city and its residents.


This change is understood "in a very narrow sense in Moscow as modernization," said Vendina, who described Westernization in the city as a repetition and imitation of forms found in the West. For example, a new business district in Moscow, comprised of tall glass skyscrapers standing in a cluster, stands in deep contrast to the surrounding Khrushchev-era five-story apartments that house low-income individuals.


In the Soviet era, Red Square was an empty and sacred place. Now, it has become a public one, where a shopping mall operates in front of the Unknown Warrior’s Grave, and an ice-skating rink is located in front of the Lenin Mausoleum. At the same time, Vendina stated, a nostalgia and return to the grandiose Stalinist style can be seen in Moscow, contrasting greatly with the simple sparse design that was visible under Yeltsin.


This national revival of Russian culture has been spurred on by the belief that Russian culture was diluted and threatened by Soviet culture. "The process of Russification is very connected with Russian nationalism," said Vendina, adding that this could be seen in the construction of monuments to Peter the Great ­ the reformer tsar ­ in various places in Moscow.


Vendina explained that the distribution of wealth in Moscow is now quite pronounced, as evidenced by the rise of gated communities and exclusive shopping malls. "It is surprising how quickly in Moscow, after a long period of an egalitarian approach, this form of social injustice was developed," she said. Another aspect of diversification is the increase in ethnic and culturally diverse spaces, reflected in new city infrastructure such as Armenian cathedrals and Chinese markets. "The fate of Moscow is always to be destroyed and be reconstructed," concluded Vendina.

By Larissa Eltsefon
Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute

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