World

Down, But Still Russian

December 08, 2011

View as Single Page
Down, But Still Russian

Walking around central Moscow, the thing you notice is the Russians—I mean, the near-total absence of non-Russians.

There is, of course, a tourist element. Appearance is not much to go by here, but I can recognize—not necessarily understand, but recognize—most of the world’s major languages by ear, and Chinese seems to predominate. The Chinese travel in groups of half a dozen or so, middle-class academic or professional types mostly, exchanging scandalized comments in Mandarin about the price of everything. (Moscow is a very expensive city.)

That small tourist element aside, well-nigh everyone here is ethnically Russian. The cab drivers are Russian. The waiters and waitresses are Russian. The staff in barbershops and nail salons are Russian. The maintenance men in the subway and the ladies issuing subway tickets are Russian. The beggars are Russian. The guy selling fags and candy from a sidewalk kiosk labeled PRODUKTY (“stuff”) is Russian. The girl serving me in the pharmacy is Russian. The models shown in ads for escort agencies and “Private Club and Restaurant” are Russian (just as they are in New York, come to think of it).

Even—good grief!—the lady who cleans our hotel room is Russian. She spoke fluent Russian, anyway, though her features had a slight Mongolian. To make sure, I asked her. Yes, Russian—from Yugra, up in the north Urals somewhere, and so presumably with some Siberian-aboriginal blood contributing to the physiognomy. Where in the Anglosphere nowadays would you have your hotel room cleaned by a native of that country?

“The overwhelming impression in central Moscow is of a city populated almost entirely by Russians.”

Not that Moscow has been totally resistant to Third World-ization. The young woman clearing tables in the food court at GUM department store (the best place to eat cheap good food in central Moscow) looked so Chinese, I addressed her in that language. She smiled in a friendly way but obviously had not understood. I tried Russian: Kitayskiy? She laughed and said no, she was from Kyrgyzstan. Did I know Kyrgyzstan? Not very intimately, I confessed.

You notice a trace or more of Asia in the features among workers in the lowest occupations. I suppose some are remnants of the Mongolian peoples who once ruled much of the country; some are part-aboriginal like our room cleaner; and many come from the Muslim Stans of Central Asia.

Does this tell us that there are Jobs Russians Won’t Do? I doubt it. There are plenty of fair, blue-eyed Russians down there among the Kyrgyz and Buryats doing the drudge work. The overwhelming impression in central Moscow is of a city populated almost entirely by Russians. I have not had the opportunity to call any major firm or government office in Moscow, but I feel fairly sure that if I did, I would not be instructed to press “1” for Russian.

To see how striking all this is, imagine yourself wandering around central London, Manhattan, Los Angeles, or even—more rapidly this past few years, it seems—Washington, DC.

London is the really outstanding case. I haven’t been back for some years, but visitors—not all of them cynical reactionaries such as myself—report that an ethnically British person is now an oddity in large swaths of Britain’s capital. Such a person is positively dicing with death if he dares show his pasty British face in parts of the East End.

Britain’s Third World-ification began in the same way that, according to a famous historian, the British Empire itself began: in a fit of absentmindedness. As that empire’s dissolution commenced in the years after WWII, it seemed only fair to let some of Her Majesty’s overseas subjects go settle in the imperial homeland.


Comments