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Anarchy rules Ok. I- d EU issure 1991

Post-Glastnost,the Soviet Union crumbled into confussion of independent republics. In the largest,Russia, creative artists,designers and club-runners are thriving in an athmosphere of legal anarchy.But will organized crime a risis end their activites? We talk to the prime movers and photograph authentic Moscow flea-marcet Fashion.

Petlura wears granny red hat from Tyshinsky Market Moscow” We’re not typical fashion designers.We aim to research and reinterpret the past, especially the smells. Abramovitch and Bronya, founder members of The Vhite River squat, chilling with prison-made pipes.

If the media was your only insight into Russia, you would expect nothing more than a country full of political fracas, economic crises and environmental catas­trophes. On TV, radio and in the newspapers, the largest country in the world is hyped in shades of grey, peopled by padded babooshkas in rabbit hats, and led by a bulbous triple-chin. For the next generation of Mikhails and Natashas how­ever, Russia, the big brother republic of the former Soviet Union, has never seemed so pregnant with opportunity, whether above board or below.

"Russia is an enormous lunatic asylum," the novelist Tatyana Tolstaya once wrote. "There is a heavy padlock on the door, but there are no walls. The ceil­ings are low, but where the floor should be an abyss opens beneath one's feet. " Ever since Gorbachev started to unbutton the Soviet straitjacket in 1985 with his policy of Glasnost, Russia has become a land where anything goes and everything is possible. It just helps if you have plenty of dollars in your pocket.

"What is the point of training to be a doctor or an engineer, when the average wage (1,000 rubles or Ј1 a month) will barely feed and clothe you?" explains Sasha, 20, who earns more than a crust from the city's gambling circuit, "Most of us know it's not worth doing anything unless it's for 'green money'." As the rouble falls to less than the paper it's printed on, the race for foreign currency intensifies and noone's foolish enough to question where the money is coming from. Uncertainty is rife. Anxiety is high. Life is lived on the edge.

Officially, the Soviet Union had no crime rate. In a police state the post of profes­sional criminal was certainly not among the top ten most sought-after jobs. Now the tables have turned. Crime does pay, and there are 5,000 gangs in the Confederation Of Independent States (the post-Soviet federation of republics) to prove it.

An estimated three million Muscovites out of a population of nine million are involved in organised crime. The gangs are divided according to race - Caucasians, Azeris, Armenians, Georgians and Russians - and Moscow is carved up into their respective spheres of influence. One policeman I talked to baulked at the concept that the level of crime had made his job almost impossi­ble. "What crime?" he suggested, unnerved. "There are no laws, so how can there be any crime?" In Russia nothing is legal but nothing is illegal; the econo­my lies comfortably in the black marketeer's pocket, forcing citizens to make up their own rules within a new anarchic framework.

1920s Chicago is perhaps its only precedent. But whereas American gang­sters dressed in sharp suits, carried tommy guns and cashed in on the shortage of liquor, their Russian successors don shell suits and LA Gear trainers, carry Kalashnikovs and meet in public saunas. And their power is based on the short­age of almost everything.

Everything is in demand. Little is in supply. From turbo Volvos to pit bull terri­ers, Dr Martens to Durex, the import game is fast becoming the new genera­tion's favourite pastime. At 25, Volodya is already a rouble millionaire. His latest venture is to import pedigree pot-bellied Vietnamese pigs from Manchester for Ј15Q.,which he plans to breed and sell for their novelty factor. Yeltsin's anar- cho-yuppies may be far from poor (according to financial experts their annual turnover is Ј2.5 billion), but they are more than a touch tasteless. Money has produced the inevitable epidemic of nouveau riche mafiozniki. By day they sharpen their knives on protection rackets, drug cartels or escort agencies. By night they diet on desperate striptease artists at clubs and restaurants that have tailored their entertainment accordingly.

The picture looks bleak. A new generation that follow Sicilian principles with­out the Armani suits. But if political anarchy is an aphrodisiac to crime, it is also one of the best environments for creativity. When Franco and the fascists died there was an artistic explosion in Spain; when the Wall came down, East Berlin was reborn as Europe's decadent bohemia. In St Petersburg, Russia's second city, the crop of tomorrow's talent is being harvested from the formerly repressed gay population. Taste is defined by the goluboye, literally the 'blue people', the name given to gay men in Russia.

Under Stalin, homosexuality was labelled a "bourgeois perversion" and the number of people sentenced under Article 121 of the penal code remains omi­nously unavailable. Even today it is technically a crime, but with the leading artists, designers, TV presenters open and out, no-one is able or willing to pros­ecute. The artist Vladik Mamyshev was one of Russia's first transvestites and presents his own pop-cult show called Pirate TV. In the pre-Glasnost era he was sent to an asylum for dressing as^woman while on military service. Now he regularly strolls along Nevsky Prospect dressed as Marilyn Monroe. "I just don't understand why so many are so down. The current situation in Russia is simply fantastic," he declares with an enigmatic smile. "You never know what to expect. It's all like a fairytale. Yeltsin is a superman, Russian-style. There is no other place like this in the world."

There are certainly few places in the world where a handful of club promoters can take over the national space museum, the state swimming pool, the Petersburg Planetarium or Stalin's pride and joy, the metro. "Our main aim is to create original fun," enthuses party organiser Misha Vorontsov from MX society (formerly Tanzpol), "and we regard the events as an artform rather than a business."

Together with Blokk Ltd, MX has played host to a number of DJs from the West, including Laurent Gamier, Westbam, Charlie Hall and Tei Jones, while simultaneously nurturing a new generation of Russian DJs. DJ Groove, Matic and Captain Funny have been born and musically bred on European hardcore, but with Groove experimenting with Russian folk songs, the future, at least, looks more interesting. One of the most successful homegrown acts is Not Found, who, with British labels showing interest, look set to be the first Russian variation of house on export.

Unfortunately, the flip side is that, as the virtual pioneer of dance music in Russia, Misha Vorontsov is a prime mafia target Last year he was forced into hiding for not succumbing to their protection racket. This year, he sniggers, the banditi are less of a problem. The solution lies with Parnado, the strongest of a growing number of professional protection agencies. Ironically Parnado is peo­pled by former KGB members, who now make a living protecting those whom they, under the Communist regime, had persecuted.

The intoxication of Glasnost has left a drug culture boom in its wake. Forget MDMA, we're talking prime Afghan blow, homebrewed heroin and dodgy LSD. Mushroom picking is a national hobby and billed as fun for all the family. The clich6d conclusion is that it's all part of escaping from a depressing reality, but St Petersburg has a history of fantasy and surrealism documented in the literature.

Sasha Lugin and Katya Ryszikova: "We Support  Eltsin but he's not ideal. Communist or democratic what’s the difference?"



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