Ufa: Soviet Cafeterias and IKEA Furniture
Published: October 19, 2011 (Issue # 1679)
UFA — Ufa is best seen from the window of a landing airplane in the early fall. The concrete center is surrounded by multi-colored cottage roofs sprinkled on rolling hills, covered in yellow, green, orange and red trees, cut by rivers and lakes as still as glass.
Despite being a manufacturing and oil-refining center, the capital of Bashkortostan has some of the best-preserved nature in Russia. Nearby are hundreds of kilometers of virgin forest and mountains where some of the world’s finest honey is produced by wild honeybees.
Not surprisingly, customs from the long-gone Soviet era remain preserved along with the pristine nature. Government officials serve in an imposing white block of a building with endless hallways of creaking lacquered parquet floors covered in red carpets. They dine at a real Soviet cafeteria, with white cloth-covered tables and traditional Russian food.
Journalists and other visitors of the government — a reporter for The Moscow Times, the sister newspaper of The St. Petersburg Times, visited Ufa on a government-organized press tour — are accompanied by a member of the government at all times and are told not to meet with anyone or go anywhere alone. The main hotel for out-of-towners is located far from the city center, in a wooded area near a river.
The majority of the Ufa men wear black worker’s hats, wildly popular in the U.S.S.R. and ubiquitously worn by former Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov.
But modernity is starting to creep into the republic. Swedish furniture giant IKEA opened its first store in the republic in August. French supermarket chain Auchan opened its first Bashkortostan location earlier this month.
Since President Dmitry Medvedev appointed a top RosHydro manager, Rustem Khamitov, as Bashkortostan’s president in 2009, great strides have been taken to modernize the republic. Attracting investors became a priority to replenish the republic’s budget, which had been supported by revenue from its oil-refining and mining industries prior to changes in federal tax law during the mid-2000s.
The republic’s government, previously closed to outsiders politically and financially, has set up a development corporation to help investors realize their local projects.
Traveling businessmen from other regions said the business climate has grown more open since the republic’s former president, Murtaza Rakhimov, who held the post for nearly 20 years, was replaced.
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