Heather’s St. Petersburg notes

Right here. (Thanks to Mike and Tatyana.) Heather is studying, mostly languages, at a St. Pete college, publishing lovely field notes (that’s to say they should be obligatory reading). It is said that many provincial Russian cities seem stuck in the early 1990s; little has changed there, while Moscow has visibly changed since. St. Pete is apparently a few years behind Moscow, but it’s changing, not stagnating.

St. Petersburg was dubbed Russia’s criminal capital in the 1990s, although I’m not sure it deserved the title. The two mayors who were in office during that decade, Anatoly Sobchak (Putin’s boss at the time; most of Putin’s team hail from St. Pete) and Vladimir Yakovlev, were routinely accused of corruption during their tenure. Mayoral corruption, Petersburg style, is not to be confused with its Moscow variety. The city government in St. Pete would take away $100 from you (as a tax or a bribe or the one masked as the other), then spend it on unidentified projects with no tangible improvements to the city. You might as well consider the money wasted. Mayor Luzhkov of Moscow would take $200 (Moscow businesses are larger by revenue), spend $100 on things and people that dare not tell their name, and invest the other $100 into some construction project. Eventually, the city would get a new highway or stadium, but, judging by its total cost, the highway might as well be paved with gold.

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