Moscow's pet capitalists

It was my first trip to Russia in almost 10 years. Back then, Gorbachev was in charge and Russia's economy was opening up. Long lines formed for a McDonald's near Red Square.

This summer I found Russian capitalism in full bloom and shops full of goods. Billboard ads brought welcome color to the gray skyline. Muscovites were stylishly dressed in the latest fashions.

I looked forward to revisiting one of my favorite spots: Moscow's pet market. Back in Soviet times, individuals had gathered illegally along one street to sell kittens, puppies, and fish. The animals could be hidden quickly inside overcoats if police appeared. Typically, the authorities knew all about the market but looked the other way, for the most part. Black-market capitalism flourished.

When I'd arrived to take pictures, not everyone was happy to see me. Vendors didn't want to call attention to their enterprises for fear of antagonizing police. A few brave people let me take their pictures anyway. One woman offered me a mewing gray kitten - free. "At least someone in the family will emigrate," she said.

This time, I expected a different story: free enterprise, in the open. Photographs wouldn't be a problem in the "new Russia." Would they?

The pet market had grown and flourished in a decade. Formal stalls sold fish in one area, dogs and cats in another. Now you could buy pet supplies, even camping and fishing equipment

But the sellers kept ducking my camera. Some gave me nasty looks. I turned in confusion to my translator. "Why is taking pictures still a problem here?"

The vendors have little to fear from the police anymore, she explained. Now it's someone else they want to avoid: the income-tax authorities.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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