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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.

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