On June 11, 2018, I took the train from Moscow’s Sheremetyevo International Airport to Moscow’s city centre. On the way, I noticed many old flats which looked like the council estates in England. The landscape was a giant construction zone with piles of sand, scrap metal and bulldozers. Russia seemed suspended in time, a picture drab and depressing.
Economy of Russia
I looked at those rows of flats and wondered, who lived there? Did they experience problems like poverty, social alienation and alcoholism like the people in England’s council estates … ?
Russia’s poverty rate is concentrated more in the country’s towns and villages (which make up 27% of its population) and in regions like Caucasus. Homelessness, alcoholism and drug abuse are some of the social problems in Russian society.
In terms of wealth disparity, Russia scores a “medium” score of 0.38 on the Gini Index (which measures income income equality, i.e. a score of 1.0 constitutes perfect inequality). In this respect, Russia has its regional and urban/rural disparities, but its overall income inequality is no worse than the United States which scores a score of 0.39.
I stayed in a hostel in Kitay Gorod, the historical financial and business district of old Moscow. Red Square was a 15 minute walk from our hostel, and at the heart of Red Square was that symbol of Russian historic power, the citadel known as the Kremlin.
The Kremlin has been the centre of Russian power for over eight centuries. It’s a symbol of both the Russian state and its resistance to foreign powers, whether Mongol, French or German.
Behind the walls of the Kremlin are the state palace and the senate. I visited the Kremlin on June 13, 2018, and I joked with the Chinese tourists that Putin was coming every time a motor cavalcade drove our way.
The Kremlin is also home to the most important cathedrals of Orthodox Russia. The Cathedral of the Assumption was built by Ivan the Terrible (r. 1530-1584) as a symbol of the growing power of the Russian state. Russian Czars were coronated here from 1547 to 1896 and Moscow’s early princes and church patriarchs are buried here.
The Cathedral of the Archangel, also within the Kremlin, is the resting place of the early Russian Czars including Ivan the Terrible.
Religion in Russia
It’s interesting that Putin is portrayed in the West as playing on religion to stir up nationalism in Russia. It’s more accurate to say that Putin is stirring up Russian nationalism of which the Russian Orthodox Church is an integral part.
Except for the Soviet period during which the country was officially atheist, religion has always been part of Russian politics. The Russian Church ceremonially legitimized the rule of Russian Czars and consecrated Russian statehood.
The Russian Church remains part of warp and woof of Russian life, society and culture. The Russian script, its early literature, its history, its art and music is the legacy of its church. The mystery and piety of the institution is alive in Moscow through the chanting and incense of its worship to the postcard shrines of its icons on the wayside.
… to be continued