Soviet customers line up outside the first McDonald’s, which just opened in the Soviet Union on January 31, 1990 at Pushkin Square in Moscow.
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It was 4 am, and in the freezing winter cold hours before the opening hours, Russian trickles were already lined up outside the building.
As the door opened, hundreds of hungry Muskovians rushed to taste this alien creation, the Big Mac, for the first time.
In January 1990, McDonald’s opened its first restaurant in the Soviet Union, making it one of the few Western companies to break the Iron Curtain on the last day the Iron Curtain slowly opened to the world.
At that time, the Russians were hungry. In the literal sense. Stores often ran out of food and lacked most of the products that exist in the western world. A meal at McDonald’s was half a day’s wage, but a local woman told a CBC News reporter at the opening after trying her first burger.
“We are all hungry in this city,” said the woman. “We need more of these places. There is nothing in our stores and restaurants.” McDonald’s had to stay open hours after official closing hours due to high demand, What a wonderful service we provided. 30,000 customers on the first day – A record of the iconic American chain.
Of course, in the 32 years since then, Russia has become a capitalist paradise, full of thousands of well-known Western brands and foreign investment. However, in global criticism after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin invaded neighboring Ukraine, most of these brands either temporarily closed or withdrew the country altogether. , I closed the door.
So the 1990 scene is almost repeated 30 years later, albeit in a very different context. When McDonald’s announced in early March that it would temporarily close more than 800 restaurants in Russia, Russians could become their last golden arch before this week’s full deportation decision. As I got things, I saw a long line outside the facility, burgers and french fries.
One Russian Handcuffed McDonald’s door in Moscow He protested and shouted, “Closing is a hostile act against me and my fellow citizens!” Before being arrested.
For Bhakti Nishanov, an Eurasian expert who grew up in the Soviet Union, the departure is strangely emotional.
“It’s really strange how this hits me. It’s like hope to leave the country,” he told CNBC.
“This is of great symbolic importance. The arrival of McDonald’s, then part of the Soviet Union, in Russia was a tacit signal to the world that Russia was open to business. Companies leaving Russia are a clear signal that the country is no longer a place. You want to participate as a business. “
People are waiting to enter the McDonald’s restaurant in Moscow on March 11, 2022. After the chain announced that it would temporarily close 850 restaurants in Russia, it joined other foreign brands that have ceased operations in Russia following a military operation in neighboring Ukraine. McDonald’s then decided to withdraw Russia forever.
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“I first read about McDonald’s in Russia in a youth magazine called Yunniy Tehnik,” Nishanov said. “I was completely fascinated and fascinated by this article. The idea is that for a relatively modest amount of money, it could be part of McDonald’s concrete expression of American culture.”
“For the Russian generation, McDonald’s (commonly referred to as MakDak) was a fascinating phenomenon,” he added. “It’s clearly related to American culture, but it’s a big part of their daily lives, and in a way, there are fewer foreigners and foreigners than many other brands.”
Economically, this withdrawal is important. McDonald’s employs 62,000 people across Russia. With hundreds of other foreign companies leaving the country, the number of jobs lost is estimated to be in the hundreds of thousands.
The hamburger chain has now sold its business, including about 847 restaurants, “due to the humanitarian crisis caused by the war in Ukraine and the unpredictable deterioration of the business environment, McDonald’s continues to do business in Russia. There is no ownership. ” It is longer and more sustainable and does not match McDonald’s values. “
The logo of a closed McDonald’s restaurant at the Aviapark shopping center in Moscow, Russia, March 18, 2022.
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CEO Chris Kempczinski is proud of all the workers in the company employed in Russia and said the decision is “very difficult”. He also said that employees would continue to be paid until the business was sold, “employees will be hired with potential buyers in the future.”
Shoppers turn to the closed McDonald’s and KFC restaurants on March 27, 2022 in the Mega Mall in Khimki, a suburb of Moscow, Russia.
Constantine The Bragin | Getty Images
McDonald’s withdrawal from Russia will be between $ 1.2 billion and $ 1.4 billion, the company said. Closing a restaurant in Russia for the first few weeks had a huge impact on earnings and cost $ 127 million in the previous quarter. Together with 108 restaurants in Ukraine, the Russian and Ukrainian businesses accounted for about 9% of McDonald’s revenue in 2021.
Tricia Starks, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas and author of the next book, Cigarettes and Soviets, says that the golden arch has come a long way politically.
“American consumption was at the forefront of decisive soft diplomacy in the Cold War … Informing the Soviet Union of American material standards was another area of battle,” Starks said. Prior to McDonald’s, several other brands, Pepsi in 1972 and Marlboro in 1976, played this role in the Soviet Union.
Soviet police officers stand by a line of people waiting to enter the newly opened McDonald’s on Gorky Street in Moscow in 1990.
Peter Turnley | Corbis Historical | Getty Images
But McDonald’s, unlike Pepsi cans and Marlboro cigarette packs, “was a completely immersive experience of the sensual joy of capitalism,” she said.
“From the moment I stepped in, it was a completely different experience from a Soviet restaurant. I was greeted with a smile and a shout,” Can you help me? ” The product was of consistent quality and was always consumable. The hamburger was hot! ”
This was a culture shock for Soviet residents. Many of them expressed confusion when the staff smiled at them. “When I smile, people think I’m laughing at them, people are asking what’s wrong,” a Russian worker on the first day of McDonald’s in 1990 told reporters.
To celebrate the 15th anniversary of the opening of the first restaurant in Russia on January 31, 2005, traditionally dressed Russian musicians are in front of the world’s busiest McDonald’s restaurant on Moscow’s Pushkin Square. I will play at.
ALEXANDER MEMENOV | AFP | Getty Images
“When you’re done, workers came to dispose of the trash, and the Showplace at Pushkin Square was kept clean despite the arrival of thousands of people all day long. A family of four.” “Customer service was not a Soviet concept,” Starks explained. “Service was a by-product of McDonald’s experience.”
Not all Russians feel sick about the golden arch leaving.
“Hello Americans … We would like to thank all your sanctions. They robbed us of Coca-Cola, KFC, McDonald’s, and all of them-. By this summer we are in good health. Strong and free of fat in the ass, “Russian influencer comedian Natasha Krasnova wrote in an Instagram post that was viewed more than 5 million times in March.
Mobile fast food vans are seen in Moscow, Russia, as people buy alternative fast food after McDonald’s closes about 850 restaurants nationwide. March 21, 2022.
Cefakarakan | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Many Russians are encouraging the replacement of Western chains with Russian brands, at which point they can completely make their own burgers and other fast food products. There was also a push by some people to abandon American-style food as a whole in favor of local cuisine, as many countries reject the Western symbol because of patriotism.
McDonald’s operating in Murmansk, Russia, the northernmost city of the world, on March 11, 2022, after the chain announced that it would temporarily close all 850 restaurants in Russia in response to the invasion of Ukraine. The state of the restaurant. In May, it announced a permanent withdrawal from Russia.
Semen Vasileyevy | Anadolu Agency | Getty Images
Many Russians are bitter about having to deal with the consequences of the war they did not choose. These results are thin compared to the horrors given to Ukraine, where thousands of civilians were killed by Russian bombs and many cities were rubble.
But as the war broke out and Russia became more and more isolated by international sanctions, time was with the number of Russians abandoning their country in pursuit of a more open world they knew. It tells us how many people oppose the world and choose loyalty to the nation.
For Nishanov, it’s not just McDonald’s, it’s even bigger.
“McDonald’s leaving Russia will have a different impact on many of my generation,” he said.