Reporter’s Notebook: Hope for democracy in Russia was ushered in with the Big Mac, now both are gone

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I had been eating mostly Soviet food for six months in 1990 when news broke that McDonald’s was coming to Moscow.I was excited for a number of reasons — the chance to swap kolbasa for a Big Mac, to see if the Soviets could pull it off and to show a Russian friend of mine at Moscow State University, where I was studying, a piece of America.Arkady was from Russia’s Far East, Sakhalin Island. He asked if there was fish on the menu.”Yes,” I told him. “Filet-o-Fish.”FORMER MCDONALD’S CHAIN IN RUSSIA REVEALS NEW LOGO AFTER GOLDEN ARCHES PULL OUT”What kind of fish is it?” he asked.I paused. I had no idea.”That’s OK,” he said. “I will be able to tell by the eyes.”
People line up to visit a newly-opened fast-food restaurant in a former McDonald’s outlet on Bolshaya Bronnaya Street in Moscow Sunday, June 12, 2022. 
(AP Photo/Dmitry Serebryakov)Arkady, like many of the 30,000 who lined up on opening day, was in for a surprise. Color, bright lights, smiling cashiers. Soon Big Macs were being bought and resold, scalped at a nearby subway station. The plastic serving trays and some toilet seats disappeared. Cashiers got married.And McDonald’s grew. Eight hundred restaurants and 60,000 employees in Russia. Boris Yeltsin stopped by and pushed off the top bun of a plain hamburger to eat it Russian style — buterbrody. McDonald’s Russia was consistent, reliable, delicious, a thrill of sugar and salt in a gray world.MCDONALD’S TO SELL RUSSIAN BUSINESSOver the next few years, I saw the Soviet Union fall apart. I saw protestors — ordinary men and women — gain courage and take risks. There were real elections and TV shows that mocked the president and that criticized the conduct of the war in Chechnya. Russia, I thought, was on track for free speech, democracy, a market economy.
Alexander Govor, owner of the new restaurant chain Vkusno and tochka that opened following the exit of McDonald’s from the Russian market, speaks during a news conference in Moscow June 12, 2022. 
(REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina)I was wrong. All that disappeared. And now, the Big Mac is gone too. Corporate headquarters said doing business in Russia “was not consistent with McDonald’s values.” The Russian government had become too disgusting for American fast food.Some restaurants reopened this weekend with a Russian owner and a new Russian name, “Tasty.”PUTIN PLANS TO ‘STARVE MUCH OF THE DEVELOPING WORLD,’ YALE HISTORIAN SAYSUnconfirmed reports say the Big Mac is off the menu as the sauce is proprietary, but I doubt sauce infringement will be enforced during war.CLICK TO GET THE FOX NEWS APPThe war has also shut down the McDonald’s franchises in Ukraine, collateral damage. I stood outside one in Odesa this morning. I looked at the golden arches and the shining windows. It was empty inside. Steve Harrigan currently serves as an Atlanta-based correspondent for Fox News Channel (FNC). He joined the network in 2001 as a Moscow-based correspondent.

Mojtaba Sadira

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