The Moscow Expat Football League

Selection_038

By James Goetz

The Moscow Expat Football (EFL) league is now in its 11th year! For all of us, it has been a focal point of what we do outside of work here in Moscow, for our sport and our social lives. It’s a group of men who are older than 28 years old and who are… expats (surprise)! Our league is made up of people 38 different nationalities, a true melting pot.

The new season starts this fall and any new players can write to [email protected] to be a part of the upcoming draft. The league is competitive and there is a large social aspect to the league as each team forms its own club and definitely rivalries persist. Currently we have 8 clubs participating and play on Saturday afternoons at Luzhniki on a full pitch, proper 11 on 11, with referees and a cameraman filming every second to be uploaded to YouTube later for eternity.

We will play to the end of November this year no matter the weather, and will continue drinking through the winter months.

Visit: www.moscowfootball.com to see the videos, stats and our players and join the fun!

Immigration to the UK

Selection_037

By Gethin Jones

Are you planning to leave for the UK with your Russian wife/husband? You might want to think again, as it is not as straightforward as you might think. Rules have changed and certain restrictions have now been placed on would be immigrants to the UK. Ex-long-term Moscow resident who many of us know though his work with the British Business Club, tells the story from his perspective, a British husband in Wales waiting for his Russian wife to arrive.

What is wrong with the present system?

The UK immigration rules, as introduced by the coalition government on the 9th of July 2012 are the UK government’s attempt to reduce immigration into the UK from outside the EU (as things stand, the government can’t do much about immigration from other EU countries due to the EU’s rules about freedom of movement).

The new rules mean that any UK citizen wishing to bring a spouse into the UK must meet certain criteria before their spouse is allowed to apply for a UK Settlement Visa. The rules stipulate that the sponsor must be in employment in the UK for a period of at least 6 months with a salary of not less than £18,600 per annum. If the sponsor wishes to bring a child into the UK who does not have UK or EU citizenship, then he or she would have to earn no less than £22,400 per annum and pay a further £2,400 for each additional child. The non-EU spouse must also pass an English language test before a visa application can be made.
The sponsor would also have to have a minimum of £16,000 in savings, again for at least 6 months, and be able to demonstrate clearly where this money came from. Loans or gifts of money from friends or family are not allowed.

Should the sponsor have savings of £62,500 or more in their bank account, again for 6 months or longer, then the earlier financial requirements would not apply, and an application for a Settlement Visa could be made.

Selection_038These rules apply only to UK citizens. Anyone with any other EU nationality could bring a non-EU spouse into the UK with no hindrance whatsoever.
The rules are grossly unfair in a number of ways. The minimum salary requirement of £18,600 was set at this level so that any family settling in the UK, which includes a non-EU spouse, would have no recourse to funds from the public purse.

However, no account is taken of sponsors’ individual circumstances. For instance a sponsor living in rented accommodation and with credit card and/or other debts, in London or the south east of England, who would have a much higher cost of living and far less disposable income than, say, someone who lives away from the capital, where the cost of living is lower, and who owned their own house and had no debt. The sum of £18,600 would also exclude anyone working for the minimum wage, as well as 47% of the UK working population.

These immigration rules mean that around 17,800 British families are broken up every year, with families living apart, for an unknowable length of time, while they seek to resolve their individual situations and makes a complete mockery of the government’s purported support of the family and the institution of marriage. The impact on the children caught up on the fallout from these rules is incalculable, with many hundreds of children living apart from one parent, who is unable to be with them.

The rules unfairly penalise UK citizens who wish to settle in the UK with their non-EU spouses and families. Other EU citizens can settle in the UK with non-EU spouses but British citizens don’t enjoy this right.

The application of the rules is often arbitrary and downright incompetent. There are many instances of sponsors’ accounts being misread or not understood by Home Office officials resulting in the rejection of perfectly valid visa applications.

The immigration process is also hugely bureaucratic and increasingly expensive for sponsors. An application for a Settlement Visa costs £956 and the cost for Indefinite Leave to Remain in the UK has risen, in April 2015, from £1,093 to £1,500 and Naturalisation has risen from £906 to £1,005.

Due to the inherent bureaucracy of the system, and the frequent recourse to using very expensive immigration lawyers, the net cost of administering and applying these rules must far outweigh any financial savings they were introduced to make.

How should immigration of spouses to the UK be organised?

The first thing that should be changed with these rules is that common sense should be applied to each and every case. No account whatsoever is taken of individuals’ hugely differing financial and family circumstances. Couples who have been married for over 40 years and who have grown up children are treated in the same suspicious way, and have to answer the same invasive and personal questions as a very young couple who have just married and whose marriage is suspected to be a sham.

Leeway should be given if the sponsors’ friends and family are able to offer financial and other support for the relocating family. A proper financial account should be taken of any property owned by the sponsor, which should mitigate against the financial requirements.

Consideration should be taken, and common sense used, of the reality of freedom of movement and what this means in practice for millions of British citizens who live and work overseas. People are used to traveling the world and spending long periods of their career and family life overseas and this should be reflected in any legislation covering British citizens’ desire to return to their home country together with their families.

There is more often than not a presumption of guilt concerning couples and families who simply want to live together in Britain which means that they are often treated, and feel as if they are being treated, as people who are trying to circumvent the system. People who do try to cheat the system should be stopped from doing so but obviously genuine couples, who are clearly not trying to pass off a sham marriage as a genuine one, and who are clearly trying to do everything by the rules, should not have to answer ridiculous questions about a genuine relationship.

Selection_039How difficult is it for you to cope and your wife to cope being alone?

The UK immigration rules have turned both my wife and I, and our two daughters, into two one-parent families. We took the very difficult decision that I would live in Wales with our elder daughter, Nina, so that she could go to a Welsh school and that my wife, Elena, would stay in Moscow with our younger daughter Alwena, until we somehow manage to resolve this situation. That was two years ago and, apart from holidays spent together, we have been split up as a family with no immediate prospect of being allowed to live together in our family home.

