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Good question! Of course there’s more to Russia than the Red Kremlin of Moscow and the bridges of Saint Petersburg, though you sometimes tend to forget about the rest, especially if you haven’t been there (which I suppose most tourist haven’t, only in those cities located along the railroad going east from the capitol). Russians call “the rest” «провинция» and there’s a standard joke going around that foreigners call it “Siberia”. I think it is very unfair that most of Russia gets almost none of the attention, not only because these unknown parts of this country are more beautiful (though often they are) but because they ARE this country. How about the white Kremlin in Tobolsk? Or the San Francisco-esque hills of Krasnoyarsk? Or the wide and long prospects of Novosibirsk? Or the religious mixture of Muslim and Orthodox traditions in Kazan? Not to talk about the amazing view of the Don in Rostov-na-Donu! The list of big cities in Russia – with over or almost a million inhabitants – can be made much longer. And though Russia is still overly centralized, with Moscow as the old faithful bellybutton keeping the whole country together, things look like they are changing, at least if the article «Где в России можно жить» in №11 (March 27 2008) of «Русский репортёр» is anything to judge by.
The article opens up bravely with the following sentences: «В нашей стране есть уже порядка десяти городов, обладающих тем минимумом цивилизации, который необходим для современной жизни. [In our country there are already about ten cities which possess that minimum of civilization that is necessary for modern life.] И это чрезвычайно важно. [And this is extremely important.] Быстрое развитие Москвы перекрыло целый ряд возможностей для создания в столице городской среды, удобной не только для работы, но и для частной жизни. [The fast development of Moscow has blocked a whole number of possibilities to create a city environment in the capitol that is comfortable not only for work, but also for private life.] Дороговизна жилья, плотная застройка, бесконечные пробки и многое другое — раздражает людей. [High housing prices, dense development, eternal traffic jams and many other things annoy people.] Это не значит, что Москва потеряет свое значение, просто в ближайшие десятилетия в России могут появиться другие центры притяжения людей, денег, благ. [This doesn’t mean that Moscow will loose its importance, only that in the next ten years there might appear other centers of attraction to people, money, benefits.]
To me this article is very interesting because it puts the spotlight on the city in which I live in Russia, Yekaterinburg, and announces it to be the “Third Capitol” of Russia (a title which many cities in Russia in one way or another fight to claim), and focuses on it throughout the article. I think the article can hold some potential as reading material also for those not directly linked to this city, mostly because it shows (perhaps not quite the way I’d like it to show it, but still) the “middle” of Russia. Though the journalists didn’t talk to any truly ordinary residents of Yekaterinburg, they still tried and did a good job catching the general feel and flavor of the city. There’s even a small part about our ‘China Town’, which talks about the area of the city where almost only emigrants live, something I, as a foreigner, can’t help but to appreciate. Though I think that in the end the article’s center of attention was not to look at Yekaterinburg as a whole, but to show off the things that are going well for and in the city, to promote it as well as other bigger cities in Russia that are doing exceptionally well economically right now. The idea was good, but I think I’ll have to sum up my point of view using the Russian saying «хотели как лучше, получилось как всегда» [they wanted to do as good as possible, but it turned out like always].