Moscow To Pay a Price for Not Celebrating
Published: November 29, 2002 (Issue # 824)
MOSCOW - First there was Scrooge, the Dickens character who banned holiday celebrations at work. Now there's Mayor Yury Luzhkov, Moscow's own anti-scrooge.
The Moscow mayor's love of holidays has him insisting "forcing, actually, on pain of fine" that every single shop dress itself up for this year's winter celebrations.
Long known for his passion for decorating the city streets lavishly ahead of every holiday, Luzhkov has ordered all stores, restaurants, cafes and markets to adorn their shop windows and interiors with decorations ahead of the winter holiday season, and has even given a Dec. 1 deadline to do so.
Those who do not comply with the mayor's order will face fines of up to 200 rubles, Zhanna Artyomova, deputy head of City Hall's consumer-goods department, said Thursday. She said public institutions, like post offices and banks, have until Dec. 15 to put up decorations.
Artyomova said she sees nothing wrong in forcing companies to get into the holiday spirit.
"As of next week, our inspectors will be out checking whether people comply with the order," Artyomova said, adding that she does not expect many people to resist the idea of creating a festive atmosphere.
"People who, for example, operate a store, must understand that it is not their house but a kind of public place. After all, their mission is to please consumers and to keep them in good spirits," she said.
Forcing people to celebrate may be an unusual way to govern, but the Moscow mayor is not the first to try his hand at it. Peter the Great is known to have ordered everyone to have fun over the Christmas period. But the winner for drawing forced smiles and gritted teeth has to go the Chinese government, which encouraged Tibetans to take part in celebrations for the 50th anniversary of Communist rule under threat of pay and pension cuts. Luzhkov still has a long way to go.
Artyomova said the city will not impose strict guidelines for the decorations, only that they should be done in a certain style.
Tiny stores or kiosks will be not be obliged to spend a fortune on expensive trees and decorations. "Of course, everything will depend on their wallets and imagination," she said.
The city has at least one hard-and-fast rule, however. Every business must make sure its windows are illuminated from 4.30 p.m. until 1 a.m. "Those who fail to switch the lights on will be considered violators and subject to fines," Artyomova said.
Some storeowners said they would have adorned their windows without the city ruling, but they did not like the idea of being forced to do so, especially so long before New Year's Eve.
Avtosalon, a dealership on Leningradskoye Shosse, heeded the order but in as subtle a way as possible, with just a string of lanterns in the window and two small Christmas trees, all of which were outshone by the huge amount of chrome on display.
"If they had chosen Dec. 15, then there would be only two weeks before the New Year. But, now, it's a month and a half away. It's not right," said Valery Abramov, Avtosalon director, adding that stores should be free to do what they want.
Further down Leningradskoye Shosse, a giant snowman stands in front of the Magistral supermarket. The supermarket's managers say they always put up decorations, but they didn't agree with the spirit of the ruling.
"I don't think you should force people to celebrate," said Vladimir Yevdokimenko, who is in charge of Magistral's decorations.
"You can't force people to drink champagne," piped in store manager Sergei Baranov. "I like cognac."
The Darina cafe near Vodny Stadion metro station packed its windows full with shining lights.
"Maybe it is a little bit early, but I think it beautifies the city for the whole month," said Vladimir Paramonov, the cafe's general director. "I think it's OK."
Next door, tire shop Trek had a more humble display on its tiny front window - two silver trees and a poster beside an ad for Michelin. Surrounded by rows of tires, the shop assistant said, "A holiday is a holiday."