Eurocon 2008 - Moscow, Russia
Russia's first Eurocon, EuRoscon, was a big party and
In May 2008, following in the footsteps of Napoleon, the Eurocon reached Moscow! In fact the event was simultaneously the Eurocon, Roscon (the Moscow convention) and Interpresscon (the St Petersburg convention). There were 950 attendees including five Brits, one Irishman (no prizes for guessing his name), one American, one Swede, one Norwegian and five Italians. Like most European conventions, the average age of the attendees at EuRoscon was younger than for Britain's national convention, a sign that SF is still flourishing there. The Russians certainly know how to party, on the Friday night they did not settle down until 4am! (Editor: Well we were warned.)
The location was Lesnye Dali, a conference centre some 20 miles (30 kilometres) west of Moscow. Imagine a group of 1960s concrete buildings, well spread out in magnificent woodlands, a river beach for bathing, and all surrounded by a well serious security fence. The Russians like trees. It was obvious that the buildings had been erected amongst the huge pines and other trees doing as little damage to them as possible, a distinct contrast to a 1960s development in the UK! The food was adequate but not exciting, except for the Saturday night banquet which lived up to its name, with free bottles of champagne, wine and vodka. For an all in cost of around £250 for the Con, three nights full board, and the bus trips from and back to Moscow it was good value.
The actual con was a bit of a disappointment for non-Russian speakers. Beyond the Opening and Award ceremonies there were very few items in English, the standouts being a meeting with two cosmonauts and a long interview with the increasingly frail Harry Harrison. From their titles, the Russian items did sound interesting, ('Was the Tunguska meteorite in fact a spaceship?') and there were certainly plenty of them in the four programme streams. Boris Strugatsky was present at the Roscon Awards by internet link to award his Bronze Snails. One of the Convention sponsors was a Russian TV company called AXN who specialise in buying and dubbing US programmes, such as Stargate and Dead Like Me. This lead to large TV screens in the public areas showing Americans and aliens speaking Russian.
Roberto Quaglia was there with his next project, an high definition film called Carne di Culo (yes, it is rude in Italian). So far, only the title exists, but Roberto has started filming ad lib interviews with people discussing the (as yet imaginary) film. Up to now, Roberto has shot Imants Belogrivs while in Lithuania, and myself at Lesnye Dali. I look forward to the finshed project!
There was one English only item, 'Contemporary Russian SF - utopia and dystopia', a talk by author and academic Marina Galina. This was interesting, firstly because SF is still a major genre in Russia, (it was encouraged in the USSR, whereas fantasy was discouraged). Secondly, the Russians are writing about utopian societies, while in the West, apart from the Culture novels, the majority of settings seem to be dystopian. Perhaps having lived through the change from communism to capitalism Russians understand that change is possible and can even be for the better (!).
Capitalism has certainly taken root. Moscow has changed enormously since my last visit twenty years ago, gone are the unpainted buildings and the words of Lenin and Marx, now the centre is full of advertising and fancy shops. The Metro is as magnificent as ever, with incredibly frequent trains almost all full of people. There are now some very rich people in Russia. Where in the world can you find a Maserati dealer, a Lamborgini dealer, a Bentley dealer and shops for Prada, Gucci, Ralph Lauren and Balenciaga all in one place? Answer: in one shopping centre just outside Moscow. If you're not a millionaire don't even think about shopping there. Meanwhile, the Russian love affair with alcohol continues, you see some people passed out on the Metro (city underground rail service), and some 50% of the stock in the average 'Produktovy', or 'Gastronom' (grocers), is some form of alcohol.
The Health and Safety mafia are not yet established in Russia, and this is very refreshing after the over the top UK approach. However, when you go out of the 'Emergency Exit' at the back of a crowded auditorium and find yourself on a flat roof with the fire escape stairs firmly locked, you do think the H&S boys may have a point.
Next year the Eurocon will be in Fiuggi, an old town near Rome, from the 26th to the 29th of March 2009. It sounds really good and NO visa requirements. For 2010 the Heathrow Eastercon sadly lost out to a joint Czech - Polish bid from the twin border cities of Cesky Tesin and Cieszyn, to be held from the 26th to the 29th of August 2010 on the twelve hundredth anniversary of the two cities. Also unfortunately, this may well clash with the Worldcon in Australia.
The weather at Lesnye Dali was good and all in all it was an enjoyable Con, and I am not just saying that because my film The Morality Game won the film competition!
Jim Walker is a retired civil engineer who worked on water systems. He is a regular Eurocon participant and occasionally makes short SF films.
For our summary news report of this convention see the EuRoscon piece here.
Meanwhile on YouTube, Rellocat's short EuRoscon video captures the con's party spirit. It briefly features many well known Russian authors and fans plus just a couple from the West. Another short video (26 seconds) features RosCon folk singing.
For details of future major SF conventions check out the diary page which is updated each New Year.