Thursday, 14 March 2013

Moscow's vast gated communities, an Orthodox Service with unorthodox service and a safer world

A beautiful day unveils itself before us as we draw back the curtains. Flurries of snow float gently down through the trees. Everything below our 7th floor apartment is hidden beneath a huge and brilliant white duvet of snow. It looks as if the pristine clouds themselves had landed in the night for a rest and couldn’t be bothered to float off again.

We set off into the surprisingly mild air, along the recently cleared paths that cut through the park, part trees, part vast blocks of flats, that we live in, towards the metro station.

The fitness club we belong to is housed inside one of the many enormous gated communities that Moscow has erected to protect its wealthy elite from the barbarian hordes of the unwealthy.

In these, you can safely shop for all your needs, served by the service tribes of Moscow, the descendants of Genghis Kahn who once terrorised the city in the 13th century.
How things change, and like in Heaven, the first shall be last and the last shall be first.
Which thought reminds us of the unlucky Roman Emperer Valerian who was defeated at the battle of Edessa, captured and spent the last years of his life as the foot stool that the Sassanian emperor Shapur 1st used to mount his horse. Talk about role reversal.

But how safe can you be inside a gated community?

Another gated community, probably inspired by the human penis, reflecting the deep insecurity  felt by  the
wealthy buyers. They may be safe, these gated cities, but they're not pretty. Power trumps pulchritude. 

In South Africa, home of the gated community, the athlete Pistorious’s girlfriend was shot to death by her heavily armed legless lover inside a gated community.

The Barbarians you are so afraid of simply wait outside your gates for you to emerge, as you eventually must.

And can a gated community protect you from the permanent peril of nuclear annihilation that exists as a result of the ‘fire on warning’ nuclear deterrence strategy employed by the USA and Russia?

I would ask all those denizens of gated communities, here in Russia, in the United States and the United Kingdom, to reflect on how much safer they would be if this system were replaced by one in which both sides shared their technologies of Anti - Ballistic Missile defense and replaced their offensive missiles with these defensive systems.
The present setup is almost bound to lead to disaster, either by accident, or by design.
Scrap most of the offensive missiles and share the means of defense against the few that remain. This would make both powers safe from each other and from any ‘ rogue states’ out there. It would also set a good example and lead to co-operation in other areas of life that we all so desperately need.
Mr Obama, Mr Putin, time please for some statesmanship.
Like Kruschev and Kennedy did over Cuba, ignore your military and your hawks and put humanity first!
Gated communities, open the gates of your hearts and minds, write to your president, bombard him with pleas on behalf of your children and theirs to come, stop this insanity now!

Anxious now about how much longer we might be in this world, we decide to make one more foray into the waiting rooms of the next and attend the evening service at the cathedral of Christ the Saviour, the headquarters of the Russian orthodox church and the site of the Pussy Riot protest.

The evening service here begins at five, (different from most other churches in Russia which start at six) an unhelpful time for a lot of working Muscovites, and indeed the congregation was small.
Despite the sumptuous marble, gold and silver everywhere, there appeared to be no access for disabled people or wheelchair users, something of an extraordinary oversight given that it was built in 1997. Perhaps the priesthood are relying on the infinite mercy of God to get my pious and disabled friend up the steps and down again to the service?

When Stalin demolished the original cathedral back in 1929 he replaced it with a swimming pool, but the citizens of that time were not impressed by the pool and nicknamed it the big Moscow puddle.
Top down systems would seem to have their limitations, assuming the Orthodox church to be a top down system with a similar organisational model to the Stalinist one in which the top is a very long way from the bottom, but with the crucial difference that nobody comes back from a meeting with the ultimate boss of the church.

An orthodox service is difficult for me - there are no pews or seats, and suffering is therefore built in if you have a bad back, especially given the number of times one must get down on ones knees to kiss the floor.

The choir was beautiful although something of an austerity choir given that there were only three of them,but then there were not many worshippers either.

I respectfully suggest that pushing back the service to six pm and providing wheelchair access would make a huge difference to the numbers attending, and therefore to the number of souls that the church could save.
But then we’re assuming that that’s what they want to do.
Unfortunately, we left feeling no closer to God but a lot closer to the long suffering Russian believer of elderly years or with any disability at all.

Talking of safety, perhaps we’d all be better off if we could get back to the days when Kings or Foreign Minister equivalents were happy to engage in trial by combat, jousting in full armour upon their sturdy steeds, just like in the movie The Knights Tale. Perhaps then they would think a little more carefully about how to arrive at a compromise.


  1. I guess it is safe from the outside criminals. But what if the criminal you all feared of lives within the gated community. Will it still be safe? And isn’t it that gated communities are just promoting social discrimination?

  2. Hi Jelly you make a very good point. The community thinks it can select the safe from the dangerous denizen. It uses money and respectable employment as a proxy for a morality test and as a predictor of responsible citizenship. But history shows these criteria to be unreliable. Schizophrenia, for example, which is the condition most associated with random violent attacks on strangers, is distributed at random throughout the population. Apart from this though, if you are going to be killed, it's most likely to be someone close to you!
    I agree that gated communities increase social division between rich and poor, which means they increase the chance of criminality outside the gates. And if that's not enough, they increase levels of distrust between citizens, making life generally less agreeable. All in all, a bad thing!