Friday, November 27, 2009

The VVTs

At the VDNKh metro station on the orange line are the VVTs (ввц). This sprawling park was known in Soviet times as the Exhibition of Economic Achievements (VDNKh) but is known today as the All-Russia Exhibition Centre.

Originally opened in 1939 to showcase the glorious economic achievements of the world's first socialist system, but leaving out any trace of the 10+ million who died as a result of civil war, famine and brutal political oppression, the VVTs are a fascinating and anachronistic look at the USSR.

Outside the VVTs is the Space Museum, where a Soviet rocket lifting off greets all-comers.

Katerina and I went to the VVTs yesterday and despite the overcast and gloomy weather (a regular November day in Moscow, apparently) temperatures were mild and the VVTs were fascinating.
When we first exited the metro station three things met our eyes: a rocket, a ferris wheel and a giant statue dedicated to workers and farmers.

The rocket monument is on top of the Space Museum, one block from the entrance to the VVTs. We didn't go into the museum but the little sculpture of Sputnik that sat out front of it made me smile. The world's first orbiting sattelite was about the size of a basketball!

The main gate to the VVTs.

On top of the main gate to the VVTs is a giant bronze statue of two collective farmers triumphantly hoisting a shaft of wheat in the air. They look well-fed and defiant, and there is no sign of the mass starvation and near economic ruin that farm collectivization under Stalin's first 5-Year-Plan brought to the peasants.

Next to the main gate is the Soviet People's Funfair, complete with a giant ferris wheel. Each cart on the ferris wheel is topped by a red star which, I am told, light up at night. The ferris wheel, built in 1955, still operates but apparently the view from the top sucks, as tall glass skyscrapers have taken over the Moscow skyline.

Entrance to the VVTs is free, and they are open from 08:00 to 22:00 every day, year round. Katerina and I walked through the massive main gate and onto the main square, with the Russia pavilion at the far end. The tree-lined square was impressive in November, but Katerina told me that in the spring and summer it is filled with gardens as all the countries of Europe hold a botanical competition every year, and then visitors to the park can vote on their favourite. France won last year.

At the far end of the square, in front of the Russia Pavilion, is a giant statue of Lenin. I have seen several of these statues dotted around Moscow and St. Petersburg, but I've never had my camera on me so I was happy that I could finally take a picture of the founder of the Soviet Union.

The main square of the VVTs, with the Russia Pavilion.

Lenin statue in front of the Russia Pavilion

Beyond the Russia Pavilion lies an octagonal square surrounded by pavilions, each one dedicated to the cultural and economic achievements of each of the 16 Soviet republics (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Byelorus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazahkstan, Kirghizstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Russia, Tajikistan, Ukraine and Uzbekistan). In the centre of this square is the Fountain of the Friendship of Peoples.

This giant gold-coloured fountain is ringed by 16 women, each one representing a different Soviet republic and wearing the traditional cultural costume of their particular republic.

Fountain of the Friendship of Peoples

The Armenia Pavilion

The Karelia Pavilion

Four of the Pavilions were named, such as the Russia, Armenia, Karelia and Ukraine pavilions, but the rest were simply numbered as Pavilion 12, Pavilion 62, etc. I wasn't sure which pavilion was from which country, but after entering one I realized that it was the Byelorus Pavilion.

Most of the VVT pavilions are now commercial shopping centres. Inside the Byeolorus Pavilion there were rows of stalls. Next to one stall selling traditional wood-carved peasant women there was a stall selling LG washing machines. Katerina and I wandered around the Byelorus pavilion for ten minutes or so and then left without purchasing any laundry appliances.

Unmarked pavilion

The Ukraine Pavilion

Behind the Ukraine Pavilion was a 1970s Aeroflot (the Russian airline) jet liner with the distinct CCCP on the tail (SSSR, better known in English as USSR).

Beside the airplane was a huge nuclear inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM), of the variety that spent fifty years threatening the United States. This missile was suspended from a launch pad and, although the nuclear device has been removed from the warhead, this was, at one point, an operational missile! I couldn't help but wonder what sort of uproar there would be were the USA to showcase one of it's cold-war missiles!

A Soviet-era Aeroflot jet liner.

Nuclear ICBM on display at the VVTs, complete with launch pad.

Next to the plane and the ICBM was a long, low exposition centre that sits abandoned save for a small bar in one corner.

By the late 1980s western goods were pouring into the Soviet Union under Gorbechov's policies of glasnost and perestroika, and the VVTs lost whatever utopian conviction they might have once posessed. In 1990, as the USSR was on the eve of collapse, the VVTs lost their state funding and in the chaos that followed the overnight switch to a free-market the park was forced to sell-off it's spacecraft, airplanes and most of the interiors of the pavilions. The exposition centre nearly went-under until 2001, when a new governing board decided to use tourism as a way to draw capital. So far the VVTs have clawed their way back into sustainable operations and in 2005 the Putin government started state funding again in order to keep entrance to the park free.

Nevertheless, a couple of mammoth expo centres in the VVTs remain unused.

Empty exposition centre, which once showcased livestock from collective farms.

One ingenious idea the governing board had was to showcase model homes of a traditional peasant-style, and then to get into the real-estate market and sell the homes! These are quaint, cottage-like wooden homes of the type that the average Russian peasant has lived in for two thousand years. There is a nostalgia now, particularly in Moscow, for quiet traditional homes in the peaceful country, and the VVTs are making a financial killing with this concept.

Traditional model home for sale at the VVTs.

Katerina and I looped around to the northern end of the park and began walking back towards the main gates. We passed a couple of nice buildings and a massive, brand-new arena (another idea of the board; host concerts, figure skating and hockey games to draw money) and one of the last buildings we saw before we exited the park was the last Soviet building constructed here; the Museum of Socialist Culture.

We didn't go inside the museum because it was closed, but the Soviet symbology carved into it's facade was interesting. More importantly, however is the fact that outside the main gates, only a stone's throw from the Museum of Socialist Culture, is a....

Museum of Socialist Culture


McDonald's ouside the gates to the very Soviet VVTs

Aaah, Russia!

1 comment:

  1. I know that I'm REALLY late for comment on that, but still.... It isn't ICBM. It's "Vostok"-class carrier. You know, one that lifted both Sputnik and later Gagarin in orbit. Real one, though it couldn't be launched anymore. Some cliche are really indelible, right?