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WOODLAND HILLS : Instructor Sees Key Changes in Visit to Russia

September 21, 1993|KURT PITZER

The last time that Pierce College history instructor Robert Leventhal was in Moscow, things were different.

Young Muscovite women didn't go about in public with legs barely concealed by miniskirts, and the lampposts in the great Russian capital weren't bent over like old men.

A decade ago, the streets and subway were clean and in good repair, and people appeared more conservative and solemn, he said. Now young capitalists wheel Mercedes-Benzes around beggars in the street, and many of the museums and libraries are closed.

Leventhal, an instructor at Pierce College in Woodland Hills for the past 30 years, spent eight days in Moscow this summer gathering material for his U. S. history course and paying what he says will be his last visit to this country's former Cold War enemy.

"Moscow has lost its charm," Leventhal said from the living room of his Calabasas home. "Now it looks a lot like any other city."

Although he had read about the painful push toward a market-based economy in Russia and many of its neighbors, Leventhal said he was shocked by the changes once he arrived.

"You can buy anything there now--things that just weren't available a few years ago, like big, dark-red tomatoes and all kinds of other fruits and vegetables," he said. "And it seems like every big American or German store has opened an outlet there."

The lesser role assumed by the state these days has also meant a rise in crime, Leventhal said. Friends in Moscow cautioned him not to walk on the streets alone at night--a warning that he said was unthinkable on his last visit, when his greatest fear was that he might be followed by the KGB.

"I saw an assault in which there was a lot of blood, right out in public," Leventhal said. "There were two policemen standing there. I made eye contact with one of them, and he just shrugged. My friend told me the police are paid so little, a lot of the time they won't do anything."

Leventhal said he hopes to convey to his students that the Cold War was not simply a standoff won by the United States.

And he hopes that his students will see one of the newest democracies in the world as a mirror to one of the most established.

"The former Soviets pointed to the U. S. as a place where there are drugs and homelessness, and now they are starting to have many of the same symptoms," Leventhal said. "But the system there is in a critical condition. No one knows if it is going to survive."

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