‘He made mistakes and worked to fix them’ Yury Luzhkov, Moscow’s mayor in the 90s and aughts, has died. Here’s how public figures from Putin to Khodorkovsky remember him.
On December 10, Yury Luzhkov died in Munich. Luzhkov was the second mayor of Moscow following the collapse of the Soviet Union and by far the longest-serving mayor the capital has seen since the Russian Federation was born. In the 1990s, Luzhkov was one of the most popular politicians in Russia. In the 2000s, he funded projects aimed at preserving Russian influence in Crimea well before the peninsula was annexed. In 2010, then-President Dmitry Medvedev sent the Moscow mayor into retirement, writing in his order that Luzhkov had “lost the trust” required of his office. In a subsequent memoir, Luzhkov himself claimed that he was fired because of increasing calls for regional executives like himself to be elected rather than appointed, as they were between 2004 and 2012. Dmitry Medvedev did not issue an official message of sympathy upon the former mayor’s death, but he reportedly made contact with Luzhkov’s family. Vladislav Gorin has collected other responses to and memories of Luzhkov’s life from public figures who knew him personally.
Vladimir Putin, President of the Russian Federation
Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov was a personality of truly extraordinary scale. He was a fiery, daring politician, an energetic and talented organizer, and an open, kindhearted person. He was also a true city leader in the capital who was respected and trusted among Moscow’s residents. In a complex period of time, at the break between two historical epochs, he did much for Moscow’s development, enabling it to become a leader in Russia’s rebirth.
And, of course, we will always remember his sincere, heartfelt support for the residents of Sevastopol and the Black Sea Fleet [based in Crimea]. How, on many an occasion, despite all circumstances and diplomatic protocols, he stated directly that Sevastopol is a Russian city.
We will hold Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov’s memory kindly, commemorating the things he began and the things he did to serve Moscow and Russia.
Sergey Sobyanin, current mayor of Moscow
Yury Mikhailovich Luzhkov has passed on from this life. I am sincerely sorry that this energetic, joyous individual is no more. He led Moscow in the difficult post-Soviet period and did much for the city and its residents. My deepest sympathies to his relatives and loved ones.
Vsevolod Chaplin, archpriest in the Russian Orthodox Church and well-known ultra-conservative cleric based in Moscow
It was impossible not to respect this individual, especially after his retirement. Refusing to break, maintaining your optimism and energy — that is very valuable. In that time, I liked Luzhkov better than I did when he was a “strong executive.” Ultimately, a person’s best qualities are revealed in times of trial. And here they were revealed: No petty vengeance, complete common sense, faithfulness toward his convictions, and an ability to tell the truth. All would do well to be that way.
I remember how we argued about electronic surveillance, about its dangers for human beings. At first, Luzhkov had a typical, knee-jerk reaction: “What nonsense!” But when I asked him to imagine that his every move is being captured by “big brother” and then used against him, he admitted that there is a problem.
And one thing believers will certainly remember him by is the rebirth of the Cathedral of Christ the Savior. After all, that was another thing he didn’t believe in, a topic he avoided, but then everything worked out.
Demyan Kudryavtsev, board member for the newspaper Vedomosti
I have a cute story about Luzhkov (and several that aren’t cute, but that’s for another day). Many years ago, we were sitting in a café outside town, and Luzhkov was deciding something or other in the corner. As he was leaving, he stopped, said hello to the adults around our table and reached out his hand to our son. “Grandpa Yura,” he said, introducing himself [using the nickname for Yury]. And then he took a little toy out of his pocket. A car or a stuffed baby bird, I don’t remember. But he didn’t take it from a bodyguard; he didn’t ask anyone to bring it in; he had it with him.
Mikhail Khodorkovsky, entrepreneur and founder of the nonprofit organization Open Russia
Yury Luzhkov has died, and an entire epoch in the history of Moscow and Russia along with him.
I have known him since 1987, from the time he was “the most progressive vice chair in the Moscow City Executive Committee,” helping people with total selflessness. He broke by 1995… But now, I want to remember him as he was [before then] — courageous and honest…
Eva Merkacheva, member of Russia’s Presidential Human Rights Council, journalist for Moskovsky Komsomolets
We spoke a bit fairly recently, at a journalist’s jubilee birthday party. Of course, he wasn’t the same as he was before. But how he took care of his wife! He wouldn’t eat himself until her plate was filled as well. He was always asking how she was. Though I remember one phrase [he used in a magazine interview]: “Beautiful women — they’re no good for anything.” Regardless of anyone’s opinion of him, it’s a simple fact that Luzhkov was a momentous, almost an epochal figure.
Konstantin Yankauskas, municipal deputy for the Zyuzino District in Moscow and former opposition candidate for the Moscow City Duma
Under Luzhkov, Muscovites, especially retired Muscovites, lied better than those in the rest of Russia in the difficult years of the 1990s. His wife Yelena Baturina became a multibillionaire thanks to her husband’s patronage.
Luzhkov spread out [Moscow’s] pyatietazhki [five-story apartment buildings] and truly improved the standard of living for hundreds of émigrés. He also destroyed historical architecture in the city center, and hundreds of historical landmarks disappeared for good.
Luzhkov was a democratically elected mayor who won every election he ever entered. Even in 1999, he received 70 percent of the vote in Moscow despite Dorenko’s weekly attacks on Channel One. Under Luzhkov, a propaganda system was built by increasing the circulation of the city’s state-run newspapers into the millions; the administrative advantage and falsification system for elections was also developed in his time. Under Luzhkov, Moscow’s judges came under the complete control of Moscow City Hall.
It is likely that these contradictions will follow Mr. Luzhkov into history. His politics and his legacy will be discussed in detail and compared with those of all his successors in the post of Moscow mayor. Which, of course, speaks to the scale of his persona, both in a positive way and a negative one.
Pyotr Tolstoy, vice chair of Russia’s State Duma
[He was a] fiery politician and a strong executive who led the largest and most complex city in Russia for almost two decades in a difficult time for Russia. An emotional and occasionally impulsive man, he possessed a political intuition that allowed him to sense the popular mood in Moscow with ease. He built things and destroyed them, made mistakes and worked to fix them, made promises and tried to keep them. He took offense and gave forgiveness — like a true Russian.
May his soul rest in the kingdom of God and his memory be cherished.
Alexander Baunov, political scientist, editor-in-chief for the Carnegie Moscow Center
Yury Luzhkov has died. He is one of the few politicians to lend his name to a city and to a time: Luzhkov’s Moscow, luzhkovskaya Moskva. A new city, unimaginably different from its Soviet version, a city that seemed impossible and, at the same time, like the only possible option. And what else could it become? Well, take a look around! Nobody, either in the 1990s or in the early 2000s, could imagine what a contemporary, bourgeois megapolis was. For that very reason, they accepted it from Luzhkov’s hands as he saw it and made it. And only in the end, in his more exhausted years, did popular thought began turning, as, if you will, it likely should. And that’s how things continued. But the current period is not a dismantling of Luzhkov’s Moscow; rather, in a sense, this is its continuation. In the same sense that, no matter how different, new, and contemporary Russian capitalism and Russian politics become in the future, they will remain a continuation of the 1990s, without which neither today’s Russian capitalism nor its Russian politics would exist.
Abridged and translated bby Hilah Kohen