Monday, October 4, 2010
Russian Politics: Yuri Luzhkov (by popular request) Unit 2
I have decided to write this blog on Yuri Luzhkov, the former mayor of Moscow by popular request. He was born on September 21, 1936 in Moscow, not much is known about his family. He studied at the Gubkin Moscow Petrochemical & Gas Industry Institute from 1953 to 1958 and was a researcher at the Moscow Scientific Research Institute of Plastics for 6 years. Also, in 1958 he met his first wife, Marina Bashilova and had two sons. Sadly his wife would die in 1989 of liver cancer. He joined the Communist Party in 1964 while serving the state chemical industry and was elected on the Moscow City council in 1977. After his wife's death he married Yelena Bautirina, Russia's only female billionaire, in 1991 and had two daughters with her. He would eventually be appointed mayor in 1992 by Boris Yeltsin in an attempt to gain popular support with the Moscovites.
Luzhkov became an incredibly popular figure in Moscow politics during his tenure as mayor. It is widely acknowledged that he is responsible for bringing Moscow into the 21st century with aggressive building programs and popular actions such as encouraging entrepreneurship and providing free bus transportation for the elderly. By rebuilding Moscow, expanding the transportation infrastructure to cope with the ever growing number of private cars, and creating an effective guest worker registration program, Luzhkov was able to encourage investors and make Moscow one of the richest cities in the world. This in turn made him incredibly popular with voters who reelected him 3 times: in 1996 with 96% of the vote, 1999 with 70% of the vote, and 2003 with 75% of the vote (bear in mind that this is Russia we are talking about and there is a good chance that the election results could have been falsified).
Unfortunately for Luzhkov, his quick rise to success would only be matched by his fall from grace. Despite his incredibly popular policies he did manage to obtain enemies. There were reports of massive corruption, his wife mysteriously achieved her billionaire status under his terms as mayor when several construction contracts were awarded to her. His brother -in-law is rumored to have powerful ties with the Russian mafia and he is suspected in a money laundering scheme in Sevastopol. He drew criticism from historians when his proposed building projects would demolish important historical structures and from residents when he tried to forcibly remove the residents of the Rechnik neighborhood. And most importantly, he is widely disliked for vacationing during the recent smog crisis and not taking quick action. As a result his poll numbers dropped with only 36% of Moscovites viewing him in a positive light. He was recently removed from office by President Medvedev and his boss Vladamir Putin.
Luzhkov has also drawn criticism from his personal beliefs. He is a devout Orthodox Christian and a die hard nationalist and traditionalist. He believes in Russian superiority, evidenced by his belief that the territory of Sevastopol still technically belongs to Russia and not to the Ukrainians. He is also firmly against homosexuality and took action as mayor to ban Moscow gay pride parades. But his greatest pratfall came when he attempted to honor Stalin in 2o10 by putting up posters of him around the city 50 years after his reign of terror ended. Despite widespread criticism on a local, national, and international level he insisted that history must remain objective and recognize Stalin's modernization of Russia (although this is true there was the small fact that Stalin was responsible for the deaths of over 12 million people in the purges paralyzing the military and the government which resulted in the death of over 20 million people at the hands of the Nazis but hey, at least he built the metro).
Whether Russians love him or despise him Yuri Luzhkov played a pivotal role in Moscow politics and is responsible for making the city what it is today. It is thanks to him that Moscow is the city that it is today and despite his ignominious end and his borderline racist and repressive policies and beliefs he will always be remembered by Russians as a powerful and successful leader.