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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

WHAT THE PAPERS SAY: The Crisis That Stole Christmas From Moscow




"Della counted it three times. One dollar and 87 cents.


But tomorrow is Christmas."


- O'Henry


"What would you like to get for New Year's?" I pestered a seven-year old boy. "For New Year's?" he echoed. "Mama is going to bake a pie with cabbage." "No," I persisted. "What present do you want?" He replied, "There's plenty I want but we don't have money for presents."


It's true. Apart from the fragrance of pine cones, most Muscovites won't receive the presents of past years on this holiday. There won't be boxes and bags wrapped in bright, crisp paper. There won't be gasps of amazement or tears of tenderness. People have come to terms with the inevitability of the situation. They face a dilemma of whether to have a holiday meal or give modest gifts to their dear ones. Most have chosen a full stomach. A few treats might still be left from the emergency reserves they put aside in September - there is still some flour, sugar and condensed milk in housewives' larders.


On Tverskaya Ulitsa, where Christmas windows are as fanciful as on the Champs-Elys?es, you might think you were living in Paris. But then you just have to laugh when you see the prices in those boutiques. Despite a sign offering 50 percent discounts, a sweater costs $230. And as soon as you leave downtown, the artistry of the window displays fades and the prices become almost human.


That dollar sign covers our faces like a tragic carnival mask. You feel like shouting, "Friends, what holiday is there? Where is the sense of joy on people's faces?" But you cut yourself off straight away - the country is in a crisis and you are going on about fir trees, champagne and all that other nonsense. Let it be said, the crisis has had at least one very positive effect on the lives of Muscovites: The price of red caviar is now lower than sausage. Perhaps we should use the cans to decorate the Christmas trees!


But there is still one miracle that no government decree can do away with it. It is the children. It is for their sake that most parents are making all sorts of sacrifices - they run around in light shoes and thin coats, they try not to eat at work, and they save every kopek.


I won't get any presents this year either. But my son will get a wonderful toy that he has been dreaming about for a long time.


"And of them all, the only truly wise ones are those who give and receive presents. They are the true Wise Men."


Moskovsky Komsomolets, Dec. 24


Shopping Is Dropping


A group attached to the Finance Ministry and the U.S. Treasury has just published the results of its regular index of consumer sentiment based on a survey by the VTsIOM research company. The previous survey gave the shocking result that the index had fallen from 73.7 in July to 47.7 in September, the biggest fall since the index began in 1993.


The index is based on five questions put to consumers. How has your financial situation changed in the past year? What change do you expect in your financial situation next year? What do you think the economic situation will be in Russia in the next year? In the next five years? What is your attitude toward major purchases?


Of course, the fall in September was the result of the Aug. 17 crisis. The stagnation of the economy at a low level since then is what is behind the consistent, low level of consumer sentiment. In November, as in September, the biggest fall was in the index that measures sentiments about current financial situation which is based on the first and last questions. That index fell by 6 percent. The index of consumer expectations fell by 2.2 percent.


Consumers gave an especially low estimate on the possibility of making large purchases. That index was at 31.3, down from 34.7 in September and a level last seen in 1993. The jump in inflation should encourage people to spend money but for most, that is irrelevant. They just don't have money to protect from inflation.


In July, before the crisis, only 31 percent of people said their income was lagging behind inflation; now 81 percent of those surveyed say so.


The purchases of non-food items closely reflect the index of consumer sentiment on large purchases. It is likely that the fall in that index in November will soon be followed by a fall in purchases.


In the foreseeable future, people are expecting a new worsening of the situation. The index for the future of the economy fell by 5 percent in the last survey. In terms of people's personal financial situation, the index was stable. Researchers say this may be a sign that people are starting to develop an "attitude of adaptation." They find ways of adjusting to the worst conditions.


Elderly people take the worst view of the crisis. About 75 percent of people over the age of 56 responded that their financial situation had grown worse and they had been forced to give up many expenses. The next survey will be in January. Perhaps it will be the first reflection of the first step of the government of Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov.


Noviye Izvestia, Dec. 23


Fir Smugglers Beware


The Moscow city and Moscow regional governments have decided to step up checks on fir tree poachers in the days before New Year's. Checkpoints will be set up on all highways leading into the city. Forestry guard workers and police will check cars for illegally cut timber. Illegal cutters will face fines of 130 rubles in addition to paying between 25 and 35 rubles to buy back the tree. The money from fines will go to replanting forests. Last year 68 people guilty of "crimes against fir trees" were arrested, which is well short of the real number of illegal cuttings. The ecological checkpoints cannot check every car and only work in the daytime, while the real offenders cut timber under the cover of night.


Segodnya, Dec. 23