Cultural managements

No more cosmopolitanism: Russians are feeling the pinch of the cultural and economic divide | Russia

A trip to the mall in Russia is a different experience today than just a few months ago.

“When I had my first child, there was all this choice. Mothercare, Zara, you name it,” said Evgenia Marsheva, a 33-year-old architect. But when she went shopping in Moscow this month this for her newborn, many of those major retail brands had been shut down.

“Now I only find very cheap or extremely expensive Russian products. I was raised with stories about the limited choices my parents had during the Soviet Union. I never thought it would come back.

Three months into the war, Russia has become the most sanctioned country in the world, and nearly 1,000 foreign brands — the majority of them voluntarily — have scaled back their operations there, according to records kept by the Yale School of Management. The corporate exodus continued this week, with McDonald’s officially announcing it would leave Russia after three decades.

Helped by soaring oil and gas export prices, the Kremlin has so far been able to continue funding its war efforts, with the country spending up to $300m (£240m) a day on defense last month, double the pre-war period. , according to data from the Ministry of Finance. Meanwhile, the capital controls Russia imposed to protect its financial sector in late February have made the ruble the best-performing currency in the world.

Yet for many people in Moscow and other Russian cities, the country’s growing political and economic isolation is having a direct impact on their livelihoods.

“Since the beginning of the conflict, every step of the production chain has been a struggle,” said Vladimir Kukushkin, director of a printing plant in Yekaterinburg, Russia’s fourth largest city.

Kukushkin complained that after Adobe announced its software would not be available in Russia, it had to find new ways to design its products, while rising ink and paper prices exerted additional pressure on his business.

“It has also been difficult to promote my business because Instagram and Facebook are blocked. It may seem like small things, but they really add up,” he said.

After Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, the Kremlin had some success in its import substitution campaign, particularly in boosting its domestic agricultural production, and the owners of two restaurants in Moscow said they would not had encountered no problems obtaining their products since the start of the war. .

However, the current corporate exodus has highlighted the country’s failures to produce many consumer goods that Russians have grown accustomed to, said Maria Shagina, a researcher at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

“The Russian economy is still extremely dependent on imports. For example, 90% of bakeries in Russia work with imported equipment, mainly from Europe. The drop in imports will have a huge impact on the products available in the country,” she said.

A closed McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow. Photograph: Evgenia Novozhenina/Reuters

It would be particularly difficult for Russian companies to replace foreign technology products and microchips, Shagina added. Russia’s efforts to copy banned social media platforms have been ridiculed, while sanctions have sent the auto industry back to the 1980s, with new cars no longer legally required to have airbags, which cannot no longer be imported from the West.

In a blatant admission of the country’s struggles to substitute products, Andrei Klishas, ​​a senator from Putin’s ruling United Russia party, said this week that the country’s import substitution program “has completely failed”.

Recent economic data further indicates emerging signs of stress across the economy.

Officials estimate that the Russian economy is expected to contract by 8-12% in 2022. Car sales, an indicator often used by experts to gauge economic mood, fell nearly 80% in April, the largest drop ever recorded. . Meanwhile, the country’s central bank has predicted an inflation rate of between 18 and 23 percent this year.

In a recent survey by the independent Levada Center, 85% of Russians polled said now was a bad time for big purchases, the highest level in more than a decade, while more than 60% of Russians said they don’t not have any savings.

“The government has created a false sense of stability. But the long-term picture is overwhelming,” Shagina said.

While slow-burning sanctions may not force Vladimir Putin to change his actions in Ukraine, the pressure on the Kremlin would increase “significantly” if the European Union goes ahead with its plans to decouple Russian oil and gas, he said. she declared.

“As long as Russia derives its income from gas and oil, it can support the war. It will be a blow for the Kremlin if it loses this cash cow.

And while economists and businesses are sounding the alarm over the country’s looming recession, some Muscovites lament the severing of cultural ties with the West that has come with economic damage.

“Cultural isolation is perhaps even scarier to me than economic isolation,” said Katya Fedorova, a former fashion editor who now runs a widely read lifestyle and fashion blog on Telegram.

Disney, Warner, Sony and other production companies have halted film releases in Russia, with Moscow cinemas now rerunning old Hollywood blockbusters and premiering Chinese action films.

“We’ll be lucky if we make it through the fall without closing. People just don’t want to go and see The Wolf of Wall Street for the fifth time,” said the director of a popular cinema in central Moscow, referring to the 2013 Martin Scorsese film which is currently being shown again on some screens. of the capital. .

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In a symbolic move, Cosmopolitan, which caused a stir in 1994 when it became the first international women’s magazine to be published in post-Soviet Russia, was forced to change its name to The Voice, after Hearst Corporation revoked the magazine’s Russian license. .

“I remember summers in Moscow going from one Juergen Teller show to another Murakami show, dancing at music festivals where international lineups rivaled the best European concerts,” Fedorova recalls. Western fashion executives marveled as she took them around town, commenting on how “modern and vibrant” the city was.

“That Moscow is gone now,” she sighed.

This article was edited on May 21, 2022 to clarify that Cosmopolitan has changed the name of its magazine in Russia to The Voice, not Cosmomagazine as previously reported.