There’s an old saying in Moscow, bantered about when times got tough: “Moscow doesn’t believe in tears.” The saying was made popular by an Academy Award-winning Russian movie with the same title, produced in 1980, that followed the lives of three stoic women as they forget lives for themselves in Moscow. The words were clear enough: What’s the point of crying? Walk on. Your small pain isn’t special—you must persist.
But that mantra has changed. The city has undergone an epic transformation from ideological Soviet-style socialism to the hectic and chaotic 1990s, where gangsters and oligarchs made a land grab for the country’s resources and fortunes rose and fell in a week.
And what is Moscow today? Its clean, bright, renovated streets evoke European grandeur and wealth. There are fewer tacky casinos and fewer status-seekers hoping to see-and-be-seen at sushi bars. There are more sophisticated eateries, more independent designer boutiques and bright new shops. While Moscow dines and dances, the state continues to repress, obfuscate and censure.
So the question becomes: what does Moscow believe in now?
Misha Friedman is a photographer living in New York. His work has appeared in the New York Times and the New Yorker. His books include Never Remember: Searching for Stalin’s Gulags in Putin’s Russia with Masha Gessen.