Report Presentation: "St. Petersburg, 1993-2003: The Dynamic Decade"
"There's Petersburg, then there's everything else," noted William Craft Brumfield, Professor, Department of Germanic and Slavic Studies, Tulane University, and Former Title VIII-Supported Research Scholar, Kennan Institute. At an 11 May 2011 Kennan Institute report presentation of St. Petersburg, 1993-2003: The Dynamic Decade, Brumfield showed a selection of his photographs of the city, of which he has taken over 25,000 since 1970. The event was held in memoriam of Joyce Lasky Reed and Richard Torrence, who co-authored St. Petersburg, 1993-2003.
"It was a remarkable and almost miraculous experience to be in Petersburg" during the early 1970s, said Brumfield, who noted the importance of the city in launching his photographic survey of Russian architecture, as well as a series of books beginning with Gold in Azure: 1000 Years of Russian Architecture (1983). Although the city was originally conceived as a work of art, the speaker explained that the face of the city has changed over time. Brumfield described the current situation in the city as a looming urban catastrophe. Only rivaled by Paris in urban scope, Brumfield argued that the only way that St. Petersburg can be returned to its original status as a European metropolis is with an enormous amount of private investment in tandem with careful zoning control and state incentives.
Brumfield was joined by Arthur L. George, Senior Counsel, Baker & McKenzie, Chicago; Founder and Former Managing Partner, St. Petersburg Office, Baker & McKenzie, and Author, St. Petersburg: The First Three Centuries, who also contributed to St. Petersburg, 1993-2003. George discussed the origins of the book, as well as the current situation in St. Petersburg. "The idea behind the book," according to George, "is that there was a lot of hope for progress initially" in St. Petersburg after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
George noted that in order to understand St. Petersburg between 1993 and 2003, it was first necessary to examine the city's history prior to that period. Since its inception, St. Petersburg had a long cultural tradition of valuing westernization, progressive thinking, and independence. Indeed, the progressive nature of the city was the reason that Gorbachev chose St. Petersburg as the location to introduce perestroika in 1985, George explained. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, the urban fabric of St. Petersburg began to change; George noted that the hopes of the city's residents had been dashed. Although there was post-coup euphoria at home and abroad, the speaker explained, disappointment grew soon thereafter because of the underestimation of the depth of problems the city faced. Local leadership failed to address issues effectively until 2003, when Putin essentially forced them out of office.
Despite the transitional issues St. Petersburg has faced since the fall of the Soviet Union, George asserted there is promise for the future of the city. The local leadership is generally popular. Further, Putin regards St. Petersburg favorably; as "decades of Soviet discrimination" indicated that the leadership once favored Moscow, George cited Putin's decision to host the G8 summit in St. Petersburg as an example of the reversal of such opinions. George concluded his presentation by asserting that St. Petersburg continues to dominate the Russian cultural scene. With institutions such as the Hermitage Museum, the White Nights Festival, and the Mariinsky Ballet all being located in St. Petersburg, George argued that the city remains "the cultural window to the future" for Russia.
By Amy Shannon Liedy
Blair Ruble, Director, Kennan Institute