It is ironic that the onus is on me to earn enough so that my wife and younger daughter can join me in living in our family home in Wales. As well as two part-time jobs, I also run my own company, which I started two years ago and which organises shooting and other outdoor activity holidays in Wales, the rest of the UK and Russia. To grow my business to the best of my ability, I need to be able to travel on business to other parts of Wales and the UK to host shooting parties and the like. Due to my current circumstances, I am unable to do this as it would mean leaving my 15 year-old daughter alone.

We are also unable to plan anything as a family, either in the long or short term. We had always planned to leave Russia and return to live in my home town in Wales so that both our daughters could go to a Welsh school and, eventually, go to university in the UK. As things stand now, we don’t even know if we’ll be living together any time soon or where our daughters will go to school.

Selection_040What is the impact on your children?

This is something I fear is impossible to calculate exactly. One of my daughters lives without her mother and the other lives without her father and both live without each other and in separate households, 1,500 miles apart. This can only have a very negative effect on their wellbeing and development. We have lived apart as a family for two years, with no prospect of being reunited in the near future, and two years is a very long time indeed for two young girls, aged 11 and 15.

Moscow, December 31st 1999

Selection_037

Frederickovich

1999 had been a truly turbulent year in Russia but none of us had foreseen today’s announcement. We had gotten together in my apartment in Moscow, a group of work colleagues foreign and Russian to have drinks, piroshky and zakusky before heading down Tverskaya towards Red Square at midnight to dodge the champanski bottles, watch the fireworks and hear the Kremlyovsky Chasy sound in the new century. I had expected the millennium bug to dominate the evening’s conversation, a number of the girls were adamant that they would not fly tomorrow as plane’s would get lost and fall from the sky but all anyone was talking of was the announcement at lunchtime by Boris Nikolayevich that he was stepping down and in the process the Prime Minister of some 5 months, the relatively unknown Vladimir Putin, would with immediate effect become acting President. Under the Constitution this in turn started the countdown for a new Presidential election to be held within 90 days.

Speculation had been rife as to who would contest the Presidential election originally set for June next year with early front runners being the respected and statesmanlike Yevgenny Primakov, fired earlier in the year from the post of Prime Minister by Yeltsin, and the effective and pragmatic Mayor of Moscow Yury Luzhkov. Now there was a third contender and one who today had received a public endorsement from the outgoing President, the first man to voluntarily transfer the leadership in Russian history albeit in return for immunity from prosecution for himself and his family. Many Russians, particularly the working and professional classes and the elderly, were desperate for a change from the ailing Yeltsin whose policies had deprived them of their standard of living and national pride.

As usual Steve was forthcoming with an opinion wrapped in an explanation and contained in a conspiracy. “You see it all fits together Mabatex and the credit card scandal, Bank of New York and the missing IMF funds, Berezoksvky, the Skuratov incident, even the Moscow bombings….” Steve paused, not from a lack of reasons but he had run out of bottles to arrange on the kitchen table to demonstrate his thinking. Some in the room scoffed, particularly my younger Russian friends, some simply found the array of empties and accompanying arguments too obscure but Steve had recalled some alarming events of 1999. The so called Mabatex affair under the jurisdiction of the Kremlin Property Department had at the beginning of the year reached the door of the President and his daughters following a drive by Chief Prosecutor Skuratov and Swiss officials, and was now being linked to a much greater embezzlement of IMF funds sent to Russia and being laundered back through the Bank Of New York. Skuratov, who had also launched an inquest into Berezovsky accusing him of defrauding Aeroflot, had in return been dismissed following an alleged scandal in which he was supposedly filmed with two prostitutes. Berezovsky had fallen further from grace when dismissed from his post of Executive Secretary of the CIS, so losing immunity from prosecution, after criticizing the increasingly popular Primakov and was now residing in France. Primakov’s own dismissal followed shortly after the President narrowly survived impeachment proceedings by the Duma in May and he was duly succeeded by Sergey Stepashin, a former Interior Ministry Director also with a reputation for anti-corruption. Unfortunately for Stepashin, newly resurgent separatist rebels in Chechnya made significant inroads and territorial gains into neighbouring Dagestan under his watch, which resulted in his downfall that August.

Since then Russia had witnessed a yet bigger disaster during September with a series of deadly bombings in apartment blocks first in Dagestan but then in Moscow and Volgadonsk. Although the official line was that these were separatist terrorist attacks, there was considerable speculation in the press surrounding two unexplained events. The first was a statement read out and recorded in the Duma by Deputy Seleznov on September 14th that a bombing had just occurred in Volgadonsk. In fact no bombing had occurred, but one did take place two days later on the 16th. The Deputy subsequently refused to provide an explanation for his untimely report. Even more bizarre was an event on September 22nd in Ryazan, south of Moscow. A bus driver returning home had seen men carrying sacks into the basement of his apartment block and had called the police. They in turn mobilized a bomb squad who defused an attached timer and reported that their portable gas analyser indicated that the sacks contained Hexogen, the same explosive used in the previous bombings.

“There is a common thread here you see” said Steve, positioning a newly drained piece of logic on the table, “there is one player who was at the Kremlin Property Department, who took over at the FSB when the Mabetex investigation was dropped and is now… “ before Steve could deliver his checkmate the others dragged us to our feet and urged us to grab our coats and hurry out into the cold night air. It was 23:45 and we had to get to the Square before the real fun started. A sullen Steve had the last word as we marched down Tverskaya: “I just hope no bloody airplanes fall on our heads.”

