Start of the year has habitually been the best time of the year to work for me since my Moscow days because for a week or even more at the start of each new year you can land a Jumbo Jet on any of Moscow streets and walk an elephant through most secure offices and no one will notice. The city empties - Russians migrate like Siberian birds to southern climates for 2 weeks. And most security guards lurch around intoxicated. There is unbelievable peace in Moscow at the start of new year. No one works for 2 weeks, no phone calls and no mail. The work and thinking processes are helped enormously with frequent visits to the Banya, being boiled and roasted in hot steam, merciless beating with birch branches and then jumping into the snow and ice pools with -10/-20 air. Did I say Vodka? No. I try not to drink around the New Year and go into it with a clean head. Boring but true.
I have left Russia far behind in 2005 and no, to answer the question I am asked plenty times I still do not miss Moscow (photos from last visit.) What is there to miss? If horrid traffic jams, short tempers, aggressive language, putrid air, all pervasive ugly billboards, terrible service, increasing arrogance of the elites, bad work ethic, unending holidays and round the clock beer drinking are the kind of things to miss, well one has to be checked out for Helsinki syndrome. Russia does not adopt and embrace outsiders - it takes them hostages. I have had no trouble getting away because I nurse neither romance nor hatred of Moscow. Afterall its just another city. Yet, as a frequent traveler and observer I find Russia changing for the better each day despite all the drags of history and now oil dollar fuelled consumer boom. I never underestimate the challenges Russians have overcome in years of transition. Just this last December I arrived in Moscow on an expired visa against all advice. What followed shocked me beyond belief. In 30 minutes I was issued a new Visa for a $10 fee and told "Welcome to Russia" by three different persons at that dreaded Sheremetyevo airport I had lambasted only two years ago in an Izvestia column as worst of the worst, "filled with inept racist thugs." I am having to eat my words and its not something I have ever had to do about Russia, at least not because anything turned so much for the better. I had to throw myself on the pavement to believe I was not dreaming.
Despite some of the clumsiest corporate attitudes and services, London is a great place to call home and that is where we have been these three years. We are living in Hampstead not far from the Heath. Many years ago when I was discussing investments in Russian media and acquisition of a major media company, Dean Singleton, one of the media tycoons in the United States and wisest business leaders I have come to know said to me, "I'd never invest in a place where I cannot live." I did not know it then but that was a good piece of wisdom. When the heart is not at peace, the mind does not function. So I have decided to focus my energy and actions in places I can and would want to live. More friends have visited us in London in 2007 than ten years combined in Moscow. And we are happy to have friends come calling.
A. J. Goyal
Publisher, Russia Journal
NOTE: We have a poll now running asking whether the people of Russia are worth risking your life for. Cast your vote today!