Trouble at the Russian Cultural Centre

25 06 2010

The perforated hulk of the Russian Cultural Centre in Kabul.

The ruined hulk of the Russian Cultural Centre is a place I’ve always wanted to go to, located in one of Kabul’s suburbs. Before the civil war Demazang was a relatively affluent area that was hit badly by fighting that targeted the predominantly Hazara population.

Local kids come to hang out at the Russian Cultural Centre, walking in through open gates to play cricket and football in the grounds.

The solid cast-concrete walls took repeated RPG and shell fire but the bulk of the 1980s structure remains housing some of Kabul’s drug addicts.

Kids posing on the roof of the Russian Cultural Centre with the radio masts of TV hill in the distance

A few years ago a fence was erected and hundreds of addicts evicted although many have returned, hiding in the basement to go about their business unhindered. Outside kids played cricket and football except for those who excitedly showed us around the punctured wreck. Due to the building’s history and the usual slow bureacracy of Kabul it more likely that it will be demolished than renovated but in the meantime serves as a landmark in a capital city with relatively few buildings of note.

Boys gathering around the grand entrance leading to the main auditorium. It is easy to imagine hundreds of Russian soldiers and communist sympathizers milling around during an evening of music or theatre.

The massive haul of opium that is cultivated, mainly in Helmand is having a growing effect on the country’s population. Although huge profits are made by abusing border controls and routes north-west to the Balkans or through West Africa linking in with re-routed Columbian cocaine adjusting to improved US drug controls. A fall in Afghanistan’s heroin production is anticipated due to a blight on the poppy fields on Helmand. A month ago most people I discussed this with here in Kabul think this is a NATO induced disease, and idea that the Taliban and angry farmers are keen to propagate.

A shell-hole window provides a view not originally anticipated by the 1980's designer.

In 2009 U.S. Department of State issued a report estimating that there are two million drug users in the country, 50-60,000 of these drug addicts are in Kabul which is surprisingly few for a city with over 10% of the population. This is because increased drug use in Afghanistan is a result of increased hardship which hits rural areas particularly hard due to inaccessibility to already limited government support. Increasingly more Afghans are abusing heroin and opium as cheap pain killers for physical and mental pain endured as a result of 30 years of war as well as ongoing economic strife. 

Heroin addict in the main auditorium of the Russian Cultural Centre, Kabul

Afghaniman is the un-named heroin addict pictured above. He followed me around occasionally coming to talk and eventually asking for money. When I refused he pulled a knife and threatened to cut himself. When I walked on he made several cuts to the inside of his forearm. I noticed a few other scars from previous occasions, perhaps in similar circumstances. He left an indelible mark on my memory (and his arm) refusing to move from in front of the car until we gave him money. He asked for 100 Afs ($2) enough for one hit.

Duncan DJ

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