Mayor of "Luzhcow" for fifth term

MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Andrei Vavra) - Yury Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, is going to run for his fifth term. The news came a few days ago, and is sure to start heated public debates. What will come under discussion?

Muscovites will certainly not argue about how his extremely long reign will affect democratic development. Luzhkov took up office on the crest of democratic change. In this sense, he is a child of the democratic era, but hardly its symbol. He sees his mission as a strong man correcting the blunders of democratic theory and practice, using his intuitive understanding of democracy to guide him. The word means "people's rule." To all appearances, the mayor does not think the ignorant people he governs properly understand what their rule boils down to, what to do about it, and what benefits the city-so it's best left up to him, the tough professional. So if Luzhkov is really a child of democracy, he is a genetically modified one.

His team will make Moscow the world's most beautiful and comfortable city, is his main argument for retaining his post. Will debaters concentrate on his achievements and failures?

No one doubts he has done much to change Moscow's appearance. But did it become any prettier or more pleasant?

Moscow has become one of the world's most expensive cities. Its transport network is collapsing and traffic will soon be entirely paralyzed. Bureaucratic extortionists have their palm greased for residence permits, land plot use, leasing licenses and so on. The city bristles with newly built architectural monsters big and small. They stick out like sore thumbs even in cozy old lanes. The mayor is certainly not after harmony.

Every city has recreation areas barred to traffic and construction. Moscow authorities wouldn't put up with even the tiniest vacant spot. As I was recently walking around Hyde Park, London authorities' indifference stunned me. Moscow mayoral officers would have stuffed the place with newspaper, ice cream, souvenir and other stalls, restaurants, merry-go-rounds, etc. Just think of the fat bribes license seekers would bring them. What is the Lord Mayor thinking of, with all those vast vacant lawns? How can Londoners walk here free? Why not sell admittance tickets? Doesn't he care about the municipal purse?

Moscow has bad problems with police, too. Muscovites are totally unprotected from swindlers and robbers. Not that the city police are incompetent. When Russia fell out with Georgia, it displayed enviable efficiency finding fault with casinos owned by people of Georgian origin. In a nutshell, Moscow law enforcement is more of a political tool.

The judiciary also presents problems. I don't think any plaintiff or defendant has ever won litigation against municipal bodies. This especially concerns us journalists. You can never be too careful about your wording-a libel suit will come in no time.

All that no longer makes people indignant. It's just the Moscow routine.

The city has become a unique place under Luzhkov. It ought to be renamed Luzhcow, I daresay. I don't feel it is the city I was born in. It is no longer the Moscow I used to know. I no longer love it. I detest its scenic spots now chockfull of casinos, stores and ostentatious office buildings. I do hate its importunate beggars, cheeky parking lot assistants, stinking underpasses, huge ads everywhere-and the all-pervading insolence of the new rich.

What reason, then, has Mr. Luzhkov for staying on and on? I think it is Big Politics.

Russia is facing parliamentary and presidential elections. A new elite may come in. Many of present-day bosses may be thrown out and other unpleasant things may happen to them. The incoming people will make wry faces at the outgoing.

Moscow will turn into a kind of 19th-century California, new bosses busily pegging dacha and apartment claims. They will be hiring assistants and secretaries. All that will paralyze office routine for at least a year.

Moscow is Russia's political and financial heart. Cardiac surgery, with office and property redistribution, when the heart is overloaded is a hazardous venture.

All desired changes at the federal level over, President Putin or his successor will most probably take Moscow in hand. The city is overly independent in the current government arrangement. But then, Moscow cannot afford a dark horse at its top, even at the time of political stability. A new mayor should be one of Luzhkov's men. But then, Yury Luzhkov is irreplaceable.

He will certainly resign, someday-a strong personality, so striking in these days of drab officials, a man who never flinches from speaking out, even when his opinions clash with the generally accepted.

If we are to believe his tax returns, the mayor will take with him a country house, total area 62 sq m, with a 18 sq m bathhouse and a garage-all that in the Kaluga Region not far from Moscow, and a Volga car, complete with a trailer.

What will he have in the trailer, I wonder?

The opinions expressed in this article are the author's and do not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.

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