Nepal Today

Selection_038

By John Harrison

I visited Nepal in 1972 and wanted to show my daughter the place that inspired Russian poet/rock musician Boris Grebeshnikov, artist Nicholas Roerich and countless others. We bought tickets, planning to travel around the country ourselves, and hike up into the mountains. I thought that the place couldn’t have changed that much since I was last there in the 1970s. Then the shattering news came though about the earthquake on April the 25 which killed over 9,000 people and inured 25,000. Houses collapsing like cards, disease, foreign aid unable to reach the remote villages and so on. Instinctive reaction was to cancel, but for some reason we didn’t. A few months later we thought, ‘let’s do this;’ partly in reaction to calls for foreigners to come back to Nepal. Here is a short resume of our impressions of Nepal today.

Under the circumstances, I thought we’d be safer on a tour, so we opted to be chaperoned around in a car with guides, stay in reasonable hotels and not live in hostels, which at my young age would be difficult anyway. I found a tour company on the Internet that had a tour we could join that was running on the dates we had the tickets for. Three days in Kathmandu, two in the Chitwan National Park, a day at Buddha’s birthplace at Lumbini and two in the ultimate ex-hippy chill-out place next to the Himalayas at Pokhara, then back to Kathmandu. This all came to $1600 for both of us. July is in the middle of the monsoon period, but the only time work and study-wise that we could go. I was full of trepidation, but Nepal smiled on us.

Kathmandu

Kathmandu looks really ugly on the road from the airport to the centre; like a 1980s Chinese shanti town with shabby concrete prefabricated 2-5 storey buildings. I wondered if I had spent the night on an uncomfortable seat at Dubai airport on the way in vain. India, that’s what it is, I thought. Gone are the horse drawn carts and human powered wheelbarrows, all hail to the motorcar and motorbike, to pollution and urban destruction. Our driver told us that 70% of the buildings in the city had survived the earthquake, as if that was a good thing, and that most of the buildings which came down or were severely damaged were in the city centre, the very heart of Kathmandu, whose ancient dwellings that line narrow streets with their intricate wood carvings on the windows and gables, low doorways, interspersed with extraordinary temples, monks and other people gave the city a unique medieval atmosphere. At least that is what Kathmandu was like in the 1970s. I feared the worst.

At the hotel, we were told that power cuts are frequent; electricity is off for about half of the time. That’s the way things are, not because of the earthquake. Hotels have generators but the hostels don’t. You might have to face the unthinkable – living without your smart phone for a few hours at a time. Drinking water is only turned on once a week, although the hostels and hotels have their own supplies. The ubiquitous black plastic water tanks on the roofs are for storing grey water pumped up from underground, which is not clean enough to drink, but can be used for washing and cleaning purposes.

That night we ventured deep into the badly lit, narrow streets of the centre. There was a carnival atmosphere as it was – like most days – a religious holiday. Nepal has 14 religions. So the practice of religion is not something to do with tourists (there weren’t any), this is real. About 80% of the old buildings are propped up with spindly wooden supports, the others are either completely destroyed and are now piles of rubble, with painted and carved wood sticking up into the air. Nevertheless, reconstruction work is going on, at least of the temples (there are a lot of temples) which have been allocated government money. We felt that there is enough of the 14-19th century fabric of the city centre to make Kathmandu well worth visiting, as long as the Nepalese government steps in and does something. Owners of collapsed residential buildings have so far been awarded just $200 which the government handed out 2 months after the earthquake, when the average cost of restoring an ancient property so that it at least resembles the original is very roughly $20,000 – $80,000. Another $2,000 has been promised per household, but when that money will come through is anybody’s guess.

We found out the next day that at the very moment when we were wandering deeper and deeper into the old city, there was a 4.6 earthquake. We didn’t feel a thing. The guide didn’t tell us the next morning; I guess he hoped that we wouldn’t find out, me being a journalist.

Circling the centre on almost all sides are areas full of hostels where you can stay for as little as $10-$25 a night and hotels where a decent room now costs between $25 and $35 per room per night. The bars and cafes are reminiscent of the 1970s, with names like: ‘Vegetarian Revolutionary Yoga Café’ and ‘Maya Deva Hotel’, however the very few foreigners that we met were very different from those I know in the 1970s. Gone is the search for truth and in is sustainable, healthy living and great sports such as paragliding. The seekers were all unceremoniously kicked out in 1975 in a run up for a re-assertion of control by the Nepalese royal family. The total farce of the Nepalese monarchy eventually came to an end 5 years after deranged Crown prince Dipendra massacred 10 members of the royal family, including his father, the King in 2001. Dipendra apparently wasn’t too pleased about who his parents wanted him to marry, at least that is one version of events. As utterly loyal and unquestioning as Nepalese are, even they had had enough of the Royals!

The earthquake – Help but No Help

The Nepalese situation provides interesting lessons in the effectiveness of charities. Foreign aid organisations have come in, and are doing valuable work. But the Nepalese we talked to complained that because most distribute aid through official channels, such help is limited in impact, something that has not got through to donors. Only person-to-person help has made a real difference, such as the work being carried out by the Prem Rawat Foundation (TPRF). The front line help they provided in the first critical days and weeks immediately after the quake, with blankets, tents and other essentials, cannot really be underestimated. They are now providing long-term support to 17,000 villagers in need, with an accent on helping to rebuild and support schools. Right now, for example, they are feeding 1,600 children per week with a commitment to spend $50,000 per year for the next three years through a ‘Food for People’ programme. Nepal will need help like this for years to come, long after the country has been replaced in our consciousness by other tragedies around the world, if that hasn’t happened already. Physical wounds are only one part of the story. Charities that understand what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is, are few and far between.

In some of the villages, like the village of Gourka, right at the epicentre of the quake, 90% of the houses were destroyed, partly because they were so badly built. “First there was a loud rumbling sound. Then the shaking started. It seemed to go on for ever.” Tika Regmi, MD of Amigo Treks, (the company that we travelled with), said. “I thought that nothing would survive. Then my father phoned and said that they were alive, and the phone went dead. 56 seconds is a very long time, we were hugging each other because even the trees were shaking. If it had lasted another 10 seconds, nothing would have been left standing, not earthquake proof buildings, nothing.” He said.

