Our Man In Moscow
DATELINE: September 21, 1998 -- And so, people are trying to learn new/old ways of life. It is already clear that the government is starting to print more money - to pay old debts to pensioners, teachers, medics, the military...just as much as it is already clear that the ruble will answer, and overwhelming inflation will fall upon our collective necks like an ax. Prices will climb 50% to 100% at best.
The worst of the things that are already clear is that the banks are to use the damned process to "clear" their own debts, picking our pockets as usual. This is felt immediately. Imported cigarettes (mostly produced locally, in Petersburg) are sold for twice their normal price. At least 2000 journalists have recently been thrown out into the streets in Moscow - newspapers are being closed as paper and printing costs are getting more expensive, while advertising is diminishing and the sponsors are withdrawing. The number of long trucks on the roads has dropped tenfold. Restaurants are empty.
Psychologically the young feel worse of all - those who have known different times are at least aware of all the consequences, which doesn't make them happy, and yet they know what it means to exist without the small pleasantries of everyday life.
Commercial gymnasiums and universities are the first to feel the worst - the number of people ready to pay for their children is melting away.
Nobody has decided yet how to act, though - there hasn't been enough time to consider ones fate. The American Embassy was the first to react - it is now nearly impossible to get a Visa through a private invitation. The USA is closing up against an expected influx of the former New Russians. October 7th the political left and the trade unions (those are enigmatic - nobody really understands whom they represent at all) are to start campaigning for Yeltsins retirement - as if that would help anybody. They will spare the government where there are many of those whom they wanted to see on top, but ordinary bread-eaters will not see any difference. The thing that I am afraid of: There are a lot of Jews among the bankers whom many consider responsible for every mishap (not without reason), and there are a lot of Caucasians among tradesmen, and that division might turn into a real opportunity for the darkest, most prejudiced nationalistic propaganda of which there are enough partisans who have been more or less invisible for too long.
Let us hope for the better, but get ready for the worse.
Up to now everything is quiet, perhaps too quiet.