Saturday, May 14, 2016

Butierkskaya 4


The total number of Western foreigners in Russia in the early 1990s totaled less than 8,000 of which less than one thousand were Americans living in Moscow, aside from those working at the USA Embassy.

Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy
Many of us met on Sundays at the protestant worship service held in a Russian school auditorium. It was the one opportunity a week when Kathie and I spoke English with fellow Americans. We’d compare notes following the service during the fellowship hour. Inflation was always a focus of discussion and where Coke and good quality imported food from Finland and Denmark could be purchased.

Russia is surprisingly expensive and most tourist venues have two-tiered pricing: Russians pay one Ruble cost, while foreigners pay a different, much-inflated price. It’s a feature that’s applied across the board, from museums, fast-food restaurants, hotels, theatres, and on long distance trains and internal flights. Foreigners are charged anything from two to ten times what locals pay for the same product or service.

In addition to stretching our SA allowance to accommodate the unexpected and uncompromising two-tier price structure we were struggling with the spiraling effects of inflation. For days on end the media’s only focus was hyperinflation. And we witnessed inflation materialize in front of our own eyes.

Hyperinflation ran at a dizzying 33 percent a month in 1992 totaling a staggering 2,600 % over the year. Yet, our SA allowance remained unchanged plunging our standard of living to the level of the average Russian. We’d already adjusted to the life-style joining the queues shopping in Ruble shops, and adapting to the Ruble queues in two tier price establishments. We made every effort to become ‘card carrying’ Muscovites as we were transformed to Ruble Russians from credit card carrying expats.

“It forced pensioners like Klavdiya Matveyevna out into the street to sell sneakers to keep themselves fed; it has forced families to cut back on meat at the dinner table; and it has bred a whole new upper class of Russians who shelter themselves from inflation by dealing in Western goods and keeping overseas bank accounts in dollars.

Most seniors survived the austere policies of six Soviet leaders, from Stalin to Gorbachev. But the changes experienced in the last 12 months under the Russian leadership of President Boris Yeltsin are like nothing they can remember.

One senior Russian said, "My pension used to be 75 rubles per month and I could buy what I needed", she said, standing behind a cart at a Moscow supermarket. "Now I receive 4, 600 rubles and I cannot buy two kilograms of sausage".

She had gone shopping for butter and found the price at one store was 625 rubles per kilo. But it was too expensive for Klavdiya Matveyevna, who lives on a pension of 2, 800 rubles a month, so she looked around for a better price. By the time she had returned to the first store the same morning, the price had risen to 825 rubles.” [1]

SPARTACUS The Bolshoi Theatre

A very real concern was controlling the cost of The Salvation Army’s official Moscow opening celebrations and the Social Work Conference following immediately thereafter, THQ (the Chief Secretary) had made it clear that we were not to exceed ‘their’ allocated budget which had diminished due inflation in purchasing power to a mere 40% of the original allocation. It was time to again call on friends in the ‘west’ and to pull out our own AMEX card,

Bolshoi Theatre’s туристические цены и цены мусковитовые (Tourist vs, Muscovite ticket prices)

The Moscow Bolshoi Theatre traces its history to March 28, 1776 when Catherine II granted the prosecutor, Prince Pyotr Urusov, the "privilege" of "maintaining"  theatre performances ‘of all kinds’ for a period of ten years. This history is on-going and today Bolshoi Theatre artists continue to contribute to it many bright pages. The Bolshoi building, which for many years now has been regarded as one of Moscow’s main sights, was opened on 20 October 1856, on Tsar Alexander II’s coronation day. It was awarded this honor due to the major contribution it made to the history of the Russian performing arts. The Bolshoi Theatre remains an iconic symbol of Russia for all time.

In March 1992 the Bolshoi brought Yuri Grigorovich's Spartacus, created at the Bolshoi in 1968 and which has since remained the Russian company’s signature ballet. This most spectacular production is an epic tour de force, giving full expression to the virility and strength for which the Bolshoi’s male dancers are renowned. 

And it was this production in the Bolshoi Theatre, which the leaders of the Army’s epic re-opening were privileged to attend, a sell-out performance.

Our Russian neighbor, a Bolshoi Theatre senior employee, cooperated with the Youth Institute, (social work university) where I’d begun weekly lectures to secure tickets at Ruble prices.

We were seated on the main floor – rows 24-25, and all with excellent views of the historic stage. We were all in SA uniforms seated amongst other western tourists who’d paid upwards of $50.00 per ticket, with a good chunk of it being paid to the Bolshoi ‘hustlers’. They operated on 3 levels of profiteering, with the number 1 tier collecting the highest kickback. They were Bolshoi employees and risked not only losing their jobs and pension but a good stint in the Butierskaya prison a full 4 minutes away by police van.

In addition it was fairly certain that we were seated next to Russian millionaires and perhaps even billionaires. Corruption was a serious issue and they’d amassed their fortunes working in concert with public officials hoarding state funds, relying solely on what comes out of the ground, black gold.

Kathie and I were scheduled to travel to the USA where we’d spend six weeks enjoying our homeland furlough; a time of R&R. Concern had been expressed relative to the continuity of our mission. There were many projects under way and one high level Parliamentary meeting requesting the Army’s presence along with a presentation of our work. We were the only SA officers in place.

During the intermission General Eva Burrows and Commissioner John Ord called me aside and it was clear that they had discussed our substitute replacement. Several recruit classes were under way, social services to be sustained, Sunday worship services, and more. Whoever was selected could be certain of the faithful assistance of the scores of SA soldiers who had just been enrolled!

In a most gracious manner General Burrows shared that, in consultation with Commissioner Ord, they’d thought the Commissioner Ingrid Lindberg seemed an excellent choice. And what did I think about their recommendation? Call me a ‘yes man’, but there was no better choice! I never learned if they’d already spoken to the Commissioner or not, but invited me to join with them as they informed her that she was my number one choice!

Sven Ljungholm


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