It could have been worse. In 1255, an earthquake of similar magnitude struck the country with an epicentre in almost exactly the same place in the night. A third of the population was wiped out. This time, the quake struck on a Saturday morning, which was a religious holiday meaning that most people were outside. If it had struck at night, or during the weekday when schools and colleges would have been full of students, we would probably be talking about hundreds of thousands of dead.

Religion

Nepal is fortunate in that Hinduism and Buddhism manage to coexist side by side. Three of the four mega temples in Kathmandu feature both Hindu and Buddhist temples together on the same site, which is bewildering at first. Very briefly, Hinduism, as our brilliant guide Sushma Kharel explained, stands for salvation and reincarnation, and Buddhism for realization and nirvana or enlightenment. Religious tolerance seems to be the order of the day, as in much of Asia.

After death, Hindus in Kathmandu perform funeral rituals and open fire cremation beside the Bagmati river, which flows into the Holy river Ganges. The Hindu funeral pyres at Pashupati work 24 hours a day, and were incredibly busy in the weeks after the earthquake. Conveniently, there is a pre-death hospice on the territory, which is considered a sacred place for taking one’s last breath. Open-air cremation has raised some environmental concerns, (the stench is unbearable and often body parts which are not fully transformed into ashes are dumped into the river) and the government has announced plans to introduce electric furnaces, however such modernisation plans meet stiff opposition from some Hindu ecclesiastic circles.

Looking at the wider picture, urbanisation over the past 30 years has meant that Nepal’s cities have swelled by millions, because of lack of schools, infrastructure, good housing and roads, medical care and most importantly, education in rural areas. But life in the city for the new arrivals is not sweet. Prices have risen whilst wages have not. Staggering inequality means that the poor tend to remain very poor, and the traditional strong spiritual way of life so visible in the faces of beaming villagers in the mountains and in the lowland areas, does not really work in the cities. Furthermore, western culture is eroding deeper and deeper into what is left of traditional Nepalese cultural values, and there is the constant reminder of one’s own poverty in comparison to other people’s perceived happiness due to material success. Yet going back to the village is only the last resort. Many young brides persuade their husbands to move to the city, after all who wants to spend their whole life in the paddy fields. Once the children start in a city school, it is virtually impossible for the family to move back.

Despite all of that, we didn’t meet any atheist Nepalese. We had a great evening flicking from one TV station to another after visiting the birthplace of Buddha in Lumbini. There are two government stations then an array of spiritual stations, for example: ‘Golden Eye Television,’ ‘Sagarmatha (Your Third Eye) Television,’ ‘Peace TV (Shakti),’ and so on. Religions compete with each other for your attention, although Nepalese don’t look at it that way.

Lumbini, the birth place of Buddha, is a kind of Buddhist ВДНХ. Instead of palaces to Soviet Agriculture, Soviet Cosmology and so on, we have huge and incredibly beautiful temples to Buddha built as donations by various countries. The amount of money that was spent there, must make a few even devout Buddhists wonder if the money could perhaps be better spent improving the country’s infrastructure. The place is like a visitation from another planet, and far away from any major city. More representative of the true state of Buddhism in Nepal are the poor Tibetans who live in the large Tibet refugee Camp in Pokhara.

Pokhara

If you want to hang out on a beach, go hang gliding, which my daughter had a fantastic time doing, meet the cool people, drink chai from a view point high up in the mountains at 6 am and watch the sun rise over the Himalayas, go straight to Pokhara. What more can I say?

Prices

Prices are certainly lower than in most western countries, but they are not that low. When a bottle of beer costs £2, and a meal for 2 with drinks costs £12, we found ourselves eating and drinking more. A lot more. You have to be non-human not to splurge on gifts such as mandalas, beads, wood carvings, traditional clothing items and any of the millions of exquisite hand made goods on sale. Budget for at least $50 a day just for shopping which in Nepal feels like an awful lot, because one is aware that Nepalese who earn an average of $200 a month go to their places hidden round the back where prices are at least 50% cheaper. You can get an idea of just how high the difference is by bargaining and realising just how far traders are prepared to drop their prices. We were advised to start off at 50% of the asking price.

Serious stuff

Nepal is landlocked, being 1,100 km from the nearest sea, and has a population of 27.5 million, who live in a territory a little larger than England between high mountains. The country is one of the world’s poorest with virtually no economy to speak of. Nepal cannot feed itself, and has to rely on major imports for staple foods from neighbouring India. Nepalese say the problem is politics.
These people are clever, noble and hard working. Being religious and successful isn’t an issue. Endemic corruption amongst government officials is. India is often used as a scapegoat, there is a feeling that India has a strong influence on Nepalese politics, coupled with accusations that neighbouring countries wish the country to remain poor for geopolitical and economic reasons, such as the fact that Nepal is a great source of cheap labour. We realised just how turbulent the situation is when we were unexpectedly held up for a few hours when travelling along the incredibly beautiful mountain passes on the road from Lumbini to Pokhara. The Maoist party, which almost took over the country at one stage, had decided to hold a general strike, in connection with very slow moving constitutional reforms. Reassuringly, our driver said: “we should be alright, they are only stopping cars and throwing bricks at them, nothing serious”. Nothing happened, but…

Many good things have also happened in Nepal. Last year the vast 360 sq. mile Chitwan National Park; a previous royal hunting ground, which we visited, declared that for the first time ever, it had had a poacher free year, largely due to the efforts of the Nepalese army. The earthquake is in a sense bringing the Nepalese together in a way that has never happened before. The process of change will accelerate, there is hope.

Me and my daughter had an incredible, profound time in Nepal. Next time I’ll be in the mountains.

