MANEUVERING in downtown Moscow can be a time-consuming proposition these days. Spurred on by the introduction of market reforms, and the accompanying economic chaos, the sidewalks near the Kremlin have become clogged with neophyte capitalists buying and selling things.
Imported clothes are most abundant, but literally everything is available for sale, including the kitchen sink. Prices are generally cheaper than in the so-called commercial shops.
The vendors come in all shapes, sizes, and ages. There is an old woman holding up a button-down shirt in one hand, and a who-knows-how-old sausage in the other. Around the corner a young guy does a brisk business selling sneakers out of the back of a beat-up public transport bus.
On the surface, the sidewalk salesmen seemingly are proof that a market economy is taking root in Russia - a small victory for President Boris Yeltsin and his reform-minded team, who have encouraged and protected the street-corner capitalists.
But ask the vendors themselves and many say they resent their present situation, despite the fact they can earn 15,000 rubles (about $150) in a good month - far more than the average monthly salary of about 700 rubles ($7). Instead of accolades, some vendors assail the government's reform policies, which were being supervised by Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Gaidar.
"This isn't a market, it's a bazaar," says Volodya Ivanov, who is hawking Turkish-made leather shoes. "There's no order and no control here. Under such conditions there's no way a real market will grow."
"You could call it anarchy," chimes in Sergei Albert, who is selling camera equipment. "The people on top are so interested in their own affairs that they've forgotten about the people on the street."
If the sentiment on the sidewalks is any indication, support for Mr. Yeltsin and his reforms is eroding quickly. That could hamper efforts to expand the reform effort. In the past, Yeltsin relied on his broad popular support to overcome opposition to his policies among conservative elected officials throughout Russia. His honeymoon with the people apparently is over, however.
"The government has lost the trust of a significant portion of the people," says pensioner Paulina Suvorova, who receives the minimum 340-ruble monthly pension. Others say they would not be upset if the upcoming session of the Congress of People's Deputies altered significantly Mr. Gaidar's reform blueprint.
"They don't seem to be paying much attention to the producer," Mr. Albert says of the government. He says he yearns to open his own store and argues for a more coherent privatization plan. "As long as they aren't interested in the producer it's better for me to sell things on the street and not pay taxes."