Moscow puts on Western face for olympics
Moscow — Soviet officials are going to enormous lenghths of try and present on orderly , Western-style face to overseas visitors here for the olympic Games -- the biggest single influx from abroad in the country's peacetime history.
* Shoppers standing in the usual long lines outside food stores are being told to leave because they create a bad impression for tourists. Muscovites are reacting with anger and incredulity.
On at least one occasion, about 40 shoppers simply refused to go -- and police finally left them alone.
* Huge numbers of traffic and internal police, as well as KGB agents and military officers are stopping drivers entering city limits, refusing railroad tickets to anyone without a special pass, checking passengers on city buses, patrolling hotel corridors and bridges, and stopping Soviet cars for the most minor infringements such as a dent on a fender or a dirty windshield.
Some Soviet residents estimate up to 300,000 uniformed and plainclothed police on patrol, including youth members of police and military academies wearing a distinctive "K" on their shoulders.
But the new regiment does benefit some here. At the Olympic Village, a huge souvenir store that sells Russian and imported goods for rubles is thronged by police and locally hired Soviet citizens, all seizing the chance of a lifetime to snap up goods hardly ever seen in Soviet shops.
I watched a police sergeant ask the price of black folding Japanese umbrella as rain poured down outside. "Thirty rubles," ($47) the assistant replied. Unmoved by the high price, the sergeant whipped out three 10-rouble notes, made the purchase, and jauntily walked away -- a privilege denied to the vast majority on the other side of the village fences and armed guards.
The attempted ban on standing in line strikes some Muscovites as funny ("like telling fish not to swim," said one), but infuriates others.
When two auxiliary police wearing red armbands told 40 people outside a food store on one of Moscow's main streets to move the other day, the line responded by standing still.
"This line gives a bad impression," the police said. "They are unseemly."
According to one man who was there and recounted the story later, several people replied, "We need food. We won't move." Police tried to push several shoppers out of the line but they shoved back. The mood turned angry.
"You can be arrested for anti-Soviet behavior," the police warned. "Then you'd better get regular police to do it," came the response.
The two police walked away. The crowd, its temper cooling, began to worry what would happen. But no one came, and the line re-formed and food was finally bought.
"It'll be police telling us to move on next time," said the man.
Party workers are also exhorted people to avoid lines, to hang back in shops, and give tourists first choice. "Don't worry," one man quoted a party worker as saying, "the food will be in the shops after the games. . . . Don't rush." Many Muscovites don't believe it, and most seem to line up as before.
A customs officer at Sheremetyevo Airport told an arriving Westerner there was plenty of Finnish sausage in Moscow stores. Another officer had just seized a length of sausage from the Westerner's luggage.
"What about after the games?" the Westerner inquired. The customs agent hesitated. "Well," he said quickly, "better bring it from Helsinki then."
Shoppers report a shortage of herring, fruit, vegetables, potatoes, and tomatoes following this year's wet spring and early summer. They believe that even if supplies improve to impress tourists, shops will empty again after the games.
At the tourist hotels and the Olympic village, however, food is plentiful, cheap, and good. Eating in one of the huge cafeterias in the village the other day, I saw piles of apples and tomatoes, plenty of hot meat dishes, fried fish, corn on the cob, yogurt from Finland, lettuce, and other items ordinary Soviet citizens can only dream about.
The huge members of police, Army, and KGB officials in Moscow is one of the phenomena of the games so far. They are ensuring priority for games traffic and isolating local people from tourists.
Some Soviet sources believe the normal number of uniformed police in Moscow is about 80,000 (1 for every 100 people.) The number seems to have tripled, putting the number of uniformed personnel at 240,000, excluding Army and KGB.
Police and Army officers are also stopping cars on the outer road around Moscow. Only drivers who can prove they live or work in the city can get through. Special passes can be used only once. Muscovites who leave the city must have their internal passports with them to get back in.
No rail road offices outside Moscow will sell tickets to commuters bound for the capital unless a purchaser can prove he lives or works there. If a ticket is issued, the person's names is written on the back so he cannot transfer it.
Out-of-town newspapers seen here carry long lists of new rules, which apply until after the games.
And in the Olympic village shop, only foreigners crowd around the souvenir stands. Police and local Russians snap up hair shampoo for one ruble 20 kopecks (about $1.80), soap ($2.25 per bar), shavers for men ($18), transistor radios ($ 65 for the Soviet Sokol brand), face powder ($12), and toothpaste (40 cents).