No More “Big Maks”
Waiting for a chance to taste “Big Maks”, French fries, and a milk shake, massive crowds formed long lines outside the restaurant.
Pushkin Square is a large open space located in central Moscow. On a normal shopping day, it is one of the busiest public squares in the world. But January 31, 1990 was not a normal shopping day. On that date McDonald’s opened a long-awaited restaurant in Pushkin Square.
Waiting for a chance to taste “Big Maks”, French fries, and a milk shake, massive crowds formed long lines outside the restaurant. After a long wait, customers entered the largest McDonald’s in the world. The restaurant’s 600 employees amazed Russians by providing efficient and friendly service.
Russia’s enthusiastic embrace of American fast food signaled that life in the Soviet Union was changing. Indeed, less than two years later the Soviet Union ceased to exist. On December 25, 1991 President Mikhail Gorbachev resigned his office and various Soviet republics including Ukraine proclaimed their independence.
The opening of McDonald’s became a powerful symbol of Russia’s entry into the global economy. But Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is now rapidly cutting Russia’s ties to the rest of the world. On Tuesday March 8th, McDonald’s announced it would halt all business in its 847 Russian restaurants. The Golden Arches thus joined an unprecedented exodus of over 300 Western businesses. Within just 10 days, iconic brands such as Apple, Microsoft, IBM, Disney, Nike, Starbucks, and Coca-Cola all announced they were ceasing operations in Russia. Shoppers in upscale malls are also discovering that Gucci, Chanel, and Luis Vuitton have closed their stores.
News reports have stressed the symbolism of the sudden exodus of Western companies. These departures may have an important impact on how Russians view Putin’s “special military operation” in Ukraine. The Kremlin has launched a vigorous campaign of disinformation and censorship to prevent Russians from receiving unfiltered news about the war in Ukraine. As the famous Russian novelist and dissident Alexander Solzhenitsyn warned, “Violence can only be concealed by a lie.”
The 847 now closed McDonald’s restaurants served a daily average of over one million customers. The diners and the 62,000 McDonald’s employees must be asking themselves why McDonald’s would close its profitable stores. The sanctions imposed by NATO governments and the exodus of Western companies are significantly altering the daily lives of average Russians. When ordinary Russians discover they can no longer enjoy their “Big Maks,” their tolerance for Putin may diminish thus undermining public support for his ruthless regime.
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