Moscow’s Mayor Daley

Is the long, strange career of Yuri Luzhkov finally coming to an end?

View a slide show of Yuri Luzkhov here.

There are lots of stories in the news in Moscow today -- a crime boss gunned down in the center of town, Poland playing good neighbor and arresting the emissary of the Chechen separtists in exile, a disappeared gay activist. There are no stories, however, about Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov.

The silence is ominous, given that since last weekend, the Russian media -- including state television -- has been able to talk of nothing else. On Saturday and Sunday, Muscovites turning on their televisions were surprised to discover a series of exposés attacking a mayor who has long been one of the Russian state's untouchable saints. And now there it was, all the evidence of his sins, set to threatening music, showcasing his wife's crookedly financed construction projects, his lieutenants' Swiss watch collections, him grinning madly next to his beehives. Because this ran on channels owned and tightly guarded by the state, it was clear that the material had come from the highest echelons of power. It was a Kremlin smear campaign the likes of which the city has not seen since the 1990s. For a week, as the Kremlin and Luzhkov dueled in public, Moscow finally got to see some real politics as the battles usually confined to secret corridors herniated into the mass media. And then the news just stopped.

What happened? The story, after all, has not gone away, and, in the battle's aftermath, neither has Luzhkov, who has held on to his mayoral throne for 18 years with both hands and all 26 teeth.

It's hard to describe exactly what Yuri Luzhkov is. He is the only mayor Moscow has ever really known in the post-Soviet period, a figure whose control extends into every corner of the city's life. He is Moscow's boss, which is precisely the problem: There can only be one boss in Moscow, and his name is Vladimir Putin.

And here's the other side of that problem: Luzhkov has been in charge since before Vladimir Vladimirovich even thought of going into politics, and well before he got to Moscow. Luzhkov, on the other hand, has been helping run the city since the Soviet era. He started off as the reformist head of the Moscow city council during the perestroika years, and was appointed mayor by then President Boris Yeltsin in June 1992. But as Luzhkov brought the chaotic capital to order after the collapse of the Soviet Union, he was also put in charge of privatizing huge swaths of Moscow property -- making his real-estate developer wife (and former city council assistant 27 years his junior), Elena Baturina, Russia's wealthiest woman in the process.

As mayor, Luzhkov created a vast and complex network of management that answered directly to him, leading many critics to compare him to Boss Tweed, the 19th-century kingpin who ruled New York as his private fiefdom. This made him extremely hard to replace. Luzhkov soon became a center of political power so potent that he was able to unify other Russian regional chiefs under his banner in the 1999 parliamentary elections. But this put him in direct competition with Putin, Yeltsin's anointed successor, and the Kremlin and its oligarchs waged an aggressive media campaign against him -- one that looked remarkably like the one Moscow saw this week. After Luzhkov's bloc was soundly defeated, though, he was brought into the fold of Putin's new party, endorsed the former KGB colonel for president in 2000, and allowed to keep control of his city, which collected more and more of the country's ballooning wealth.*

As Putin consolidated his hold over Russia's political system, Luzhkov's personal kingdom became a constant irritant to the Kremlin. He was never ousted, however: if he supported Putin politically, he could keep his mayoral seat -- and the riches it allowed him to tap.

Luzhkov, now 73, has also become increasingly eccentric with age, provoking controversies like his 2002 proposal to restore the statue of Felix Dzerzhinsky, founder of the Soviet secret police, in front of FSB headquarters. (The statue's toppling in 1991 was a massively symbolic moment in the demise of the Soviet Union.) He has violently cracked down on gay pride parades, calling them "satanic," which has made him a persona non grata in many European capitals. Last spring, he announced that he would mark the 65th anniversary of Russia's victory in World War II by festooning the capital with portraits of Joseph Stalin. (The plan was scrapped amid public outcry.)

So it's no surprise that Luzhkov is finally about to go. President Dmitri Medvedev has been pushing the stodgy, unresponsive old guard of regional government into retirement since the beginning of his term. It is an attempt to head off discontent -- and any potential sabotage in the upcoming parliamentary elections. But Luzhkov has ignored what was becoming obvious to everyone: his time was up. "They hinted and hinted, hinted and hinted, and he just wouldn't leave," says Robert Shlegel, a parliamentary deputy from United Russia.

