Naturally, I was going to ask questions about politics and social issues in Russia. I was fortunate to discuss these questions with Dennis, my hostel mate in Moscow who was also Russia.
According to Dennis, Putin isn’t the highest power in Russia. He is in fact a frontman, manager and negotiator for Russia’s ruling families, those “oligarchs” who own major stakes in Russia’s oil, mining and telecommunications industries.
Still, Putin was everywhere. On every street stall and in every Metro station and souvenir shop, I saw his hulking muscles on rather tawdry looking T-shirts, mugs and even on Matryoshka dolls. One shop on Arbat Street in Moscow had a doll with Putin on the outside, and Trump on the inside …
I couldn’t tell how popular Putin really was. Dennis said that most of the younger generation had grown weary of him after his 18 years in power. Still, if anything, Putin struck me more as a symbol of Russian pride and manhood in standing up to the West.
On June 14, 2018, I took the train to St. Petersburg. St. Petersburg was the capital of imperial Russia and the site of the country’s great revolutions. I came here to see the history and I ended up learning more about Russia’s history of revolutions.
In 1881, the Czar Alexander II was assassinated by a group of political revolutionaries. I visited the Church of the Savior on Spilled Blood below, which marks the site of his assassination. In 1887, Lenin’s brother was executed for taking part in an attempted assassination of Emperor Alexander III.
On June 17, 2018, I visited the Hermitage Museum and the Winter Palace, one of the world’s greatest museums and the residence of Russia’s last czars respectively. In front of the Winter Palace is Palace Square (below). This was the site of the Russian Revolution of 1905 which created a legislative assembly and constitution for Imperial Russia.
On November 7, 1917, Lenin’s Bolsheviks stormed the Winter Palace from Palace Square. They forced the abdication of Nicholas II and created the Soviet Union.
The Soviet Union ended in 1991. In August 1991, Communist hardliners within the Soviet Union attempted to overthrow the pro-reform Gorbachev and seize control of the government. The Russian people, under the leadership of Yeltsin, rose up and defeated that attempted coup.
Russia may be an authoritarian country, I thought, but Russians don’t take it lying down.
Gender and Sexuality
I was struck by how clearly the genders are demarcated in Russia.
The Russian men were jacked. They wore tight T-shirts and muscle shirts. The (younger) Russian women meanwhile often looked like Barbie dolls, wearing skimpy little tops and showing off as much leg as possible.
I saw men and women holdings hands everywhere. It was a Barbie and Ken fantasy.
What I didn’t see were any gays or lesbians openly expressing their affection. Homosexuality isn’t illegal in Russia, but “promoting” it in public is. I looked up some gay clubs in St. Petersburg, but when I found them, they were housed in dark, indiscreet buildings, with tinted windows and an intercom at the door.