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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Moscow's Kiosk World and the Unfree Market

In the beginning there were only the shops, a few bare counters staffed by surly assistants. The lone kiosk on the little square near the exit of Metro Aeroport where I lived, run by a charming old woman, fluent in Spanish and eager in English, sold only newspapers.

As the brave new Russia has struggled to adapt to a market system I have watched day by day as kiosks, surely the symbol of the age, have come and gone on the little square.

First the press kiosk was joined by a kvas and beer kiosk, dispensing its product in glass jars and plastic bags. Two ancient all-night kiosks offering the usual inventory of Mars bars, vodka and Chinese underwear soon followed.

In early 1992 the old woman, ruined by free-market newspaper prices, abandoned her press kiosk. Two months later the kiosk simply disappeared in the night. An old shoe repair and bootlace kiosk not far distant was smashed in by vandals.

As spring turned to summer last year the kiosks around the metro really began to multiply. Each night, it seemed, would bring another ramshackle structure.

But the booming kiosks apparently attracted the attention of the street thugs. In August last year five kiosks were burnt out within two weeks.

After this little spat the street trade near the metro became more organized. A trailer kiosk began to sell meat and cheese at near state prices. The rose sellers, long used to standing in the cold, their flowers lit by candles on dark winter evenings, moved into a bare but functional metal structure. Even a bright pink Baskin Robbins kiosk appeared one day last winter.

The long line of street sellers offered apples, oranges and all manner of other fruit and vegetables, cakes and fresh bread, ice cream, Pepsi and vodka and even spanners, fireworks and lead toy soldiers. An old meat shop near the metro, long closed, reopened, stocked with a variety of Russian and imported produce, all sold for rubles and with a smile.

A month ago four hexagonal green-and-white kiosks, each adorned with "Tisk a. s". arrived. For two weeks they stood empty, then one day they were maneuvered into prime position near the exit of the metro, replacing the other kiosks. That same day the street market was replaced by four pacing camouflage-dressed truncheon-armed private thugs, intent on intimidating all competition.

The "Tisk a. s". kiosks all boast licenses and cash registers, but as yet have little to sell - a few old rags and the usual vodka and chocolate. Once again there is little food to buy. A true free market, where all can buy and sell as they please, for all the reforms, seems as far away as ever.