Tuesday, June 5, 2007

From Russia with Love – Part 1

I’m in Russia for IBM’s 2007 Business Leadership Forum, a meeting of leaders from across business, industry, government, and academia. This year innovation and the challenges facing global businesses are the center of discussion.

I will write more about this great event in blog entries to follow, but first there was some drama I encountered after touching down in Moscow. Yes, you guessed it: Air France lost my bag between Charles de Gaulle and Moscow. It was nearly impossible to connect with someone in the AF offices in Moscow or at Moscow International Airport to determine where in the world my bag was and when I was going to be reunited with it. I was unshaved and in the same clothes for a day plus when I asked a Russian friend from a leading American company for help. I felt like I was in a Narimanov-era movie. Finally I got my bag back a couple of hours before I left Moscow. How do you spell relief in Russian: вспомогательный.

While in Moscow I did some sightseeing. Turns out that many building facades in Moscow are new or beautifully re-coated and restored. The insides of these buildings are usually not restored, and they remain as they were during Soviet era.

I visited a boat basin immediately outside Moscow with a commemorative building erected by Stalin in 1933-37. There were twelve huge painted plates detailing the period’s accomplishments cemented into the supporting pillars of the building; they depicted monuments, large buildings, and other “wonders” of Stalin-era. It was an astonishingly Stalinesque remnant – real, yet seemingly fictitious.

Anytime I interacted with a Russian in Moscow it seemed like a bureaucratic experience. Permission was sought from a superior for everything. It took several questions and angles of inquiry to get things done. Motivation was a problem in other cases; in other cases there was no sense of empowerment and independent initiative. I wondered if it would be the same in St. Petersburg.

The Kremlin (above) lived up to its billing. The Diamond Fund, churches, and museums located on the Kremlin campus were amazing. Lenin’s Tomb was not open; he was at his да́ча (dacha) on the Baltic. Too bad: I would have asked him to borrow a razor.

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