MOSCOW — In the place where the Soviet Union boasts loudest of its accomplishments, it has trouble enticing enough people to make the boasting worthwhile.
The Exhibition of Economic Achievements of the USSR consists of about 250 buildings on 545 acres in northern Moscow. Josef Stalin began the project in 1939, and his successors added buildings with exhibits that told citizens communism was improving their lives.
Praise of Soviet achievements continues at the center even as official media report economic and other failures. Exhibits tell of a tripling of electrical generating capacity in a quarter-century, boast about Soviet agriculture and display computer technology.
Thousands of people on the grounds one recent weekend paid little attention. Only a few were in the huge Central Pavilion, including two men sleeping in front of a television set.
No visitors were in the Electrification Pavilion with several elderly women, all attendants, who sat in straight-backed chairs keeping watch on models of power plants.
Outside, a young man with a bullhorn tried to coax people inside to see a movie.
"This is as usual," he said, refusing to give his name. "They come from the surrounding neighborhoods because it's a good place to rest."
The exhibition complex is an elegant oasis in a city where many parks are shabby and overgrown.
Its earlier buildings might be from czarist days, except for the hammer-and-sickle emblems and slogans on their sides like "Acceleration of scientific-technical progress is the main lever of raising the effectiveness of production."
Enormous fountains in the promenade combine propaganda with whimsy. One has smiling fish that spew water at statues representing heroic women of the 15 Soviet republics.
"I come here only to watch the people," said a man reading on a bench, who gave his name only as Viktor. "To me, the exhibits are not interesting."
Some exhibits are popular, although not necessarily for the reasons organizers intended.
An enthusiastic crowd was in the lobby of the Metallurgy Pavilion clustered around some video games, which are uncommon in Moscow. The few who went inside found some unusually straightforward exhibits giving figures on whether industries had met production targets.
Production of nails and concrete blocks was shown to be on target or even ahead, but belt-buckle production was 30% below the goal in 1989 and some lines of tableware fell about 20 percent short.
A factory that makes a giant chess set with men 9 inches tall had a banner year, exceeding its target by 20%.
In general, the most popular buildings are those where shortage-weary people can buy something they want.
Scores of people waited in lines for snacks and men's clothing. About 75 people waited to buy cigarettes, which have been so scarce recently that riots broke out.
Viktor was asked whether the contrast between the optimism of the pavilions and the deprivation of real life bothers him.
He shrugged and replied: "Life was hard when the exhibition was built, it's hard now and it'll be hard again."
A documentary film called "One Must Not Live This Way" has a trenchant comment on the VDNKh, as the exhibition is known.
It shows members of the Pioneers youth group gazing at the pavilions in boredom or bewilderment, then cuts to a glitzy West German shopping street with the narrator's comment: "This is the VDNKh of West Germany."