Tips:

Don’t ask anyone the way in Nepal by showing them a map. It is very unlikely that anybody will know where they are on the map, or that the map will even have street names on it.
Don’t go to Chitwan National Park during the Monsoon period, you won’t be able to get into the park proper because the roads turn into rivers.
Lumbini can be missed unless you are a Buddhist, in which case you should stay there for at least a couple of days. Seeing the birthplace of Buddha could be a truly moving experience.
ATM machines can be a problem, but it is very easy to spend more than you budget because there is so much to buy and enjoy.
Whatever you do, don’t drink cheap Nepalese wine.

The tour company we used:
Amigo Treks & Expedition P.Ltd,
www.amigotrekking.com
The charity TPRF: www.tprf.org

How to get there from Moscow.

Fly Dubai operate flights via Dubai. Visas can be obtained at the airport in Kathmandu for $30.

Expat Children’s Impressions of Moscow, by students of the International School of Moscow

Selection_037

Joseph Knight-Jones 5B, UK/South Africa

I would like to explain what it is like to live in Russia. Let us start with the autumns, that are without a doubt the most magnificent in the world. I wake up to see the leaves, as golden as syrup, falling from the beautiful trees. It’s a great time for walks in the enchanted forests as well cycling in the breath-taking parks with layers of leaves covering the concrete like a blanket. Winter is, in my opinion, the best season of all. During the cold winter, there are innumerable things to do like sledging, cross-country skiing and ice-skating. Glide on the ice-topped paradise, and afterwards you can enjoy a nice steamy cup of hot chocolate.

Some more fantastic things about Moscow are its restaurants of which there are many. My most treasured is Hatchapuri which is a Georgian restaurant with delectable food, but I would also recommend Stolovar which is a traditional Russian restaurant with irresistible pancakes!

I would definitely recommend moving to Moscow because it is a great adventure.

Alisa Sheridan, 6B, UK

Hi, my name is Alisa (11 years old) and I have two nationalities: Irish and Russian. In the twisted, complicated years of my past, I have travelled and visited many countries, and lived in seven. Moscow is my favourite that I have resided in, due to the adventures, challenges and eventful experiences I have had there.
Russia is beautiful in plenty of ways. The landmarks steal people’s eyesight. Nights in the town bring wonderful sunsets, and city lights shine to citizens’ dreams. Stunning monuments located in natural parks attract both residents and tourists every day. Weather is miraculous here! Winter – snow, spring – flowers, summer – heat, autumn – orange.

So why am I here? My dad’s job. He works non-stop and success is ahead. My family (my mum and dad, my sister and I) all prefer Moscow since my mum’s grandparents and cousins, who we are fairly close to, live here. Also, we love the culture.

All in all, Moscow’s terrific!

Mia Zeppenfeldt, 5A, UK/Dutch

Hi, my name is Mia, I am 10 and I am an expat child living in Moscow. Even though I am only 10 years old, I have already lived in a lot of countries; the Netherlands, the UK, Bahrain, and eventually Russia. I love being an expat child as I love travelling around the world and exploring new places, so I’m reasonably adventurous. Let me tell you of my adventures of the world and what I love about Moscow.

When I first came to Russia, I thought it would be bad, bad, bad, (like I always think it will be when I approach a new country). I lose my friends and I miss the country that I lived in previously. But when I really got the hang of it, I began to think of what an experience it would beI suddenly began to realise that Moscow wasn’t bad at all; not at all! I was very excited to just go and live my life in this beautiful country.

In summary, I love Moscow and I hope that everybody loves it like me!

The International School of Moscow
Tel: + 7 (499) 922 4400

Children’s Hospital Fund at Speransky Pediatric Hospital № 9

Selection_029

The Children’s Hospital Fund was founded in 2001 to support Russia’s Biggest Pediatric Burns Center at Speransky Hospital, Moscow. The fund provides medical equipment and materials for skin grafting and prevention of burn scarring. This NGO is running a pioneering psycho-social program, vital in cases of changed appearance or bereavement. The fund is supported by well-known businesses, banks and charitable organizations, including Moscow expat women’s organizations. The European Burns Association recognizes the achievements of the fund. The fund needs sponsors’ help to continue its charitable programs!

Director: Mikhail Kazbekov
Address: Russian Federation, 123317 Moscow, 29 Shmitovsky projezd
Phone: 8 (499) 256 64 44 (office); 8 916 117 3215 (mobile).
www.childhospital.ru

Soviet Nostalgia

Selection_029By Nikita

I am in the centre of Moscow, at Petrovich – a fake club attended by genuine nostalgic Soviets. As the song Evenu Shalom Aleichem, (a Jewish anti-war song hit from the mid-70s), starts up, I start dancing and singing the refrain loudly, but within, my heart sinks.

Here we go then, we have something in common… but who are these nostalgic Russians? I see people between 50 and 70 years old, who miss the Brezhnev period, from the mid-sixties to the early eighties and have replaced those who can remember the Stalinist era who are far less numerous and well advanced in age. But the question arises, how can one have nostalgia for a time when there was no freedom of expression, no travel abroad, with so many things missing?
Nostalgia is everywhere in Russia – on television, in books, on the internet you can almost smell it. It pervades everything. I read in a newspaper: ‘We were stronger, we travelled in space, the stars of the ballet were dancing, to some extent we lived more simply, a happier life in which we dreamed of a slice of bread but were happy with fresh air’. However, I feel that this sense of nostalgic pride of the ‘Soviet Grandeur’ is strengthening in today’s Russia – stressed by recent political and economic tensions, together with memories of innocence, youth and simplicity.

Oleg, (55) tells me ‘We had guarantees, we worked and we knew what we would earn at the end of the month. The prices were the same for a very long time, in all stores and across the Soviet Union: white bread 13 kopecks (cents rouble), whole wheat bread 9 kopecks, piroshki, with cabbage, 5 kopecks, with Jam 5 kopecks, with meat 10 kopecks.’ I press him, “and for 1 kg of potatoes?’ ‘10 kopecks and 20 kopecks for milk, 3 roubles per kg, 1 kopeck for a matchbox.” While I listen to Oleg’s instant recall, I reflect that in the future it will be impossible to remember today’s prices of consumer goods.

