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City Beat

Izmailovsky Park
Text and photos by Piers Gladstone

Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park market is for many expatriates a regular weekend activity, a perfect place to browse for gifts or curios for their apartments. It is a living, breathing museum of Russian history and culture. The likes of religious icons, silver samovars, original Soviet propaganda posters and memorabilia, Russian and German military uniforms and equipment, pre-revolution antiques and traditional weaving, to name but a few, are laid out on stalls and blankets every Saturday and Sunday for the discerning shopper.

What makes this place truly fascinating is, while visited by tourists and expatriates, the majority of those buying are Russian, and over the last few years the numbers buying Soviet memorabilia have been noticeably increasing. “The further we get from the collapse of the Soviet Union, the more interest there is in that time,” says Genia of USSR Posters. Many of Genia’s Russian customers were born after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Some she says buy the posters because they find them kitsch and amusing, especially those advocating abstinence – an alien concept for most consumer and consumption driven young Muscovites. One of the most often bought posters depicts a man saying “Niet” as he is offered a glass of vodka.

According to Slava, another poster seller, the reasons for this newfound interest are darker. “Recent political pronouncements and propaganda about the Soviet times by our leaders have fuelled a new interest. We sell them to old people nostalgic for their childhood or what they see as a golden time, but also to youngsters who want to believe in this idea of our country being the most powerful in the world.” This nostalgia can be seen in the number of men over the age of forty pouring over the collections of badges from their youth, while the recent resurgence in Russia and Russian pride can be seen in the number of people looking at and buying posters from a period when this country was one of the world’s two super powers.

Many of the Russian shoppers however, are not interested in the political wares. Natasha, a 40 year old art critic, is currently decorating her dacha in the Russian Moderne (Art Nouveau) style. “I am here to find blue crystal door handles. They were very popular once, but are extremely hard to fi nd nowadays.” Others, such as Katia who works in marketing in the fashion industry, have professional reasons; “I am looking for Soviet posters of textiles to see how they were promoted and depicted back then.” And some of the younger generation, like 22 year old student Natalya, have found an interest in the pre-revolution period; “I am looking for jewelery from before the Soviet times. Vintage is becoming very fashionable,” she explains.

And for foreigners visiting, or those living in Moscow like Martin from Germany, Izmailovsky Market off ers an opportunity to buy and to learn something of Russian history. “I come because I am trying to find all the best bits from Russian culture like nice glass artwork. I am also buying old and cool Russian uniforms. They are great for parties. I wore one in public once, but everyone was turning around and staring at me! The traditional weaving is also very interesting. The patterns are graphically very interesting. It takes a long time to find what I want though.”

The nearest metro station is known by two names – Izmailovsky Park and Partizanskaya.

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