Heavy metal shapes the good life

moscow days

The vet came to my flat a few days ago to give my cat an injection. I had not seen Raisa Yevgenyevna for nearly two years so, naturally, I asked her how she was getting on. Tears welled up in her eyes and she said in a barely audible voice: "Oh, d on't ask."

Raisa Yevgenevna was pathetically grateful to earn the equivalent of £10 for treating Minky. She said she had not been called out for weeks and was having a hard time making ends meet. All her clients used to be solid Soviet middle-class people - scientists, artists, teachers and doctors - but since drastic cuts in state spending, they had become the new Russian poor. "Now they're all having to economise," she explained. "Just feeding their families is a terrible struggle. So pets are very low on the list of priorities."

The press these days is full of the antics of the new rich - people who have made millions of dollars, mostly by selling their country's raw materials through the back door and who now spend fortunes on flashy cars, designer clothes and exotic holidays.But the new poor, together with the old Russian poor - the working class who had nothing in Soviet times and still have nothing today - make up the majority.of the population.

Russian society in the era of Boris Yeltsin is often compared to countries in Latin America, where a tiny group of super-rich enjoy the good life, protected by high walls and bodyguards from the rest who live in poverty. Where are the people in the middle, neither rich nor poor, but respectable and comfortably-off, the people who form the backbone of societies in the West and give them their stability?

Well, I think I can announce that I have found one of the first members of the new Russian middle class. His name is Dmitry. He is in his mid-20s and he comes from St. Petersburg. He is not so rich that he can afford to throw away thousands of dollars ina single night in one of the many casinos which are springing up in Moscow and other Russian cities. But equally he is not so poor that he cannot afford to go out to a restaurant, buy new clothes when he needs them or take his wife, Sasha, on a foreign holiday. If he lived in England, he might well be an Independent reader.

In another respect, Dmitry is an unusual figure by the standards of today's Russia as he makes his money by manufacturing rather than importing goods and selling them at a huge mark-up on the domestic market as many buznesmeni do.

What is Dmitry's line? He makes junk jewellery decorated with skulls to sell to Heavy Metal fans across the former Soviet Union. Personally he hates Heavy Metal, he's a ballet and opera lover. But he saw a gap in the market, as nobody was providing for the fashion needs of Russian youth, and so he started his little business. He punches out rings on a machine in his flat and sends them by train all over the country.

Apparently, they go down particularly well in Siberia.

Enjoying an income of about £1,000 a month, compared with the average of £100, Dmitry has been able to renovate his flat in St. Petersburg. He is a fan of Fawlty Towers, having seen the British comedy on video, and he had the idea of turning his flat into a small private hotel where he could abuse his guests like Basil Fawlty.

But when the renovation was completed and he had installed a coffee machine in his kitchen, all he wanted to do was enjoy the fruits of his labour and the comfort of his home.

How bourgeois. Soon he will be having two and a half children and parking a middle-of-the-range car outside his flat. And good luck to him. This is just what Russia needs, millions more people who are neither rich nor poor but just doing nicely for themselves, like Dmitry.

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