May 01, 2003

Dueling Capitals

Dueling Capitals

There are practically no examples of Russian urban folklore that contain the names of both Moscow and St. Petersburg without emphasizing their opposition. Moscow’s mercantile arrogance, kneaded on centuries of traditions and grandfathered principles, is counterposed with the aristocratic maximalism of a neophyte, destroying stereotypes with aplomb.

Barely one hundred years after Petersburg was founded, Vladimir Dal recorded the following proverb: Москва создана веками, Питер миллионами. (Moscow was created by centuries, Piter by millions.) Later, this proverb was transformed into Питер строился рублями, Москва – веками. (Piter was built with rubles, Moscow over centuries.) Another proverb speaks of the same controversy in even bolder terms: Москва выросла, Петербург выращен. (Moscow grew, Petersburg was grown.)

Moscow could not forgive the young parvenu who sprung from the marshes so suddenly and was now claiming leadership. In the middle of the 19th century, 150 years after Petersburg was founded, Muscovites still cherished secret hopes that Petersburg “was destined to end its days by sinking back into the Finnish swamps” (Петербургу суждено окончить свои дни, уйдя в финское болото). Slavophiles, one of the two major voices of 19th century Russian philosophy, proclaimed the following war-cry: Да здравствует Москва и да погибнет Петербург! (Long live Moscow and let Petersburg die!)

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