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Knights of the Vine RUSSIA


By Natalia Shuvalova

Everyone likes the crust of freshly baked bread. In Russian, this is called the “gorbushka.” But there is another kind of gorbushka in Moscow, which is loved by many but has nothing to do with food.

Gorbushka is a huge media and electronics market, located in the former Rubin television factory near Bagrationovskaya metro. Several years ago it was a sprawling open-air market near the Gorbunov Concert Hall, which is where the name “Gorbushka” comes from.

In the early 1990’s, Gorbunov Hall was the premier concert venue for alternative rock bands. It was the only place where music lovers and fans could regularly meet without being chased by the police. They also met to exchange music and movies with one another. Over time the exchanges grew, fueled by the new market reforms into a large, informal market.

In 1995 Gorbushka became a real brand as an outdoor market. It was not ideal – sellers had to cope with summer heat, November rains, and winter frost, with no cafes or even toilets. There were hundreds of tents selling all kinds of media products, from music and video to software and computer games, as well as print materials. The market became so popular that the Filevskaya metro line added more trains and placed guards in the Bagrationovskaya metro station just to manage with the thousands of visitors each weekend.

So what’s so great about it?

First is the chance to find everything you could ever want. If you’re a music fan looking for rarities – go to Gorbushka. If you just want the latest movie or music releases – go to Gorbushka. And if you want to see movies before they are even officially released in Moscow theaters – go to Gorbushka.

Second, it’s cheap. Gorbushka’s traders take advantage of high-speed copying technology to offer high-volume, low cost pirated merchandise. Prices for CDs and DVDs average around 100-150 rubles – only around four US dollars.

A large market of pirated merchandise is sure to catch the eye of officialdom, and Gorbushka has had its share of government raids and closures. The original, open-air market was closed after a raid in 2001, though it led to a step up, when they re-opened in the indoor, Rubin Factory location.

A friend of mine who used to work there was familiar with these raids. He was in the military, serving in the Russian army’s General Headquarters on weekdays, and making his primary income by selling videos in Gorbushka on weekends. A part of this income was reserved for bribes. Raids were little more than shakedowns, with inspectors accepting “fees” to let the traders stay open. Nothing much has changed, even after the market’s move to its more upscale location. According to my friend, “They could easily have shut the whole pirating operation down long ago, but then they’d be cutting off their own income.”

Muscovites and visitors alike don’t seem to mind. After all, why pay twenty-five dollars for a CD when you can pay just four dollars? Plus you can exchange your old disk for another one for just a dollar fee.

Many people were unhappy with Gorbushka’s move indoors. The prices grew to meet the higher rent, and the new Gorbushkin Dvor – or Gorbushka’s Yard, as it is now officially called – boasts modern conveniences such as escalators, air-conditioning, and, finally, toilets. Purists would say that Gorbushka has “sold out,” but it has still managed to keep its old charm.

Part of that charm is in its spirit of subversiveness. One friend likes to visit the market once a month to buy music, which he then downloads onto his computer, bringing the CDs back to exchange for new music for just one dollar per disk. This type of pirating is becoming increasingly rare, as sellers are moving into more, squarely “legitimate” trading, but it is still possible.

A greater part of Gorbushka’s charm is in its sellers. As its website boasts, Gorbushka is a market run by and for music and movie lovers. Most of the sellers are passionate about what they sell, and you will be sure to find good advice from a real aficionado on everything from the rarest recordings to the latest noteworthy releases. Be sure to ask if you don’t see what you’re looking for – what you want may be hidden away, waiting to be shown to a fellow enthusiast like you.

Russians enjoy bringing their foreign friends there, just to see their “sticker shock” at Gorbushka’s low prices. Four dollars for an otherwise $100 piece of software would shock anyone. Of course, trading in pirated goods is not the best thing to do, but somehow “cheap” is always irresistible.

Since Gorbushka’s move to the Rubin factory, it has expanded into an electronics market, as well. The market sells everything from a vast choice of cell phones (which Russians call “mobile phones”) to plasma screen TVs, home appliances, and computers. Prices are moderate compared to other Moscow stores, though not as cheap as the electonics market in Mitino.

When you buy something, be sure to get a receipt and guarantee, so you may return or exchange your purchase, if you need to. Refunds work here much as they do in any Moscow store.

Gorbushka’s many traders never miss the peak shopping days before Christmas and New Year’s, as these are the days of their peak income. Just as in the West, Russians wait until the last minute to do their holiday shopping, and a great many settle on music, movies, or electronics, rushing to Gorbushka for the best deals in town, as they have for so many years.

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