The most notable cultural emblem of 1990s Russia rises from an island in the middle of the Moscow River. Peter the Great stands 196 feet tall. His feet, spread wide, are planted on a base of buildings that look as though they might have been stamped from lumps of dough. Even more incongruously, they fill the hull of an enormous sailing ship whose prow juts out across the water. In one hand, Peter holds a tiller; in the other, he holds aloft a golden scroll. The ship stands on a thick column, bulky as a baobab, from which the bows of other ships protrude. Their bowsprits support metal flags, crossed with diagonal bands of gold, that pivot in the breeze.

The statue has drawn a lot of attention. Completed last year at a cost of $20 million, it was commissioned by Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov and built by his court sculp- tor, a maneuverable Georgian by the name of Zurab Tsereteli. Many people in Moscow hate the thing. For a while...


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