The era of Brezhnev thus offered a sheltered life, full of security, innocent and genuine, but nevertheless recorded in history as the ‘era of stagnation.’ This nostalgia was born at the fall of the Soviet Union in response to the economic and cultural chaos of the time. Consolation was then cultivated by television channels as Nostalgiya that showed old movies and reruns of Soviets news, by books that reflected on the memory of the USSR, like Namedni (‘Not long ago’) by Parfenov, recalling its majesty and glory. Even Putin, recognising in this nostalgia an important electoral tool, reintroduced the old Soviet anthem, the military flashes with the red star, the red victory flag in the Russian army and even Cheburashka, a cartoon character, that has been the mascot of the Russian Olympic team. All of this Soviet endoskeleton is still reflected in today’s Russian society, with its political, military and police structure, the social policy, the education system, the health care network and the state bureaucracy (the boundless love for rubber stamps!).

Meanwhile, as opposed to cynicism and consumerism that plagues new Russian society, nostalgia has evolved into nostalgia for Soviet feelings, a search for spiritual and emotional values, for solidarity. Such regret for a lost past, now stripped of ideology but steeped in memory and more recently in pride has provided a wonderful opportunity for the development of the ‘marketing of nostalgia’. This is inspired and is supported by vintage fashion, and which has encouraged countless ersatz restaurants, like the Pavillon, the Kvartira 44, the Stolovaya No. 57, the latter a perfect replica of the Soviet canteens, or clubs as the Petrovich, the Zhiguli, the Glavpivtorg where you can taste ‘real’ Soviet dishes like the salad komunalka (apartment shared by several families in the Soviet era). This trend has gone beyond restaurants and clubs, and embraced many sectors. There are retro Gastronomes (Soviet large food shops) like Gastronome No.1, Soviet music in the GUM Department Store and advertisements in Soviet-style posters in the subway. The restaurant Chaikhona No.1 has even put in place a system of badges for the waiters accompanied by the slogan: ‘You have earned for how you have worked!’

Moral: While dancing among the tables to the music of the 1970s and 1980s, I perceive that modern Russian nostalgia is for their past youth, just as mine is, with the difference that my memories of youthful joy are not ‘located’ in Soviet times. Their longing coincides with a yearning for the their past youth and for the relatively protected life of late socialism, — in some ways, two sides of the same coin.

The lion’s share of this ‘marketing of nostalgia’ is the return to Soviet packaging for consumer products, especially food, because in Soviet times, as Svetlana, (53) told me: ‘There were few products but they were very good, especially the milk, butter and cheese.’ The food products of the Soviet era are becoming the symbol of forgotten quality, of natural flavours and perhaps even of national pride, given modern Russian sanctions against the import of foodstuffs from abroad.
In Soviet times, the price of products were known to everyone because of the scarcity of those very same products and a lack of inflation. Today a new line of ice creams has been launched on the market which has kept the old names of Eskimo or Plombir and in their packaging are priced as they were in the past: 11 kopeek, kopecks, or 48 kopeek. These ice creams are proving universally popular — the nostalgics because they can taste their memories, while the young… well, the young just like the taste of ice cream.

Ekaterina, (66), explains this nostalgic feeling in more depth: “There was a less individualistic atmosphere, a more collective spirit, more solidarity, more friendship among people and less criminality”. Because, as Olga, (45) pointed out: “The State was atheist, but human values were practically identical to the morals that religions taught”. At that time these concepts were also promoted on the packaging and proof of this, survives today in the shape of a well-known Russian cheese with the same packaging and the same name — Friendship. Cheese appears to be dominating nostalgia based food products as a chocolate covered cheese (yes – really) is called Nostal’giya. Nothing subtle there then.
However, Ekaterina recalls more humdrum memories: “There was nothing exciting in collecting old newspapers and magazines, taking them for weighing and getting in return a coupon to get a new book. I remember that I would take the novels of Maurice Druon, on the stories of the Kings of France”. Just for an instant, she smiles and adds: “Of course it was fun!” Here is the power of nostalgia and how it brings lumps to the throat – they assault you right when you do not expect or want. Ekaterina continues: “Nostalgic people are people who feel sorry for themselves, who have no personal initiative. Before they could blame the Government, today only themselves”. Olga says: “One of the problems with being nostalgic is economic. At that time there was the myth of the West. Today, for those in need, the era of gold was to be found in the Soviet period.” Oleg, adds: “My parents were earning 500 roubles per month, which was a lot of money then and in the 1980s the government gave us a nice apartment. Before I could travel around the Soviet Union, today I can’t afford even Bulgaria”. And Ekaterina urges: “Life was cheap – food and bills, but clothing could be expensive and not nice, it was not fashionable. Even those who could shop in the Beriozka (stores for privileged people) were regrettably suffering the same fate. Sure, with their shoes they were showing themselves not to be just anybody, but perversely in those shops there was even less choice because many ‘nicer and more expensive’ models of shoes could only be found in two different colours. To be different we had to use ingenuity and seamstresses”.

In contrast, despite literary, theatrical, musical and film censorship, there was a flourishing cultural life. Oleg: “The cinema cost 10 kopecks in the morning and 40 kopecks in the evening.” Svetlana: “I could go to the theatre every night, as it only cost between 40 and 60 kopecks,” but, she adds: “How boring Soviet life was, what greyness”.

Ekaterina contrasts the arts of today and yesteryear “Before, to act in a theatre, more talent and courage were needed; today perhaps more money.” It almost seems that before there was more ethics than aesthetics, now there are more aesthetics than ethics. And what about the concept of no freedom of speech? Elena, tells us: “I have nostalgia for the Soviet period only because it was the time of my youth, because when you are young, life seems so beautiful and carefree. Of that time I miss the certainty of tomorrow. In the 1970’s and 1980’s we all had some occupation, a secure salary, a house more or less suitable and so on. What is better today? Many things. Surely freedom of conscience, the possibility to go to church and to express one’s opinion without fear; to buy and read books one likes and not imposed ones that the ruling classes tell you to like; to watch movies that are most appropriate to your vision of the world.”

