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This report is taken from PN Review 91, Volume 19 Number 5, May - June 1993.

A Letter from St Petersburg: seeing is believing Jeremy Noble

I have bought a television. It was not difficult to find a Japanese portable either for Roubles or hard currency; all Western electrical goods are widely available, if you can afford them. I tell myself that I bought it so as to improve my Russian, or because I was missing something about Russian life; perhaps, however, I am just not strong enough to resist. Is reading books not enough nowadays? What is this guilt about watching the box? The Russian attitude to television is as complex as it is in the West. Bourgeois Russians claim not to watch, yet recent figures suggest that some programmes are watched devotedly by seventy percent of all people estimated to own a television.

I switched on to an old black and white Soviet film. The scene is a drawing room in a fashionable house of mid-19th century St Petersburg. A beautiful woman, surrounded by admirers, is handed a bundle of money by a man who might be her husband, lover, client? She scorns him, and throws the money in the fire. In uproar, her admirers beseech her to retrieve it, but she refuses. Can you identify the film of the novel? After a week of viewing, this melodrama seemed to symbolize the new Russia.

I have four channels: 'Ostankino' and 'Russia' which transmit nationally, regional 'TV Petersburg' (something of a disappointment because it has very little city news) and the commercial satellite 'Channel Six' which broadcasts haphazardly in the ...


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