Traders offer taste of luxury to Muscovites

IF MOSCOW was once a sullen queue, the city this summer has become a vibrant bazaar where you can buy almost anything your heart desires, from frilly knickers to a stuffed owl.

The transformation has been wrought by Boris Yeltsin's policy of allowing Russians to trade. Kiosks have sprung up all over town like mushrooms after rain, but the warm weather has brought out an even larger number of individual traders who sit on picnic chairs or simply stand in the street holding up their wares. They are so many that the racketeers have given up trying to control them, as they do more organised enterprises.

Can this really be Moscow? Walk down Petrovka Street, where the most exciting sight used to be a dummy in national costume holding a dusty plastic loaf in the window of a bread shop, and now you will see little stalls selling chewing-gum, fizzy drinks, canned ham, shampoo, footless tights, perfume, beer, liqueurs and Western cigarettes. The bigger kiosks have Barbie dolls, cordless telephones, vibrators and clothes - including silk shirts from China and leather jackets from Turkey. Antique merchants are selling family heirlooms, which is where you will get the owl.

Where have all these goodies come from? Almost certainly, some fell off the back of a lorry but others have been purchased by a new generation of Russian merchants. Taking advantage of freer travel laws and the slowness of the government in imposing import taxes, they catch the bus to Istanbul or the train to Peking and come back with suitcases bulging with the latest fashions and gadgets for their customers.

At one stall, Katya was treating herself to a new pair of patent leather shoes, trying them on in the street. 'They're a bit tight, but I suppose they'll stretch. They're very expensive (2,800 roubles) but I don't mind high prices if it means there is something to buy.'

Not everyone agrees. With inflation, the average salary is now around 5,000 roubles (pounds 20) which means that a shopping trip to the kiosks is a luxury. For pensioners struggling on 1,200 roubles a month, it is out of the question. This breeds resentment. 'You wait till the revolution comes and we will burn down all these kiosks,' said the plumber who came to fix my bathroom. In anticipation of this, the bigger kiosks employ former policemen to guard their premises.

It is true the street trade has an unsavoury side. This year has seen an increase in cases of botulism as the unscrupulous have hawked meat products well past their sell-by date. The once clean streets of Moscow have been piled high with rubbish. But now the city council demands that traders license themselves. The other evening, police drove down Tver Street, breaking up huddles of old ladies making ends meet by selling milk, bought earlier in the day in the cheap state shops, to workers hurrying home from their offices.

Depressed by this sight, my husband and I thought to cheer ourselves up in one of the 'summer cafes' which have appeared under the trees on the Boulevard Ring. We ordered champagne from a man we took to be the waiter and were just congratulating ourselves on how Moscow was nearly like Paris these days, when the 'waiter', who turned out to be a mobster, punched Costya in the face and broke his nose. Moscow is indeed improving, but it is not quite Paris yet.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: 1st Line Technical Support Engineer

£19000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT and Telecoms company ar...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Manager - Visitor Fundraising

£23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Visitor Fundraising Team is responsi...

Recruitment Genius: Developer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Sales Account Manager - OTE £25,000

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing, ambitious, en...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future
Berlusconi's world of sleaze: The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM

Berlusconi's world of sleaze

The astonishing lifestyle once enjoyed by Italy's former PM
Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Disney plans galactic domination with endless Star Wars spin-offs

Films and theme parks are just the beginning. Disney believes its control of the now decades-old franchise can bring in merchandise and marketing millions for years to come
Could the golden age of the gaming arcade ever be revived in the era of the Xbox?

Could gaming arcades be revived?

The days when coin-ops were the only way to play the latest video games are gone. But a small band of enthusiasts are keeping the button-pushing dream alive
Edinburgh Fringe 2015: The 'tampon tax' has inspired a new wave of female comedians to reclaim period jokes

Heard the one about menstruation?

Yes, if you have been at the Fringe, where period pieces are taking centre stage