The moral is: the same things can be seen or experienced from different angles. It is important not to discourage people who say it was nice before. But these same people should remember that nostalgia and youthfulness blurs reality.

A celebration of Robert and Jane McGill

Early in the morning on June the 13th , a group of Brits, Americans and Russians met at St Andrew’s Church to celebrate the lives of Robert & Jane McGill, a Scottish couple who were among the most prominent and active members of the British community in Moscow during the second half of the 19th C through to the revolution. It’s largely thanks to Robert that the magnificent St Andrew’s Church in Vosnesensky Pereulok was funded and built, and Jane, after his death, was the benefactress of the parsonage, and St Andrew’s House for governesses (now the Marco Polo Hotel), and a number of other buildings and projects designed to help the sick or poor in Moscow.

Robert McGill personally played a pivotal role in facilitating the initial development, modernization and growth of the whole Russian textile industry, and was a close associate of the Russian Morozov family, including Savva Morozov. Unfortunately, much of the memory of the McGills’ huge contribution to their adopted city and country was lost in the aftermath of the Bolshevik Revolution, and ultimately Jane’s own life and that of her brother Charles.

After hymns and prayers at the Church, the group left to pay their respects and lay flowers on the McGill’s grave in Vvedenskoe Cemetery, where a short remembrance service was held. Following a short walking tour of the Spiridonovka neighbourhood, where the families lived, the group were then joined by a piper from the Moscow Pipe Band, who escorted them to a commemorative reception and exhibition at the Marco Polo Hotel, which was originally built by Jane McGill as a residence for English speaking governesses in Moscow.

‘In the Name of St Andrew’ Russia’s forgotten Revolution

Selection_050

By David Armstrong

How a fascination with a portrait of a ‘woman in black’ in a Moscow hotel led to uncovering the stirring story of how a few Scots and English families living in Moscow led a dramatic, and very British revolution in the Russian textile industry.

I had been in the habit of spending my frequent Moscow week long visits at the Marco Polo Presnya Hotel for over a year when I started to take a closer interest in a lady’s portrait which hangs in the hotel lobby and in a number of the guest rooms. I experienced the increasingly strong sensation that this lady had a story to tell. The hotel’s guest handbook identified her as a Scottish widow, Jane McGill, as a result of whose generosity the original building had been constructed as a residence for British governesses before the Revolution. After my initial enquiries about the picture at the hotel reception failed to bear fruit, I was particularly keen as a Scot to try to find out more about this mystery benefactress, and about the early history of the building, which still bears a frieze above the entrance with the words ‘St Andrew’s House’, and the crests of Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales.

My research into the painting disappointingly revealed that the charming subject was in fact a copy of an original painting of a 19th century French countess, and for a while I began to despair, but after being invited to attend a music concert there, I turned my attention to St Andrew’s Church in Voznesensky Pereulok, where the trail began to warm up, as it became clear that this was the undoubted hub of the pre-revolution British community. After nearly six months following up various sources in Moscow and the UK, with the support and encouragement of the British Chaplain, Clive Fairclough, the picture gradually took shape of how Jane’s husband Robert McGill (they were married in Edinburgh in 1862, Jane’s maiden name was Hastie) and his business associate, a German entrepreneur named Ludwig Knoop, became pioneers in bringing the advanced Lancashire cotton manufacturing technology to Russia, first working with Savva Morozov at his Nikolsk mill in Orekhovo-Zuyevo, which led to them effectively becoming the exclusive intermediaries for Russia – planning, constructing, equipping and even funding over 200 mills both in the Moscow area and across the country, eventually accounting for over a third of the entire Russian factory workforce by the turn of the century, and helping Russia become the world’s 4th cotton textile manufacturer all within 4 decades.

As my own great grandfather had been a prominent 20th century cotton wholesaler in Glasgow, these discoveries whetted my appetite to dig deeper. It turned out that the McGill family also came from Glasgow, with a background in spinning and weaving. Robert’s father and uncle had moved to Moscow in the 1840’s as mill managers, when Sir Robert Peel’s government repealed the punitive export controls on British cotton manufacturing technology. Robert himself was sent to Lancashire as a young man to learn about the latest technology with De Jersey of Manchester and Platts of Oldham, the leading manufacturer of cotton technology, and this is where he met German entrepreneur Ludwig Knoop, who had spotted the opportunity, and made his first foray into the Russia textile market at the early age of 19. They became partners, and when Knoop moved back from Moscow to Germany in 1860, Robert took his place as the face of British cotton mill technology.
In contrast , Jane’s family originally came from the Scottish Border country, in the small town of Yetholm, Roxburghshire. Her uncle was a well-known preacher in the Free Church of Scotland.

However the Hastie family had a long association with Russia (Jane and her 8 siblings were all born in Moscow and baptized at the British Chapel in Voznesenskaya) which stretched back to the 18th Century, when William Hastie (Vasily Geste in Russian) had risen to become a leading national urban planner under Catherine the Great, and her father’s family were also coachmakers in India and Russia. After the wedding Robert and Jane set up house in Spiridonovka in Moscow, taking as Russian names Roman Romanovich and Evgenia Ivanovna MakGill.

