Moscow and the arrival of capitalism

I was a teenager when the Soviet Union collapsed and suddenly I found myself in a new country and in a new regime.

As things go in life, when you have to live through the unbelievable, you adjust pretty quickly, especially when you are young.

Still, the changes that my country was undergoing right before the collapse, and after, were remarkable.

It started with the emergence of ‘lareks’, the small ugly compact boxes decorating almost every street in Moscow, selling stuff. These were the first visible signs of capitalism, offering everything from coca-cola, mars chocolate, and spirits to tampons and cigarettes.


(example of Larek)

No one was even thinking of checking for age, and together with my best-friend, Masha, we took advantage of this new development at once. We would stroll to one of such shops after school, buy coca-cola and cigarettes, and then stroll to the McDonald restaurant in the centre of the city for more ‘delights’. It was the first real fast-food event in our city, and therefore, very noticeable. The queue to the place would stretch for a kilometer, with people eager for the Big Mac and apple pies. Masha and I were still at school, we had plenty of time, and so, spending an hour at least in a queue, was really a minor matter, considering the joy of discovering McDonald when you are fourteen/thirteen, the age which is so easily corrupted by the allure of fast, unhealthy food. We would go for the big mac meal, together with milkshakes, and apple pies, barely able to walk after each feast at the ‘restaurant’. Smoking our cigarettes bought at the ‘larek’ as a complimentary measure following the escapade to McDonald, we would make plans for our new discoveries, ‘things to follow, to try’.

bbc world first macdonalds

The world suddenly turned upside down, and for Masha and me, it represented new undiscovered adventures. Everything seemed possible, everything was allowed. There was no one to explain that cigarettes were bad, or that fast-food was unhealthy. We could do anything we wanted, and when you are at that daring age of fourteen, you, obviously, dare to pursue the temptations.

I remember the day when we first entered the casino in the centre of Moscow, situated at the prestigious hotel in the centre. Our aim was really unclear, we didn’t plan any playing or betting, but we wanted to have a look. Having established that anything, absolutely anything was possible in our new brand world, called the ‘capitalism’, we started to push the boundaries to a tricky and often, dangerous extent.

We wanted to be clever, we wanted to be smart. We were too young for the grown up world in its whole glory, but the truth was clear to our eyes: in the new regime, under the new ideology, the crown belonged to those who overcame the rules, bent them, and went for what they wanted. At that time we wanted to be among the grown-ups, and thus, we went to where the adults had fun. The adults who seemed to rule the new world, based on money and status. That first entrance to the casino was our first appearance among the cool ones, and since it had worked (we got the entry), we tried all other, prestigious and luxurious places.

Masha and I would dress in what we judged to be smart clothes, while in reality, it was what most of Moscow was wearing at that time. Clothes were still rare, at least, interesting, clothes, but I was luckier than others because my mum worked in Italy then and would bring me good stuff, while Masha had extremely resourceful mum.  Masha, would simply borrow her sophisticated, beautiful dresses.

We would turn up at the entrance to the casino or the most prestigious club for foreigners, and play a game of getting in. Bouncers were strict, because these places were reserved strictly for the nouveu-riches or wealthy foreigners, and thus, we would start speaking French with Masha hundreds metres before approaching the bouncers. We attended a French school in Moscow, you see.

“Hello,” I would say to the bouncer, smiling in a conspiratory matter, as if I was about to unveil a bombshell. “This is the famous singer, Margerite Condounois, coming directly from Paris. I am her translator,” I would point towards Masha, leaning towards us as if she couldn’t understand a word, and then switch to a whispering mode to continue with my tale, “Miss Condonois is incognito here, to look at how the locals live, to relax little bit, so, please, make sure, it stays private,” I would then slip a note of some roubles into the hand of a bouncer, and proceed to the entrance. The money was very little (less than a pittance for a tip), because we didn’t have any, but it worked each and every time. Wherever we went, we were let in.

Now in retrospect, I think it worked because of the obvious lie. We looked too young to be international stars or translators, and on top of it, Masha looked way too Russian (distinctive Russian cheeks and blue eyes) , while it was me who could pass for a French, with some difficulties. And because of such a visible ‘oversight’ in our story, we were allowed to proceed, since the bouncers and security always believed in what we were saying. The opposite could pass for a truth, in case we were lying, that was their assumption.