Luzhkov's most recent trouble, according to Russian political insiders, began when he over-delivered votes in the regional elections last October. The fraud was so blatant and crude that it precipitated a week-long political crisis that lead many to question the Kremlin's hold on a power vertical of its own making. But the final straw came when he decided to play Putin and Medvedev off each other, saying that, while one criticized him, one approved of his performance. "In our Russian bureaucracy, trying to split the tandem is the deadly sin," says Aleksey Chadaev, the young new head of United Russia's political strategy.

And so the Kremlin again put on its brass knuckles, the same ones it used on Luzhkov back in 1999: television. Last Saturday's anti-Luzhkov special even featured notorious media assassin Sergei Dorenko, a veteran of the 1999 campaign. This time, he accosted the mayor for refusing to return from his Austrian vacation as Moscow filled with toxic smoke from the August wildfires, sending the city's death rates through the roof. Luzhkov, Dorenko said, was too busy enjoying Austria, where "everything was just wonderful: cows with bells, girls with tits."

The NTV special, was followed in quick succession by two others, including one on Channel 1, Russia's main state channel. Here's a partial list of all the -- alleged -- dirt the segments aired: Luzhkov granted his wife's company, Inteko, lucrative tax breaks; he forced people from their homes -- or burned them when they refused to move -- in order to make room for Baturina's housing developments; when Luzhkov did return from his Austrian vacation, he spent nearly twice as much money on his prized honey bees than on Muscovites made ill by the smoke; he inflated the cost of restoring an iconic Soviet statue and gave the contract to - who else? -- his wife.

When the segments first aired, Luzhkov remained atypically quiet. Finally, on Monday night, a reporter from the vaguely oppositional REN-TV caught him off guard at a completely unrelated event honoring the memory of a long-deceased Soviet journalist and asked for an impromptu interview. But the mayor refused to respond to any of the attacks. "Explaining oneself is not the way to defend oneself in Russia," he said. "If a person starts explaining himself, it means he is guilty."

So instead of explaining himself, Luzhkov went on the offensive. On Wednesday, when a  a group of United Russia delegates gathered in Moscow for a regional conference, Luzhkov delivered a rousing speech on his successes as mayor. The media war raging outside? "It's all slander," he said, before addressing a particularly sore spot. "They say that the mayor decided to allocate money to his little bees," he said. "I can tell everyone, and many know this, yes, I am into beekeeping. I find it interesting. It's a philosophy. It's a unique philosophy of the life of a family, of the life of the society of bees. But I don't need government funds for this. On the contrary, the entire produce of my hives, of my bees I send to orphanages." Luzhkov got a standing ovation from his foot soldiers in the Moscow delegation, a clear upping of the ante.

Luzhov has also taken legal redress, convincing the Moscow city Duma to approve a resolution in his support and filing lawsuits against various press outlets that ran with the corruption story. He announced that there was no resigning until his term ran out in June 2011. Finally, in a painfully impotent defiance, Luzhkov announced that if the Kremlin gets its wish and forces him out, he won't deliver the votes they need in next fall's parliamentary elections. The Kremlin answered by reminding him publicly that the President could fire him at will.

Notably, Luzhkov has said nothing to the people whose votes he is attempting to hold over the Kremlin's head, his more than 10 million constituents. It's not clear they would listen. This is a group that barely votes and has not thought highly of its mayor for a long time now; in the last decade, his approval rating has fallen by almost half. They know he steals, they know his wife steals, they know that he does not have their interests at heart, but they cannot do anything about it. Luzhkov, like every other regional boss, has been appointed by the Kremlin since 2004.

So now what? Luzhkov's days are clearly numbered. A fight like the one that just unfolded is not one that the Kremlin can be seen to lose, which means that Luzhkov has to step down. The Kremlin cannot simply fire him because the Luzhkov machine, woven together not only by money but by family times, is still alive and well, and the state needs it on its side. Making an enemy of Luzhkov and his army would be a disaster, especially when it comes time to vote next fall. And now that the stakes have been upped, it means that the story has moved back to the corridors where it belongs. Rest assured, heated negotiations for a political golden parachute are keeping everyone who matters in Moscow working through the weekend. And, in case Luzhkov insists on playing hardball, NTV has announced it will air another installment of Luzhkovgate on Saturday.

