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From Russia with Loathing

I got my first taste of Russia and the other side of the Iron Curtain on a schoolboy visit to Moscow and Odessa in 1976. Brezhnev was the Soviet Leader and the Soviet Union was in the middle of a hot Cold War with the West.

The contrast between East and West could not have been greater.

In Russia, apart from in the hard currency shops, consumer goods were in noticeably short supply, as was anything edible except for seasonal produce. The efforts of shadowy black marketeers, who descended on our group at every touristic stopover, whispering ‘buy jeans, dollars, chewing gum’ would have done little to plug the supply shortages.

In hotels, we were under constant surveillance, with a babushka sitting at a desk, at the end of every corridor. The promised day with a Russian family, the much-anticipated highlight of our trip, was cancelled without explanation.

It was only on a visit to a secondary school that we detected some common experiences shared with our Russian peers – an interest in heavy metal bands Led Zeppelin, Motorhead and Van Halen, and scruffy torn denims.

Returning to Moscow last year, over forty years later, jeans were available in all sizes and price ranges, chewing gum could be purchased in every flavour imaginable and the supermarkets were bulging with produce flown in from around the world.

Posted in Europe / International and Op-eds | Also tagged | 8 Comments
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