THE FUNERAL OF THE KIOSK
By Stephen Wilson
Moscow, Russia -- I emerged out of the Moscow Metro Station of Aviamotornaya to being blasted by a cruel icy wind. The temperature had fallen to below 20 but a fierce wind blowing through the wide road past the market rendered it much colder. I found I had entered not only a new year but a new Moscow full of emptier, wider, and windier spaces. I was hoping to buy a historical journal from the local Kiosk but alas, there was practically none.
No more corner street newspaper Kiosks ! They had removed them only days ago at around the evil hours of the night while most people are apathetic or sleeping. I walked on down Avaimatornaya street and was alarmed to find no more florists where I would once buy flowers . A famous landmark, the Lefortovski market, which had once stood for 300 years was abruptly demolished by construction workers. It was only when I reached the end of the road I came across
one solitary kiosk ! It seemed more like a mirage than an aberration.
The final demolition of the last remaining surviving Kiosks over the closing days of 2016 represent the finishing touches to the funeral of the Kiosk in Moscow . Trying to find a kiosk in some parts of Moscow is like attempting to find a needle in a haystack.
As many as an estimated 100,000 people may have lost their jobs. Many of those workers will find it a daunting challenge to find alternative employment and may find jobs with far less pay. The demolition of kiosks was carried out in about three waves. The most spectacular wave came on the nights of and was dubbed ; 'The Night of the Bulldozer nights ', because of the tactless, callous and illegal way it was carried out.
Owners of the kiosks were not given proper notice or even time to move their stuff out. Kiosks were reduced to dusty heaps of debris with ugly metal railing sprouting out and sharp fragments of glass scattered all around. Any child could have cut themselves with this glass which was not hastily gathered.
The justification for this mass destruction program was odd. The kiosks got in the way of pedestrians, they spoilt the view for tourists , they represented a dangerous hazard to safety around the metro. The Mayor Sergei Sobyanin claimed he was giving back space to the Moscovites. When confronted by journalists about how many of the Kiosks had received signed permits from his own officials , he simply cynically dismissed their legal permits as ' mere scraps of paper'. New kiosks are going to be erected but with 'the right people'. In other words, people who have the right nationality and color. Much of the propaganda by the tabloid press justified the closure of kiosks on the ground they were owned by a
Caucasian mafia using them as a pretext to sell drugs. A computer programmer Mikhail informed me : "In my local area a lot of those people were selling drugs. I don't believe that those kiosks operated on a legal basis. They were run by criminals. Those kiosk workers can easily find alternative jobs."
It is no idle speculation or overstatement to claim that the demolition of the kiosks is a blatant example of 'ethnic cleansing'. Much of the resentment against those kiosks is based on crude racist prejudice against migrants.
Sergei, who works at an International bank told me : " Since I don't buy anything from those kiosks it does not affect me in any way so I'm not bothered about this".
Since there has been practically no great outcry or major protests, (demonstrations of protests have only gathered a few hundred protesters at most other than a well-staged protest strike which proved ineffective ) the demolitions have been pushed through without even a murmur . At most, people are a little startled and momentarily curious.
However, if the Mayor , who is largely unaccountable , can go ahead with depriving legally standing small businesses , then given time, he will be able to destroy parks , forests and even the houses of local Muscovites.
Nevertheless, the kiosks are not all without friends. A lot more people are missing them as they notice they have to wait in a long queue at expensive supermarkets to buy items at higher prices. So customers are losing not only more of their time but money. So who is really cheating who ? Is it the mayor or the Kiosk workers who often offer a cheaper, more convenient and at times, warmer services?
Oksana Chebotareva , a teacher informed me : " All my fellow teachers have started to complain how they can no longer buy great items from the kiosks around Prospect Mir, They used to buy cheap scarves, skirts and all kinds of useful things. Now the kiosks have gone they don't have so much time to do the shopping."
But Kiosks were more than just places to purchase useful items. They brought color to an otherwise gray impersonal
city of strangers. You could enjoy a good chat with kiosk workers and strike up friendships. So a source of warm glow has been stubbed out. All that remains is wind blasting you over dark smooth ice.