I’ve just read this ‘Leningrad Lexicon’ book by Igor Bogdanov which I took at the library. It has the brightest symbols and specific Leningrad words explained in an alphabetic order. Some of the articles were just hilarious, some were too sour with the ‘it was so much better in the past’ feeling. I learnt a lot, cause behind these words there were all those general Soviet realities most of which are now lost and not ‘real’ anymore. I would love to share with you lost of these things, some of them food-related too, but then I felt I would just end up translating the entire book!
I will share with you this idea though – Why the country which occupied one fourth of the Earth’s dry land stuffed its population into kommunalki, communal flats with 1 toilet per 30 people, or into khruschevki with the ‘norm’ of 9 m2 per capita? Why with all this spare land stretching way beyond the horizon the Soviet people had to line up all along the street in order to get something? Well, these are rhetoric questions.
With all these memories of the author who was born in the 50s, you just feel as if you were there with him. After that, we were naturally discussing with my Mother the USSR and in particular that period when the USSR broke up. She witnessed it, she lived though it, so I believe her. I’m sharing with you a sum up 🙂 But first…
My personal attitude towards the USSR is very complicated. The Soviet heritage in my veins just never leaves me alone, at the same time I can hardly be called an objective witness as I was born too late to experience and remember a lot from the Soviet years and too late to not be concerned. My in-between generation has sampled both the decadent years of the dying Soviet empire and the early crazy days of ‘building democracy’. It’s a relationship of hate and love: when I hear people criticizing or even blackening those times, I feel hurt and want to contradict everything said, whereas I myself criticize it at large and often make laugh of lots of aspects of Soviet life with certain pleasure. There’s as much I’m proud and love about it about it as I hate about it.
Most of the time my feelings towards that period in our country’s history can be described as a pretty strong bond that keeps me tied but remains something unattainable – you cannot turn back the years!
Sometimes it feels in one of my previous lives I must have lived in the USSR in the 70s, I don’t know why but this blemish (somehow the movies from that period are all filmed on a blemish-coloured film although people are sometimes wearing gaudy coloured synthetic clothes) era. It was after the enthusiastic and more or less ‘free’ 60s and before the boggy 80s when people stopped believing in their Soviet religion.
The people – already Russian and Soviet no more – were tired and pissed off, they wanted to get rid of, to say (too tired to shout) good bye to there previous life. So many things – good things or just ‘innocent’ things – were destructed or just thrown away. And I’m talking both about the material and immaterial stuff. People were so tired with the worn-out propaganda and motto and ideas and ideals that they eagerly renounced from them. The entire country was too tired, too hungry and too deep in ‘byt’ (everyday life chores and more ‘traditional’ Soviet problems of getting food and even most necessary things, the lack of which was growing really awfully fast). No energy, no desire, not even an idea came to the people’s heads to preserve the past which everyone preferred to forget as soon as possible.
A huge part of the communist ideology seems artificial and far-fetched to me – and not only to me. When I think about it I always imagine those propaganda posters – not the first avangarde style masterpieces but the later phony posters which showed or claimed something which nobody noticed and nobody cared about. Just because there were so many things that were done merely because they ought to be done according to this ideology, they soon lost all their meaning. And already the generation of my parents could hardly ‘eat’ any more of them. And although they were fed with these ideas and ideals from the very first years of their lives, it got harder and harder each year to get these ideas through so that they reach their minds and hearts. And for most of them it never did, remaining just the shell, the cover.
I guess that the State’s politekonomia, political economy (the State being the only producer, consumer, owner, lender, seller and buyer), with uravnilovka or levelling out (the colloquial ‘synonym’ to the communist dream of everyone being equal; two people occupying the same position in any organization all across the country were getting the same money – there was no such thing as unemployment in USSR simply because all the people were artificially ’employed’ somewhere, which meant being ‘ascribe’ or attached to some organization without doing any real job there) and all the while the thriving black market (no other way to get your jeans, LPs and not so rarely – food) also ‘helped’ undermine the whole idea. . . Would you cherish the communist ideas when they do not give you decent life?!
Hence the inevitable loss and some times really ruthless liquidation of the past which just yesterday was meaningful and now lost all its sense. And probably only now, more than 20 years later, do we start reevaluating the past, feeling remorseful for what’s now lost. At the same time those some 20 odd years were enough to raise a generation which was born immediately after the breaking up of USSR or some years later – a generation raised in the atmosphere of change but even more so of heading anywhere it would take us to get as far from the well-thumbed Soviet ideology as possible. This new generation knows really little about the USSR, either considering it a very boring period not worth of remembering or making some sort of a pastiche of its ideas and symbols.
With all that a significant number of people, most of them the children of the Stalin era, were ‘discarded’, denied and disposed of as they felt. True and loyal children of the post-revolution Russia, they felt that their whole life was being thrown away together with the ideas and the ideals they lived all these years. And what’s more important – the believed in all this. They fought for this, they defended their country, they won the great war… That was a shock not all of them could live through. And while the rest of the population – a younger part which was born years after the war and did not know much of the hard life of their parents – got head over heals with the ideas of the free market, open borders and everything plastic, synthetic, multi-colored, disposable and made in China (this is how I remember the early 90s from my child’s point of view), their parents got the stress of their lives. Ironically, these resilient and super-resistant generation that has gone through the hardest times of the 20th century, were suddenly abandoned together with their bravery, their feats and achievements. A very sad and truly dramatic moment for them.
Even with my child’s eyes I could realize that my Granddad was deeply wounded with what was going on, with the destruction of the system, when the gigantic country was falling apart in front of his eyes. The country he helped to get forward, working for it all his life. And all those people around him and on TV (the TV which always told the truth and nothing but the truth!) they were constantly denying, discarding, throwing away and devaluating all his beliefs. What else could he possibly feel back then rather than unjustifiably rejected?
Adding this to my USSR/Russia collection of posts.
And very soon – food! And a trip to Kirov – kilograms of rye malt, I’m coming!!!