9 million flowers and a new airport: but will Olympics change Moscow?
Moscow — Nine million new flowers planted. New trees and bushes along 180 streets. Facades on prerevolutionary buildings glowing with new paint -- red, green, lemon, white. Some 2,000 streets repaired. A $200 million airport built by West Germans. Huge new sports arenas and a computer center to be used later for city planning.
These are some of the immediate impacts the Olympic Games have had on Moscow, one of the world's largest cities with a population of about 8 million.
But other impacts are harder to assess. And whether the many thousands of overseas tourists will change any individual attitudes is still unknown.
For the average Muscovite, the games have meant a few more Spanish lemons, Ecuadorian bananas, Moroccan oranges, and frozen Danish turkeys in food shops; some stylish men's shoes from Czechoslovakia at $50 a pair and Hungarian summer sandals for women; and tens of thousands of extra police and soldiers brought in from out of town.
"The food is less than my friends and I expected," says one Moscow wife firmly. "We are disappointed. You tourists and athletes eat well, but we . . . ."
A friend was emphatic about the police presence:
"There's hardly any chance for tourists to see Muscovites, let alone talk to them," he said. "I think the Soviet authorities have been rather successful in keeping citizens away from the visitors, and I think the long-range impact will be small."
Downtown Moscow streets are much emptier than usual. About 1 million out-of-town Soviets usually come here every day to shop in the Soviet Union's best-stocked city. But during the games, police and soldiers are keeping them out, stopping cars and refusing to sell tickets on railroad lines into the city.
Those who wonder about long-term effects of the tourist invasion remember the 30,000 young people from around the world who broke down the isolation of the Stalinist years and electrified many Moscow youths when they flocked to Moscow in 1957 for a world youth congress.
"It was the first time we had seen so many foreigners," recalls one older Muscovite. "It was unique -- guitars playing in the streets and crowds of people arguing and laughing."
No such mood exists in Moscow today, (or in Tallinn, north of here on the Gulf of Finland where the yachting regatta is being held).
In Moscow, 10,000 flags fly on city streets (officials have statistics for almost everything) but the city center is virtually empty. Trucks, which normally outnumber cars by at least 3 to 1, have vanished. Muscovites have been warned over and over again by party activists to beware of foreign tourists, whose chewin gum nd luggage are "unclean."
Western correspondents visiting Tailinn report they were followed at every turn when they tried to walk the streets of the medieval, highly attractive Estonian capital. Instead of 40 countries competing, as there were in Kingston, Ontario, in 1976, there are only 23. On Saturday, July 26, a rest day, only 100 foreigners were officially reported to be in the city.
In Moscow, some of the officials most pleased with the impact of the games work in the beautifully restored Moscow city council building on Gorky Street.
The head of the city council (the equivalent of a Western mayor) told me in an interview two years ago that the national budget provided two-thirds of all Olympic spending in the city, including the costs of new hotels (with 27,000 rooms) and subway lines.
It was clear from our conversation that the games had been a bonanza for city planners. While the head of the council's Olympic Games department, Alexander Provilyev, said in a Monitor interview the other day that all the new buildings were included anyway in future plans, the games have speeded up construction by many years.
Total council budget for the games in Moscow: About $2 billion, officials say.
Soviet construction is notorious for its slow pace. Buildings can be years in the making. So for the Novosti press agency to find that its planned new headquarters is already built (and serving as the main Olympic press center) is a wonderful bonus, in Soviet terms.
The new computer center is another example. Its heart consists of two American IBM 370/148 computers delivered about two years ago and installed in time for the Soviet summer games this time last year.
The computers were sold before Washington tightened technology export restrictions. Into them feed Soviet-made computers at various games sites; the IBM computers process results.
Moscow city officials say they will use the new computer center, rushed to completion for the games, to help city planning in the future, though they are vague on details. Western experts here believe they will use the IBM units to evaluate and review planning ideas.
The most obvious additions to Moscow's skyline: Europe's biggest covered stadium (45,000 seats) on Prospekt Mira, and a huge, ultramodern swimming pool and diving area beside it covered with a saddle-shaped roof; an extremely fast velodrome (bicycle track) on what was once a bog at Krylatskoe, where a host of world records fell during the games; a renovated rowing canal next to it; the Olympic Village, built for 10,000 to 12,000 athletes and officials, inhabited now by fewer than 8,000 and intended as a housing area of 14,000 Muscovites after the games.
The village contains 18 apartment blocks, each of 16 stories, and was also accelerated because of the games.
There's also the gleaming new airport and various new hotels.