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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Do Svidanya, Detsky Sad?

In the 1950s, someone in the Soviet leadership got the bright idea of sticking Moscow's "creative intelligentsia" together in one part of town. Cooperative apartment buildings went up near the Aeroport metro station, and when they proved insufficient, a second coop was added.

Soon the cinema and theater unions got in on the act. The state may not have realized its goal of packing the intelligentsia into a single district, but the concentration of writers and artists per square meter in the Aeroport area was truly impressive. This is not to say that all members of the "creative unions" secured their apartments with sheer talent. Some wrote novels, while others wrote denunciations of their colleagues.

With so many writers living in the Aeroport district, it was only natural that the Soviet Writers' Union located much of its infrastructure in the area. First came the "writers'" medical clinic, then the "writers'" detsky sad, a combination of preschool and kindergarten. Both were run by the Literary Fund, which had been created before the Revolution to provide material assistance to writers.

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Perestroika, which was hailed by the intelligentsia, and economic reforms drastically altered the demographics of the Aeroport district. Some writers died, others moved abroad, and many were forced to sell their apartments. Aeroport became a prestigious and relatively expensive area to live. New Russians started to move in. Their desire to live in an "intellectual milieu" may have been admirable, but their presence increasingly diluted the very milieu that had drawn them to the area. The social structure of the district more or less stabilized after the default in 1998.

Aeroport is now home to the intellectual middle class, which is prosperous but not given to excess.

Writers lost their hold on the medical clinic shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union, when it was sold and converted into an extremely successful commercial clinic. Now only the wealthiest writers can afford to seek treatment there.

But the preschool survived. In the early 1990s the Mossoviet, Moscow's Soviet-era city council, passed a law forbidding the privatization or closure of preschools owned by government agencies. If an organization was unable to maintain the school, it was required to hand it over to the city. If not for this law, Moscow would have no preschools left today, because it is incomparably more profitable to sell a school building or rent it out than to use it for educational purposes.

The Literary Fund never gave up its preschool. In fact, the school has been a resounding success. It is consistently among the highest-rated preschools in the city. Commercialization has left its mark on the school, however. Parents not affiliated with the Literary Fund pay big bucks to send their children there. The Literary Fund's membership gets older by the year, and sends fewer and fewer children to the school. Most of the tuition money goes to rent the land the school stands on and to cover utilities, maintenance and remodeling. The school pays its employees shamefully little, and most of them are not retirees who are working to supplement their pensions. The staff work selflessly because they love children.

This year, on the eve of the new school year, parents and staff learned that the preschool is to be closed. When market principles are applied to the education of our children, disaster is almost inevitable. Even the most commercially viable preschool cannot compete with real estate speculators. No matter how you exploit your staff and no matter how much money you squeeze out of the parents, it will still be more profitable to convert the school house into office space and let it to an oil company or turn it into the palace of some oligarch who wants to live among "intellectuals."

Parents who have already paid tuition for the coming year have filed suits. Venerable writers such as Fazil Iskander, Anatoly Pristavkin and Leonid Zhukhovitsky have sent letters of protest to the Moscow city government and the presidential administration.

Perhaps they will win the day. Perhaps the preschool will be closed, even though this would be against the law. In either case, we have all received a valuable lesson.

And I am left to wonder whether my daughter, like children of previous generations, will get to sing Do svidanya, detsky sad on her last day of preschool.

Boris Kagarlitsky is director of the Institute of Globalization Studies.