Samantha de Bendern discovers why the Russian countryside is littered with half finished housesby Samantha De Bendern / November 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
Imagine a country where everyone, everywhere, has decided to build a house at the same time. You could call it builders’ paradise. For those of us who live here it is simply the “new Russia”-an uncharted territory somewhere on the raw edge of capitalism.
A year ago we moved into the village of Kalchuga, ten miles west of Moscow, after tearing to pieces and rebuilding a country dacha in the village. We are now recovering from those months of begging builders to work for us, and entreating overpaid tradesmen to sell us their paint, bathroom taps and other building materials.
Kalchuga is neither a securely fenced-in “foreigners” compound nor a conventional Russian village. It lies on the most expensive strip of real estate in Russia, on the Moscow outskirts where all the Communist party leaders had their dachas. Nevertheless it has managed to retain many of the typical features of a Russian village: grumpy old ladies, a few drunks, pretty cottages with wooden lace-trimmed windows and a water pump for those many homes without running water. It also boasts the ubiquitous feature of the new Russian countryside: a string of building sites.
Over the past three years, the landscape around Moscow has gone through the most spectacular transformation. Empty fields have sprouted entire new “villages,” conglomerations of half built greco gothic monstrosities with towers and columns, usually erected haphazardly on parcels of land barely large enough to hold them. For the “new Russians” who are building these monuments to riches and freedom, it is essential for the garden to be tiny: anything too large would suggest that the owners are planning to grow vegetables as their Soviet parents would have done.
In the field nextdoor to us, barely larger than our plot of land, three houses and a tennis court are currently being built. The most worrying aspect is not that where there once stood beautiful trees there is now mud and bulldozers. The problem is that these houses will be an added strain on the local utilities and services that are already overloaded to breaking point.
In Kalchuga there is no rubbish collection. We take our bins into town in the back of a car, but most people dump rubbish in the woods, burning what they can. The Russian newspapers, printed in Moscow, arrive a day or two late. Power cuts are frequent and telephone conversations are interrupted…