Out of Russia: Lure of money brought the music to a close

MOSCOW - Not all the casualties of Russia's painful transition from Communism to capitalism are as visible as the homeless beggars who daily confront rich Muscovites and foreigners with their acute material need.

My friends, Valery and Irina, (not their real names) are musicians. In Soviet times, I used to visit them regularly for their home was one of the warm refuges which made it possible for a Westerner to survive in the hostile environment of a Communist country. They were as poor as millions of other Russians but they were happy. My modest gifts to them were always appreciated and repaid ten-fold in hospitality. An evening at their flat would invariably end with a hearty sing-song around the piano.

A year ago, the music stopped. Boris Yeltsin's reforms had started to have an impact and Moscow was filling up with tantalising consumer goods beyond the reach of average wage-earners. One evening Valery and Irina were not their usual friendly selves. They said they were tired of having nothing and were determined to get rich. How could I, a Westerner, understand what it was like to be deprived? It was nice of me to bring them tea and chocolate and toys for their children, they said, but they wanted a car, good clothes and exotic holidays like the beautiful people in the adverts. They were going into biznes to get them. I wished them well and saw less of them.

In January, Valery turned up at my flat. He was thin and tense but, worst of all, the nails on his fingers, those fingers which had played Rachmaninoff and Scriabin, were bitten to the quick. The mafia was pressing him and Irina for repayment of a sizeable dollar debt.

The couple had got involved in one of the most dangerous activities in Russia these days, trading in property. This business, where the stakes are high and the risks even higher, is not for dilettantes with musical educations but for cut- throat spivs who are not averse to evicting an old woman from her flat in order to rent it out to a foreigner for dollars 3,000 ( pounds 2,000) a month.

Despite their lack of business acumen, Valery and Irina had made some money. But they had blown it all on alcohol. Then they had got into financial trouble. Valery described how men with guns had sat at their kitchen table discussing debt rescheduling.

At Easter I saw Valery again. He has been to hell and back but I think he will survive. I am less sure about Irina.

Valery is alone now, struggling to look after his children. He managed to clear the debt and was quitting wheeling and dealing to go back to what he knows and loves, music, even if that meant he would only be able to feed the youngsters on bread and potatoes. Irina has left him in disgust and gone off with a young hood who drives a fast car and can afford to pay for her growing drink habit.

Valery came to his senses in church. He said he felt so desperate he was compelled to confess his sins. He had not been to church before and was distressed to see the state of the building, only recently handed back to the faithful after decades of neglect under the Communists. He blames the Bolsheviks for destroying the moral fibre of Russian society so that people are now quite at sea in the tide of materialism sweeping the country. 'In the end, we need some guidelines,' he said. 'We must know that some basic things like lying and stealing are forbidden.'

He calls his wife a 'dead soul'. He does not blame her but says she is a victim. He hopes she will find herself again. But his main concern now is the children. 'I must teach them that money is not everything. I must make sure that they grow up human.'

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
News
people
News
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want for the fitness tech, or the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own