Mapping Moscow’s Past and Present
For the last several weeks, the CHI fellows have been working on a mapping challenge, in which we have made maps with a specific theme, complete with pop-ups. For my final project, I too hope to have a map to illustrate the locations of Soviet factories and dormitories, while my overall project will examine the relationship between Soviet and post-Soviet, socialist and capitalist. Working on our mapping challenge has made me consider the benefits as well as the limitations of using maps to illustrate how Moscow has changed from the 1970s to today.
During the Soviet period, Soviet socialism was inscribed into the landscape. Streets and squares had names like “the 50th Anniversary of October” and “Dzerzhinsky,” referring to the surname of the first director of the Soviet secret police. Street names constantly reminded citizens of their collective history from the Great October Revolution to victory in the Great Patriotic War, the name given to the Soviet Union’s fight against Nazi Germany in the Second World War. Many Soviet names remain in Moscow. I lived on October Street, a name that denotes the month of the Bolshevik victory over the Provisional Government in 1917. Soviet street names, it is worth noting, replaced tsarist ones. My street had previously been Alexander Street in honor of three of the Romanov tsars. Renaming streets not only served as a reminder of a shared Soviet history but also replaced the previous imperialist one.
The landscape of Moscow has also evolved since 1971, the year in which my research project begins. First, the borders of Moscow have expanded. In 1961, the Moscow Automobile Ring Road opened, demarcating the official boundaries of the capital. Since then, what were once “sleeping suburbs” outside of the Ring Road became neighborhoods of the capital. Second, the advent of capitalism in the former Soviet Union has also refashioned the appearance of streets. Designer shops now line Tverskaya Street the main drag heading north of the Kremlin, and shopping malls have emerged throughout the city. Since the early 1990s, tiny kiosks that served as grocery stores and cafes sprouted up on sidewalks and in alleyways until they were demolished in early 2016. Third, and perhaps most dramatically, new high rises are replacing older Soviet apartment buildings, inciting both the ire and support of Muscovites.
Maps have the power to shape reality, but which reality will I show? Simply comparing the Soviet and post-Soviet periods can obscure the over 25 years that separate the end of the Soviet experiment from today. The kiosks which shade my memories of my first trips to Moscow would be lost in a then-and-now comparison, but they played an important role in Moscow’s post-Soiet history. Maps can also only show so much. Even if Moscow’s landscape is decidedly market-oriented today, red stars and hammers and sickles also adorn that same space.