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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

On Clearing The Mess in The Streets

For those among us who have lived in Moscow for many years, it is increasingly painful to watch the city deteriorate month by month into a garbage-strewn, dirt-covered maze of trash. The filth spilling into the streets, particularly around the open-air markets in neighborhoods around the major train stations, is more than an eyesore -- it is a health hazard and an insult to residents and visitors who aspire to live in a "civilized" way.

The apparent decision of the city authorities to begin closing down these unregulated markets would be highly laudable if it were not for the unfortunate fact that a market dispersed at, say, Belarussky station will simply regroup at Kievsky or somewhere else.

Moscow's ugly version of the moveable feast is here to stay: It will resurface at a new location each time it is cleared away.

The reason behind this regrettable fact is simple economics.

The people of the former Soviet Union are living in an economy of desperation, and this is likely to go on for some years. Take the case of the Ukrainians pictured in these pages recently who had received their wages in the form of pots and pans because their factory had no money to pay them. The only way for these unfortunate people to get money is to take the pots and pans out into the street and sell them.

Many of them come to Moscow because that is where the money is. Ukrainians arriving at Kievsky station congregate there, Belarussians around Belarussky. It is logical, but it defaces the city. What is to be done?

It would be nice to suggest that Mayor Yury Luzhkov should set up clean, indoor spaces for these wildcat vendors. It would be nice to get the mess in off the streets, contain it, impose some order.

But in an economy of desperation, people who need the pocketful of rubles they can earn by selling their three sausages or two teacups will find the best way to do it -- and that means being right out on the street, where they reach the most potential buyers.

Moscow is not the only capital that has faced this problem. In Mexico City, the authorities built shiny new stalls to try to get the sprawling street markets inside. But nobody went there, because the vendors wanted to be out on the street, where the people are.

This does not mean, however, that the authorities are helpless. The answer would seem to be in improving sanitary conditions in the areas where these markets spring up.

Providing large enough trash bins, installing public toilets, sending teams of sanitation workers to these sites regularly throughout the day -- these steps would all be welcome. Especially if accompanied by stiff fines for offenders who, with facilities for trash disposal at hand, still persist in despoiling the city's streets.