Inevitably, though, a compromise will be hammered out and Luzhkov will announce, with the sweet melancholy of an elderly public servant cleaning out his desk, that he has decided to spend more time with his family. The fact that the media noise is dying down means that day is very close. This, after all, is Putin's style: Wait for the scandal to be forgotten, and then make your move, thereby avoiding the appearance that you caved to pressure.

Luzhkov will not be fired -- that would also be out of character for Medvedev, who has only booted a handful of governors, though he certainly has the legal power to do so. Luzhkov will step down, politicians and political watchers here say, as soon as everything quiets down.

And there's another thing to consider: "His birthday is the 21st [of September]," Chadaev told me. "It would be a shame to spoil such a day."

 *This article originally stated that Luzhkov ran in the presidential election, not the parliamentary ones; it has been updated to reflect the correction.


What the Waters Washed Away

The rural, conservative refugees from Pakistan’s floods have not only lost their homes, but also their entire way of life.

CHARSADDA, Pakistan-Zeynat wipes her tears away with the edge of her donated, cream-colored dupatta. Her family was separated shortly after raging floodwaters destroyed her modest, mud-brick home, and it has been well over a month since she last saw her three teenage daughters. For the past week, Zeynat and her mother-in-law have been sharing a tent with her friend and former neighbor, Bach Sultan, and four of Sultan's children, in a makeshift settlement here in Charsadda, in the socially conservative and insurgency-plagued Khyber Pakhtunkwa province bordering Afghanistan.

Zeynat's tent, which lies just feet away from the dozens of others pitched alongside Charsadda's Sugar Mill mosque, is sweltering inside. The front and back tent flaps are kept open in the hope of attracting a breeze, but they merely serve to expose the women to the view of passersby. The women say that custom prevents them from idly sitting outside. The camp's proximity to the mosque means that the building's bathrooms are available for use by the flood victims. This ensures them a modicum of privacy absent from many other camps, which lack sanitation or rely on outdoor toilets.

Zeynat, who doesn't know her age but appears to be in her 40s, is a Pashtun woman from the outskirts of this agricultural town. She previously worked as a street hawker, going house to house selling trinkets, jewelry, make up and scarves to other women. "Those little sales I made helped me have everything I needed, thank God," she says. "I had my house, a little gold and things. It was good." She was one of the 21 million Pakistanis that the United Nations says have been affected by the floods that struck Pakistan in July, and have caused billions of dollars in damages. Although the floodwaters have largely receded from the northwest, where they began their destructive course, the emergency continues to unfold in the south's Sindh province, adding to the ranks of the displaced.

Zeynat, her husband, her mother-in-law, and Sultan's family had previously been squatting in the Charsadda district hospital's waiting rooms. They had stayed there for weeks until the management forced them out. Their husbands stay away from the tent, and sleep in the muddy grass outside, in a bid to give the women some privacy.

The women, like many in this camp and in other places where Pashtuns have sought refuge from the waters, have sent their unmarried daughters away to live with relatives whose homes were not washed away by the deluge. "I want them with me but I must protect their honor," Zeynat says through tears. "Here the men and the ladies are mixing, and I don't like that." Her daughters, she explains, are staying with an uncle in Charsadda.

Sultan nods her covered head in agreement. She has also sent her 14-year-old daughter to live with an aunt. "You see, we are worried about their reputations," she said, "because now there is no Parda anymore."

Parda, which is also spelled purdah, means "curtain" in Urdu, is the traditional practice of shielding women from men to whom they are not related. It is expressed both through physical segregation and through wearing modest, shape-concealing clothing. Purdah is strictly observed by many women in rural areas of Pakistan, including the majority-Pashtun northern belt bordering Afghanistan.

