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Birthday bash in a city of 60 billionaires

world Updated: Sep 24, 2007 00:34 IST
Fred Weir
Fred Weir
Hindustan Times
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One cynical editorial called it "nothing more than an opportunity for 500,000 drunks to run wild in downtown Moscow," but the city's freshly re-appointed Mayor, Yury Luzkhov, felt otherwise. He ordered the city's 860th birthday earlier this month to be celebrated with no-expenses-spared pomp and ceremony. The 5,000 events staged around the capital included an antique car rally, dozens of musical concerts, a speech devoted to Moscow by President Vladimir Putin, a spectacular fireworks display, and a bizarre 200-metre race by some of the city's most beautiful waitresses — some wearing high heels — carrying trays of drinks.

The event that attracted the most attention was, apparently, not sanctioned by the authorities. Alain Robert, who calls himself "Spiderman", scaled a 250-metre high skyscraper wearing the eponymous superhero costume, only to be arrested by Moscow police when he reached the top.

The most sour note was sounded by left-wing novelist Eduard Limonov, who claimed in a newspaper column that the city fathers were lying about Moscow's actual age. Mayor Luzhkov dates the city's founding to 1147, when the first reference to a village on the banks of the muddy Moskva River is found in historical records. But Limonov says the city was actually established with the building of a kremlin, or fortress, on the site of today's Red Square, in 1382. "So, Moscow is faking her years, pretending to be older because she suffers from an inferiority complex," he wrote.

Most expensive city

It may be younger than it says, but there seems little doubt about the accuracy of Moscow's claim to be the world's most expensive city. A recent survey found Moscow to be almost 25 per cent more costly than New York, due in large part to ballooning real estate prices. Downtown flats and office space now sells for up to $33,000 (Rs 13.2 lakh) for a single square metre. A decent sized one-bedroom apartment would have to be around 100 sqmt, so you do the math.

The housing bubble may be popping in America and Europe, but the real estate splurge in Moscow shows no sign of abating. Prices in the city's toniest areas are doubling each year, and there are still plenty of buyers. The main reason for this, experts say, is Russia's oil boom, which generates a seemingly endless flood of cash, most of which ends up in Moscow. Petroleum may be produced in Siberia, but every Russian oil tycoon insists on having a Moscow address.

According to Forbes magazine, 60 billionaires now call Moscow home, more than any other city in the world. It's harder to guage the number of mere millionaires, but there must be multitudes of them. Last year's "Millionaire Fair" in Moscow drew almost 40,000 guests. Among the exclusive sales made at the fair were three Bugatti cars costing $1.5-million each and 15 jewel-encrusted GoldVish cell phones priced at almost $500,000 each.

Moscow may be the only city in the world that can boast one-stop shopping for luxury goods. Tretyakovsky Proyezd, an upscale shopping mall next to the Kremlin, has about 20 shops representing all the leading brands, including Bentley, Ferrari, Armani, Tiffany, Bulgari, Prada and Gucci. The same company is building a huge new centre, called Barvikha Luxury Village, which will feature a health spa and gourmet restaurants for the ultra-rich, in the dacha country just outside Moscow.

Election fever

You know that election season has begun when political billboards begin to outnumber commercial ones. The campaign for Russia's upcoming December 2 parliamentary polls has just got underway, and the political messages are already proliferating. Most belong to the pro-Kremlin United Russia party, which sticks to patriotic themes like: Our Plan is Russia's Victory!

A new left-wing party, headed by a close personal friend of President Putin, Just Russia, is also making inroads with Soviet-style messages meant to appeal to workers, the poor and pensioners. Their billboards often feature a typical working person expressing hope that Just Russia will do well in the elections. But of the once-mighty Communist Party, which surveys suggest will take about 10 per cent of the vote, there is not a trace. The Communists have yet to place a single advertisement anywhere in Moscow.

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