Moscow, City of

Moscow, City of
   Moscow is the capital and largest city of the Russian Federation; it is also the largest metropolitan area in Europe. The city is the major political, economic, financial, cultural, religious, educational, and transport center of Russia. Known as Moskva in the Russian language, its name derives from the eponymous river on the banks of which there have been human settlements since prehistoric times. The city was first mentioned in the Russian Chronicles in 1147, and became the center of Russian political power in the 14th century. Moscow lost its status as the capital of the Romanov Empire when Peter the Great moved the capital to the newly founded city of St. Petersburg in the country’s northwest in the early 18th century. Following the Bolshevik Revolution, Moscow once again became the capital, first of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic in 1918, and then the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) several years later.
   As the seat of power for the Russian Federation, the Moscow Kremlin (from the word for “fortress” or “citadel”) houses the home of the president of Russia, as well as many other agencies of the national government, including military headquarters. Moscow is also home for the Russian State Duma and other national and international organizations. However, in recent years, there has been a move to transfer some of the government institutions to St. Petersburg, with the purpose of revitalizing Russia’s northern capital and of decentering Russia’s judicial, financial, and cultural life.
   The longtime mayor of the city of Moscow is Yury Luzhkov. The local government is called the City Duma. Moscow is a federal city and thus one of Russia’s federal subjects. Moscow is part of the Central Federal District and Economic Region. It covers an area of 1,081 square kilometers. Moscow and its suburbs, which are part of the Moscow Oblast, form one of the largest urban conglomerates in the world. Roughly 1 out of 10 Russian citizens resides in the greater Moscow area.
   Moscow has one of the largest city economies in Europe, providing approximately a quarter of Russian gross domestic product on an annual basis. Primary industries include chemicals, foodstuffs, textiles, software development, and machinery. In 2008, Moscow was home to Russia’s 74 billionaires; however, that figure has decreased dramatically in the wake of the 2008–2009 global financial crisis. Moscow proper is defined by its seven administrative divisions (okrugs), and also by the Moscow Circle Road (MCR), a major highway that encircles the city and provides access to the capital’s main roads. Because of the MCR, Moscow proper is easily defined. There are five main airports (including Sheremetyevo and Domodedovo International Airports) and seven large train stations serving the metropolitan area. The MCR is part of Moscow’s circular geographical and transportation system. With the walls of the Kremlin forming the city’s innermost circle, the inner core of the city is bounded by the Boulevard Ring (which encloses a series of parks in the city center), then the Garden Ring, Moscow’s major thoroughfare, and, finally, the MCR, from which highways and train lines stretch in a radial fashion all across the country, symbolically securing Moscow’s dominant position in the Russian Federation.
   In 2009, the population of Moscow was estimated at 10.5 million people (a century ago it was only 1 million people, suggesting that on average the population of Moscow grows by a million every decade). However, this estimate includes only officially registered residents of the city; in order to reside in Moscow, individuals need to obtain a writ of permission (propiska) from Moscow’s authorities who, through this practice, are able to partially regulate migration to the capital. Lack of such paperwork prevents Russian citizens (and immigrants from other countries) from applying for mortgages and gaining access to health care and other services. As it is virtually impossible to obtain such a propiska for residency in the capital, many people continue to live in the city as unregistered residents or as temporary visitors, which means that the real population of Moscow is a few million larger. The registration practice applies to the Russian capital only, making it a unique place in the Russian Federation, socially and culturally.
   Moscow is a multicultural, multiconfessional city; however, in Moscow, the number of people who define themselves as ethnic Russians is higher than Russia’s average. The city is home to large communities of Ukrainians, Tatars, Armenians, Jews, Georgians, and other ethnic minorities. The city’s ethnic population increased significantly after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, when many citizens of the former Soviet republics, especially from Central Asia and the Caucasus, came to live in Russia’s capital. While in Moscow there are areas that are named after Russia’s ethnic minorities, for example, the Armianskii pereulok (the Armenian street), they refer to a settlement practice of imperial Russia. Generally, Moscow’s ethnic minorities do not live in communities as they do in other large cities in the world (for example, in New York’s Chinatown); instead, social stratification in Moscow is based on people’s class, with higher classes gravitating to the city center or living in the suburbs. However, it is still possible to find communal flats (kommunalki) in Moscow’s center, occupied by poorer families that cannot afford other accommodation.
   Moscow’s living costs are among the highest in the country: in 2009, renting a studio apartment cost between $1,000 and $5,000 per month, and an average square foot of Moscow’s property was valued at $1,000. While property is very expensive, public services are cheap, for example, London’s underground is five times more expensive than Moscow’s metro. Furthermore, Moscow retains a system of state subsidies for unprivileged citizens, including cheap commercial outlets, keeping the capital affordable for many. At the same time, the city’s center and Moscow’s suburbs, especially the Rubliovka Highway (Rubliovskoie shosse), are dominated by Russia’s new political and economic elites, featuring multimillion-dollar apartments and mansions of Russian oligarchs and celebrities.
   As with other world capitals, Moscow is a highly fashionable and desirable place to live, which accounts for the annual drain of a great number of young people from Russian provinces to the country’s capital. They are motivated by the hopes of social mobility, particularly opportunities associated with Moscow’s world-class institutions of education, such as the Moscow State University, as well as cultural sites such as the Tretiakov Gallery and the Bolshoy Theater, St. Basil’s Cathedral and the Cathedral of Christ the Savior, sports arenas, and music venues, which attract tourists and new residents. Numerous parks and green areas also dot the city’s landscape. Moscow has a vibrant nightlife, which is certainly a post-Soviet addition: in the early 1990s, new luxurious restaurants, nightclubs, and shops appeared in and in the vicinity of Tverskaya Street.
   These outlets provide escape and entertainment during Moscow’s long and bleak winters. Because of the changing climate, heavy snowfalls and low temperatures are now a rarity in the winter, while the summer normally features a series of punishing heat waves. Moscow suffers from serious air pollution, due to the city’s industry, automobiles (the number of private cars in Moscow trebled in less than a decade), and congested road system (Joseph Stalin built new highways in the capital, thus destroying many historical districts; however, their purpose was more military than civic and so they do not meet the needs of Moscow’s bulging population). The capital has become notorious for its smog, which explains why many Muscovites prefer to take to their dachas when possible.

Historical Dictionary of the Russian Federation. . 2010.

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