In this region, a family's honor is often tied to the chastity and obedience of its women -- and protecting and defending their honor from verbal and physical harm is part of an ancient code of honor and revenge. But the code is all too often taken to extremes. Barely a week goes by without a story appearing in the Pakistani media about an enraged male -- from across Pakistan's multiethnic spectrum -- who has killed a female relative or relatives for some perceived infringement of "honor."

Pakistani newspapers this week, for example, carried a report about a man, identified as Irfan, who shot dead his 22-year-old sister, Saiqa, because she decided to reunite with her former husband rather than remain married to another man her family had chosen for her.

Some of the stories are even more gruesome. Earlier this month, a man named Shaukat Ali drugged his wife and his three daughters, all of whom were under 10 years old, then casually slit their throats after they fell unconscious. He then dragged their bodies into the street and piled them on top of each other, and posted a note on his front door that read: "I am ashamed of my wife who was stubborn and arrogant. My daughters could have turned out like her. I have killed them so that I would not have to suffer the humiliation of their dishonorable actions. I am a man of honor and I will turn myself over to the police for their murder."

For women adhering to purdah, it's usually easier and safer to simply remain secluded in their homes than risk a similar disaster. However, the floods have made this impossible for many. In some parts of northwestern Pakistan, displacement has forcibly changed conservative social dynamics. Desperation has driven women to jostle with men for limited relief supplies. Unrelated men and women now live in close quarters, the flimsy canvas tents providing little privacy from prying eyes. "Our men are very upset because their ladies are sitting around and other men are looking at us," Sultan says. "It's very difficult."

"This is an extremely conservative society where you hardly see women outside," says Imtiaz Gul, author of The Most Dangerous Place, a book about Pakistan's northwestern tribal belt. The longer these displaced citizens are trapped in this situation, Gul warns, the likelihood of frustrations boiling over into violence will only increase.

Akbar Ali, a 27-year-old minivan driver who has been wearing the same black shalwar kameez, a traditional outfit comprised of a long shirt over loose pajama-like trousers, for weeks now, is seething. He has been living in a refugee camp in the town of Nowshera, about 18 miles southeast of Charsadda, for almost a month with his wife and 2-year-old daughter. As relative newcomers to the camp, Ali and his small family missed out on securing covered lodgings like a tent on the grounds of the Government College of Technology, or a space inside the school's two-story brick structure. The classrooms were already brimming with evacuees, packed four or five families to a room, by the time he arrived.

He has had to make do with a slab of concrete outside the college cafeteria, open to the elements. He is desperately trying to rent a house at any price to get his family indoors, he says, but there's little left on the market. He has been offered work but turned it down because he did not want to leave his wife alone in the camp. "The men move around the camp. I'm just afraid that one day, if they say something to my wife, it will cause a problem, a fight, because I will have to respond," he avers. "It's my duty."

For those families that have managed to secure lodging, the situation is not much better. Jan Mohammad, a stocky man with an angular jaw and thick beard, spends most of his day sitting on a straw mat at a safe distance from the tents in this Nowshera camp. His wife, three young daughters, and four sons were lucky enough to secure a tent on the camp's crowded grounds -- but he stays away from that area, opting to sit under a tree near the main road, to avoid making other women uncomfortable.

Mohammad says that the floods washed away more than just his home and possessions. "It's all gone. Our self-esteem and honor is all gone; the ladies are living outside. There is no more purdah. If I say anything to any man who looks at my wife, they will take me to jail," he says bitterly.

While these changing social conditions present challenges, they also have opened up new opportunities for women and girls. According to Alice Shackelford, country program director of UNIFEM, a U.N. body dedicated to promoting women's rights and gender equality, there are several community-based organizations operating in northwest Pakistan that are distributing aid only to women, ensuring that they are recognized as important providers for their families rather than passive dependents."With the displaced population there have been opportunities to access children, in particular girls, who before we would not necessarily have been able to access," Shackelford adds.

Still, many girls, like Zeynat and Sultan's daughters, have been sequestered elsewhere. "They are grown up girls. We can't have them homeless or sitting here like this," says Zeynat gesturing at the cluster of white canvas tents around her. "I'm really, really looking forward to having my own place, whether it's a verandah or a little room," she says. "I want my daughters with me."

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images