Lancashire was the powerhouse of the cotton industry in Britain, with famous names like Arkwright, Hargreaves, Kay and Cartwright developing the cotton manufacturing technology which facilitated the Industrial Revolution. Platts of Oldham were the leading suppliers of manufacturing equipment, and during the course of the 19th Century, Russia rapidly became their largest export market. Savva Morozov (grandson of the founder of Nikolsk) himself came to study in Manchester in the 1880s after completing his course at Cambridge. A few Lancashire families, like the Charnocks (who introduced football to their Russian workforce to reduce alcoholism) and the Hodsons, joined the McGills in migrating to Russia in the mid 19th Century. All became prominent members of the St Andrews Church community in Moscow, along with Messrs Muir & Merrilees (Scots who built the prestigious department store later to become TsUM), and the Smiths, also from Glasgow) of the Presnya boiler works.
After Robert’s death in 1893, his widow Jane began to make a series of generous gifts to the British church, community and the wider Moscow community. In 1894, a new residence for the Chaplain was opened which she dedicated to Robert, who had been very active in church life –he was the principal donor of funds to construct the present church opened in 1885. In 1902, she funded an almshouse for widows and orphans at 6 Gospitalnaya Ulitsa, and in 1904, St Andrews House itself in Spiridonevsky Pereulok (now Marco Polo hotel), built by the British architect William Walcott, who was also engaged as architect for the Metropol Hotel at this time.

There was great demand for rooms at St Andrew’s right up to the time of the 1917 Revolution, after which the building was seized by the Bolsheviks.
Jane stayed on the house in Ulitsa Spiridonovka right up to the revolution, with her brother Charles and sister Rachel taking up residence in the neighbouring house on one side, and Savva Morozov’s imposing gothic mansion being constructed during 1894-8 after Robert’s death on her other side. The latter mansion is said to have provided the inspiration for Margarita’s house in Bulgakov’s Master and Margarita.

Both Jane and Charles tragically perished in the aftermath of the revolution, when their houses were requisitioned and they were evicted in the middle of the particularly harsh winter of 1919. However Jane’s younger sister Rachel managed to get on the last train out of Moscow to St. Petersburg and Finland, and I stumbled on the passenger manifest for a small British steamer called the ‘Tagus’ which carried her and the last of the ‘Refugees from Moscow’ to safety in Southampton in 1920.

I recently discovered an early photograph taken in 1908 of the original St Andrew’s House in the London Metropolitan Archives, and in a unique ceremony at the Marco Polo on June 13, a framed copy was presented by the Chaplain Clive Fairclough to the hotel’s general director, following a short service, celebration and exhibition about the McGill story.

David Armstrong is a business development director with Guidewire Software, based in Moscow and London.

S Lyokhkim Parom!!

Selection_043

By Luc Jones

Getting naked, hot & sweaty with other men (or women if are a lady) at first might not sound like your idea of fun but you can’t say that you’ve really ‘done’ Russia unless you’ve experienced a visit to a banya. On the surface it is basically a bath house but the whole process is taken seriously, yet at the same time it’s harmless fun even if it doesn’t always feel like it at the time. Think of it as a bit of bonding session, but it’s certainly something you won’t forget in a hurry!

In Russia, the banya is very much a ritual although its origins stretch back centuries, to the days when bathing as we know it did not exist. Nowadays it is much more of a pastime yet traditions are maintained so it’s useful to familiarise yourself with what you are about get yourself in to. Essentially you will enter a hot, steaming room, work up a sweat and then wash it off with cold water, but as you will see, there is much more to it than just an old-fashioned way of keeping yourself clean.

For starters, a banya can range from a small, wooden shed in the country for just a few, close friends to a huge, ornate building which can accommodate dozens of people, such as the famous Sanduny (see contact details below). You will need a few items to make your experience complete, although these can be purchased or rented at the higher-end places; if going to a banya at somebody’s dacha, check if these will be provided although many shops in Moscow sell the basics. Generally you pay an entry fee which allows you two hours, although you can add on additional hours if you’re not ready to leave.

Many banya frequenters wear a felt hat which helps to protect your ears from the extreme heat – you will strip off completely and head into a room where the temperature is close to 100C, so slipping on a pair of flip-flops is a wise move. As is a cloth sheet to wear around your waist if you’re a little shy although it then doubles up into a mat to sit on once inside although some opt to stand; you don’t need a degree in physics to quickly realize that warm air rises so the higher up you are, the hotter it gets. And the longer you stay in the sweatier you become, although hardcore banya aficionados can be seen beating each other with birch branches, called a ‘venik’ which improves the circulation, apparently. Water will periodically be poured onto the hot stones to create additional steam, and eucalyptus is occasionally added for a more authentic smell, and don’t be surprised if one of the more experienced participants starts to wave a towel around to spread the heat.

Once you reach the stage when your body cannot stand any more heat, you exit the banya, and into a cold pool to wash off all the sweat. Depending on how sophisticated your banya is, this could be anything from a large swimming pool to a pond in the garden, and if you really want to show off in winter months, you can roll around in the snow although this is best done after a few vodka shots.
On the subject of refreshments, you won’t be surprised to hear that there is often some alcohol involved after you’ve rinsed off sweat off yourself. Most public banyas will have a small café or shop selling beer, soft drinks and snacks although the swankier the venue, the better the fare (Sanduni boasts an extensive menu, featuring Russian, Georgian and Uzbek cuisine, plus an assortment of beverages from draught beer to vodka, cognac & champagne). Then it’s back in for another round of banya, a ritual which will be repeated several times until you’re ready to keel over!

Unless you are lucky enough to have your own banya (or visit someone who does), or rich enough to rent out the entire premises, it’s likely to be a same-sex affair but it’s all completely innocent. Please don’t even think about packing that tube of KY jelly (if you’re that way inclined), but do bring along some soap, shampoo and a towel for showering at the end. Banyas are generally geared towards men but ladies can enjoy them too; Sanduny has a separate female section. If you only learn one banya-related phrase, it has to be ‘S lyokhkim parom’ (which very roughly translates as ‘I hope the steam goes easy on you’)!

Sandunovskaya Banya (typically shortened to just ‘Sanduny’) is centrally located, just off Ul. Neglinnaya D14 (nearest metro is Kuznetsky Most) – the website www.sanduny.ru is in Russian only but has picture of what you are getting yourself into (as well as the magnificent interior).