Russians thrilled by World Cup's kick off, despite looming pension and tax reforms

Russian and foreign fans celebrate together after the host's victory over Saudi Arabia on the tournament's opening, on June 14. Photo: Screenshot/Youtube DW

The World Cup officially began on June 14th, with organizers expecting one million visitors to come to Russia despite several countries issuing travel warnings for this year's host.

Some of those visitors have reported being rather impressed with the infrastructure in Moscow, where the tournament’s opening match took place. With the capital's public authorities pouring millions of robles on urban renovations over the past several years, this hardly comes as a surprise.

With the effect of soft power on display for the rest of the world to see, how have Russians been reacting to the influx of large, wild crowds of foreigners?

If social media is a good indicator, not bad at all: Russians are gladly joining the party in the streets and online.

Just like the rest of the world, they seem to be fond of the Peruvian fanbase in particular — the South American team hasn't played in a World Cup since the 1982 tournament in Spain.

Peruvians are the beeeeest!

The World Cup is still a few days away, but fans are already celebrating in Moscow. Argentinians and Arabs are dancing on Nikolskaya street, Peruvians and Iranians are singing on Tverskaya. Muscovites are filming and joining in.

But not everyone has been looking forward to the massive crowds of football fans. Since late 2017, students from Moscow State University have been opposing FIFA's plan to set one of their Fan Fest venues on their campus.

The FIFA Fan Fest venues — or the “fan zone”, as it's called in Russian — are spaces with large screens where crowds can watch the matches free of charge, and they have popped up all over Russia. The Moscow State students claimed that boisterous crowds on campus would pose an audio nuisance and a security risk, given the propensity of sports fans to become inebriated.

Students reported being subjected to harassment from state security officers and the school's administration over the course of the campaign, which turned out to be only slightly successful: the organizers agreed to move the fan zone a hundred feet away from where it was originally planned, although it's still technically inside the university.

One of the campaign organizers stated:

Когда мое имя впервые «засветилось» в списках Инициативной группы, у меня состоялся неприятный разговор с инспектором курса в учебной части и с председателем профкома на тему фан-зоны. Мне прямо сказали, что отчисление — это не пустые угрозы.

When my name first showed up on the action group’s lists, I had an unpleasant conversation about the fan zone with the administrative proctor and a representative of the local trade union committee. They told me outright that expulsion was not just an empty threat.

On a lighter note, one tourist became trapped in a shoddily-constructed bathroom stall in what looks almost like a nod to Sochi 2014's infamous double bathrooms:

Some observers have noticed a double standard on the treatment of visiting fans and Russian citizens by the authorities:

Only days before the start of the games, one lone picketer was arrested for holding a poster that said: “On Russia Day, we demand freedom. The Revolution is Coming. Boycott the World Cup.”

“Now that I have your attention…”

The opening of the World Cup coincided with the announcement of a pension reform in Russia.

Long rumored to have been in the works, the Russian government officially declared its intention to raise the minimum retirement age in stages up to 65 for men and 63 for women. The present retirement age is 60 for men and 55 for women.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev also unveiled plans to raise the national goods and services tax from 18% to 20%.

Twitter users responded humorously:

/ \
━━━━━┓ \\
┓┓┓┓┓┃. your
┓┓┓┓┓┃ ヽpensionノ
┓┓┓┓┓┃   /
┓┓┓┓┓┃ ノ)

When I turned 22, I had a “33 years until retirement” party, and, as I understand, my 30th birthday party next year will have the same theme.

Others noted the coincidental timing of these announcements.

“The bill on raising the retirement age will be introduced on the opening day of the World Cup”.
A classic of the genre: while the people will be watching the World Cup with mouths agape with whistles and party lowers, “the people’s representatives” will raise the pension age for these very same people. Basically what’s happening ?

The World Cup ends on July 15th, with its 64 matches taking place across 11 Russian cities — here's a guide to the history and cultures of each of them.

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