Memorial Day in America
Overlooking the Hudson River with the Statue of Liberty in the distance. 4:30 PM. Photo: JH.

Saturday in Moscow there was a small Gay Pride March which was broken up by 1000 cops, groups of Neo-Christians and Fascists. This comes as a surprise to some people, including gay men of a certain age (under forty-five) who are inclined to believe that “change” is the same as “complete change.”

Moscow days

Having just returned for the first time visit and for only four days, in Moscow, the incident took on more relevance, the way news from your old neighborhood has another kind of gravity.  I’d heard that gay life in Moscow these days is wild although I didn’t see any of it myself. The clubs are wild, go-go boys dancing naked in nature’s full regalia entertaining the mobs.  Like there’s no tomorrow.  It was like that in New York about thirty years when the closet doors were removed in so many people’s lives. All of that is forgotten now.  Now the issues are marriage and making a family.

The business about homosexuality, however, is the same as the business about Jewish and African-Americans, not to mention Muslim, or Asian, depending on the prejudice on your menu.  It is ALL about prejudice, and it cannot be legislated out of existence because people enjoy their little prejudices.  It justifies something that would otherwise be an embarrassment (such as ignorance, stupidity, inadequacy, mendacity, greed).

I mention all this because those four days in Moscow were such an eye-opener, and yet much of it not foreign. As an American, I had a very strong sense of the American Way having infiltrated the former Soviet society.  I mention this with neither approval or disapproval.  However, the question that came up for me again and again was how could we have ever perceived the Russians as a military threat, let alone perceive them as having the “power” to actually take over the United States. It’s so absurd, it’s laughable.  I don’t care if they have a million nukes. So do we.  Chernobyl said it all; that was Russia and that’s what they have to climb, transform out of.

What we now see emerging in Russia is that I call freedom.  Freedom to imagine something bigger, something greater, than the self. That includes a lot of financial entreprenurialship, of course, but also a lot of large ideas to help us along.  What the Russians are beginning to have a taste of is that “right” to think as you wish. Not easy to accomplish anywhere these days, including sometimes in your own neighborhood. But that is the American Way and its appeal is exactly what it is to all of us: the “right.”

The 40 or so men and women marching in the first Gay Pride Parade in Moscow on Saturday were an expression of that Way.   They are defending their rights. Their human rights. There are a lot of people everywhere who don’t agree with them.  Because ... those people are bigots. That’s all it takes folks.  And bigots like being bigots. (“I don’t care, that’s what I believe and I’m not going to change it.”) They just don’t like the name. And after all, why would they? None of us like being called a name.

If you’re Jewish in Russia, that’s what it says on your passport. Not Russian; Jew.  This goes way back. I’ll bet this is not considered a problem even by the populus.  That’s why a lot of Russian Jews came to America, and lo, they helped build this country.  Russia’s loss, our gain. What does that tell you about a country’s strength and power?  I know a lot of people – Americans -- who share the sentiment, or rather, I should say, the outright bigotry that is still official Russian.  Many of these people do business, have friends, even sleep with people who are Jewish, all the while maintaining their knee-jerk bigotry. Oh, and denying it too.  Yet, would the American people tolerate that on their passports? No, I don’t believe they would. 

Meanwhile, Moscow.  To the American eye, there was a lot of military around in the city, compared to what we see.  Not carrying guns, mind you, but there, in uniforms, in groups. There were a lot of blue-uniformed police but that is also commonplace in New York.  And there were sirens, although not as much as we New Yorkers are used to. 

The parks are filled with young people, so many that you can wonder as I often do in New York and Los Angeles, when and if they actually work.  There were also lots of little children, although few in strollers – they were either walking or being carried (or both).  There were also triple generation groups out for the weekend stroll in Red Square. Grandmother, Mommy and Daddy and the Little One.  And then there was denim. Everywhere denim. And the pretty young girls with the long long legs and the skin tight jeans slung low on the hip.  Often on the cellphone.  Not a lot of fat people and NO fat children or babies. None.  Although with all the American junkfood maestros lining up with their goods, it may be only a matter of time. 

Currency exchange is 27 rubles to the dollar. Cab fare was often 500 rubles. Or roughly sixteen bucks.  If you offered ten American, he’d take it.  They all liked dollars first.  As travelers know, that doesn’t work at all in London or Paris or Rome.

The traffic. The main thoroughfares are very wide, four, six lanes -- wide like the Paris boulevards, and bordered by a buildings often no more than four or five stories. Up until fifteen years ago, or even less, there were not a lot of cars on the road. And thirty years ago, the only cars were the officials’ cars. And the trolleys, which are still operating. When the officials’ cars came through, everyone had to move aside and let them pass.  Just like the black vans with the red lights that we have around Manhattan transporting the politicians to their ommipresent important engagements.  I didn’t see any of these, but there are still official roadways in some parts of Moscow and everyone has to hop to and get out of the way so that the politicians can make more progress (for themselves). 

Today the Moscow streets are jammed with civilian cars that can even make New York gridlock seem meager.  This is especially true in at the beginning and the end of the workday.  After that traffic tapers off, which is not quite so true in New York.  Several people told me beforehand that there are more Rollses in Moscow now than any other city in the world.  I still think it’s Beverly Hills. Where they’re practically a dime a dozen. I saw only one in the four days I was there. A nice great big black brand-new Rolls Phantom, parked in front of Turandot.

Meanwhile it is Memorial Day here in America. I don’t know how they celebrate that in Russia but they took enormous losses, even greater than ours in both World Wars. Here the motivation for our Memorial Day is honoring those who served, many of whom paid with their lives so that we have freedom. I don’t know if the Russian people look at the day in the same way because it is only in the past ten years or so that they’ve had a strong whiff of the winds of freedom. But on this Memorial Day in America, I think of Moscow and its people who’ve had a taste of something most of us are so used to we take it for granted.  May they get as used to it too. It can only help us all live together in the peace that others served and fought for. 


Click here
for NYSD Contents

May 29, 2006, Volume VI, Number 90
Photographs by Jeff Hirsch/


© 2006 David Patrick Columbia & Jeffrey Hirsch/