MOSCOW -- Animal-rights activists from Rockville, Md., brought their message to Russia yesterday.
Russians -- who wear fur in winter and leather in summer, who have 13 different ways to cook tough, stringy meat, who spread sour cream over everything, morning, noon and night, who delight in trained bears and who rely on horses for much of their farm work -- looked on as a pair of healthy-looking young Americans demonstrated outside the McDonald's restaurant here.
The main message yesterday was focused on one idea: Don't eat meat.
For a lot of Russians, of course, it's an academic argument, anyway. Who can afford to?
To reinforce their point, the activists -- Dan Mathews and Julie Sloan, of the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals -- have taken out an ad in today's Pravda, which essentially tells readers they should consider themselves lucky to live in a country where meat is often scarce.
So far, no one's taken any offense.
"It's their business," said Lena Boshilova. "Besides, meat's so expensive. It will be very convenient to eat fruit and vegetables."
Then she headed in to McDonald's.
"I don't mind that they're here," said Yevgeny Portnenko, visiting Moscow from Rostov-on-Don. "Let people do what they can and what they want. It might help somebody. It won't help me. I love meat. What else would I eat?"
"I fully agree with them," said Ludmila Druguntseva, an engineer who was clutching a large bag filled with hamburgers. "But of course it would be difficult to give up meat. It's a centuries-long habit. I'm not so strong-willed."
Mr. Mathews and Ms. Sloan were dressed as Leo Tolstoy -- well-known here as a vegetarian -- and as a cow. They gave out veggie-burgers they had brought with them from America.
In an earlier interview, they said they were making a point of attacking not the Russians but a U.S. corporation, McDonald's, that deals in meat.
"There's so much wonderful stuff we Americans could be giving them," said Mr. Mathews. "So why shove beef and cigarettes down their throat?"
Having staged similar bouts of street theater in Tokyo, Paris and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, the two Americans said they were naturally interested in coming to Moscow, where a tremendous amount of consciousness was in need of raising.
"They're in such a state of disarray here -- it's a good time to move in with a new idea," Mr. Mathews said.
The PETA organization believes in animal rights across a broad front, even forswearing dairy products, which are a true staple of the Russian diet.
In the United States, they have actively attacked the fur trade. Here in Russia, Mr. Mathews conceded, promoting vegetarianism might be an easier way to start a campaign.