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St. Petersburg Times
June 3, 2003
Regions Unsure About Jubilee
By Vladimir Kovalev

KOTLAS, Far North - While a survey conducted in all of Russia's regions by the presidential administration in May reported that over 90 percent of respondents viewed St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary as a positive event, the citizens of Kotlas seem to be split more evenly on the question.

Located 1,025 kilometers to the northeast of St. Petersburg, in the Murmansk region, Kotlas is a city of 80,000 that resembles many other provincial towns in Russia. Grass sprouts through the numerous cracks in the asphalt sidewalks and the four-story yellow buildings built in the Stalin era appear not to have seen a fresh coat of paint since.

In a city far-removed in character from St. Petersburg, some of the residents were awed by the celebrations held in the city on the Neva River over the last week, but others complain about billions of rubles being spent on an anniversary party while the majority of the country lives in poverty.

"This is Russia's second-most important city and it has earned the right to celebrate its anniversary this way. The question is not about the money, as this is an advertisement in Europe for all of Russia and for the city in particular," said Dmitry Ivantsov, a 26-year-old engineer, who moved to the Kotlas region from the Southern city of Bryansk a few years ago. "It's not like it's something that happens once every 10 years ... so I don't think that this is a big price to pay."

Nikolai Mokrestov, 65, was not as optimistic, saying that, although he respected people from St. Petersburg and thinks of the city as "the capital of the Northwest [Region]," he questioned the government's decision to spend so much money on the events when the economic situation is so difficult.

"I can't see how this celebration is good for all of Russia. What kind of celebration can it be when we have nothing on our tables to celebrate with? The government has completely forgotten about the people," Mokretsov said. "My wife and I have a combined monthly income of 3,300 rubles [about $110], so I have no choice but to dig here. ... What kind of culture can a hungry person talk about?"

Lukyan Shashkov, a priest who heads the Russian Orthodox Old Believers Spiritual Mission for the Vologda, Archangelsk, Murmansk regions and the Karelian Republic, was not happy with the money being spent, and even more scathing when talking about St. Petersburg and what it stood for.

"This celebration is just putrid. [St. Petersburg] is just not a city and it will fall through the ground as was predicted," Shashkov said. "Tens of millions of people died while it was being built by Peter the Great, so what else would you expect? He wanted to change Russian people by forcing them to put on European coats and shave off their beards. This was just a way mock the Russian people."

Part of Peter the Great's program of Westernization involved adopting European dress and social habits, some of which, including shaving off beards, drew fierce opposition from the Old Believers, a sect that split from the Russian Orthodox Church in the 17th century.

But the debate over the city's history meant little to Natalya Strekalovskaya, 26, a waitress at Kotlas' XXL nightclub. She said that she had never been to St. Petersburg, but enjoyed what she had seen of the celebrations on television.

"It's is a question of money - it's too far away," she said. "But I would like to go to see a museum. Plus there's another interesting thing to see, the things they open at night ... the bridges."

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