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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

A Community Defined by a Unique Spirit

I have never liked the name of this column. Three years ago this month, I wrote the name Moscowville on a not-for-publication copy of a different newspaper and it was never changed.


My objection is mostly a matter of taste. The name always struck me as too cute to describe a community as filled with movers and shakers as this one.


But the name stuck for one very good reason. It suggests the central idea of this column: Moscow's foreigners live in a community.


Not everyone agrees even with this premise. I know this because they call me up and ask some very good questions.


In what kind of community do residents stay for such short periods of time? What kind of a community has no mayor? What kind of community grants citizenship based on nationality?


Isn't Moscowville more like a colony than a community?


Pondering this point would be pointless except for the final question: By celebrating the existence of a foreign community don't I encourage separateness?


Have I come to Russia to write the column of "us versus them?"God, I hope not. I have always viewed Moscow's foreign community as a group of pioneers bound together by the shared experience of being in the capital of Russia at this historic time.


A spirit goes with this which residents interpret as a sense of a community. Is that exclusivity?


Of course not. In the first place, you can't have a clique of 100,000 people.


But most importantly, the contention overlooks the key fact that foreigners live simultaneously in both Moscow and Moscowville.


A business person cannot work here without keeping abreast of the local market and laws. A diplomat is here to represent his nation to Russia. A correspondent must be a student of the country. Foreign students come to learn the language, often living under difficult conditions to do so.


Granted, Moscowville clings to certain elements of a colony. Most foreigners still enroll their children in foreign schools. Credit card sales continue to close out local buyers. U.S. diplomats must still report contact with Russians, which does much to encourage separateness and little to promote understanding. The Soviet-era Upravleniye Diplomaticheskim Korpusom, or UpDK, is still alive, clinging to life like a child that will not sleep.


In the last three years, much has changed to diminish the apartheid.


With the Jan. 1 ban on the use of foreign money, the hard-currency store is now a misnomer, a relic of a time when Moscowville was separated from Moscow by its currency.


Russian wages have risen in real terms with respect to foreigners', making the salary differences a little less striking. But as any Russian will tell you, they have a long way to go before reaching parity.


Perhaps the most significant development diminishing the colony component of life in Moscow's foreign community has been the explosion in the number of well-to-do Russians.


Few foreigner-exclusive domains now exist in Moscow. Hotel brunches, Western-managed food stores and Western airlines are all filled with Russia's new affluent class.


In the three years since I launched this column, the meaning of Moscowville has changed to fit the times. It looks like I will have to learn to live with it.