As a result, Masha and I, attended the best casinos, restaurants, clubs, theatre performances, managed to get into the ‘White House’ twice, and into a private party of an oligarch in the making. Masha even went on stage to perform some songs in French (she could indeed sing), and we ended up being paid on several occasions.

We exited the narrative of the life of the glory and the rich, when we both realized that we were after different things. We wanted to study, to be independent, to discover the world, to read books, and to remain young, care-free girls for longer, instead of turning into ‘gold-diggers’.

As a result, despite the absolute madness of that times, I am also grateful that I discovered the inside of it, the inside of what it means when one lives one’s life based on money, power, and more money. Each time Masha and I succeeded to enter the world of the powerful and wealthy, it led to a terrible disappointment. There was nothing of real interest there, no real discussions, no interesting talks, no spontaneity. No philosophy, no deepness, no soul, and no real laughter. We looked, we observed, and we made our minds. We wanted to remain in that old world, in that space in between the ideologies, where feelings, people, and soul discovery mattered more than one’s bank account.

Ironically, we remained true to our convictions, where life is interesting on a daily basis, when you look for something deeper than money and status.

masha and me

(The view of Moscow with my best-friend Masha, five years ago)

3 thoughts on “Moscow and the arrival of capitalism

  1. Hi Ekaterina, I hope to follow your blog and found your comment on MIA very interesting. My father was Polish and he liked the Russian people although Russia invaded Poland during the last World War but he had nothing but good things to say about Russians.

    I have a poetry blog Optimistic Rhymer also two others. I like books also and drawing cartoons and yes cats. I have two cats Pinto and Charlie. I live in Mid-Wales UK.

    Like i say i hope to follow you. Keep well. Anne


    1. Hello Anne,
      thank you so much for stopping by on my blog. Ah, yes, Russia and Poland have quite a history! But I always loved Poland and Polish people, and fell in love with Krakow when I visited it, already years ago (need to go again). Poland saw lots of suffering.
      I will also follow your blogs! My cat is called Gina, she is 15, she is real family:) I live in the Netherlands now (I moved from the UK)


  2. Hi Ekitarina, i so admire the fact you can move about and travel to different places. I have found myself staying put in kind of a time warp and twilight zone but when young i did travel to Italy and lived there among the sunshine and blue azure sea coastline and Naples and my son has traveled to America and Canada. We both live in separate places in our small town here in Wales the UK and live alone. My son is planning a trip to America next year to visit a friend there in New Jersey near New York where Dr Breggin lives and works.

    I am in touch and friendly with Stephen McCrae who is the moderator for Mad In America and he is a lovely person and he seems to have a lovely wife and family.

    I have two cats PInto and Charlie and have just solved a problem with my neighbor feeding them as well as me and this has stopped now but being opportunists as cats really are they are both over fed and fat hehe I am assured by the local cat expert that they need now i am the only one feeding them to eat much less until their weight gets down.So they are both on rations and dieting. hehe

    I like to draw cats.

    I would really be interested in what you can tell me about your life in the Netherlands and find you a very interesting lively and humorous person and someone i would be very interested in becoming friends with and getting to know.

    I haven’t the chance to move to another country and this will not be a choice for me and never was but perhaps i could tell you tales from the people i know and my life here in my small busy town in Mid Wales during times of need and want when everything is in transition and capitalism people are finding is not making them happy folk. Although i find i am well fed and so is my son and i am very grateful indeed about this as i remember tales my dad used to tell when he had nothing to eat

    My son says he would not want to live in America and because of his bouts of mania which lasted for 3 months last time he has decided he never will leave this town and venture to live somewhere else. He isn’t brave enough but loves to use it as a base and likes to travel further afield now and then.

    Xmas is coming and we will spend it quietly together as usual but food isn’t scarce at this time and the days my mum used to tell of rationing years ago during the war have long gone. I wonder though the way everything is heading what will happen in the future?

    Best wishes Anne


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