Life in a Soviet time. Part 2
soviet times photo
Would you like to live in the Soviet Union ? Part II
The beginning of the article is here: Life in a Soviet time. Part I.
Can I say that most of people had a hard life? Probably not. The life was not economically difficult especially if you had a place to live. At the same time we missed a lot of usual things necessary for living. Some clothes, consumer goods and home appliances were hard to buy. One had to have “connections” to get anything. Queues were a routine. For example people came to know that a furniture shop will sell tomorrow some bedroom sets made in Lithuania. No one knew how many of these sets would be sold. But people made a queue starting from the evening, stood there all night long, checked every hour the list of the people in a queue and if someone did not respond crossed him out of the queue list.
In general you could find goods in shops, but they could be of poor quality and you had no much choice. The population in general had money but could not buy anything because of absence of choice and lack of quality goods.
The government tried to distribute produced goods all over the USSR, so it was normal to buy cosmetics from the Baltic republics, or textile from Belarus. My mother was born in Belarus so every summer we went there to visit grandma and to buy me some clothes to go to school. Not because there was no anything in Ukraine, but because it was made better and had better materials. Gasoline was cheaper than the bottled water and the Soviet Union was proud of this.
Books were a huge problem. Interesting books could be purchased only if you had a friend or a relative in a bookstore. Otherwise you had to enroll to a wait-list for the next edition. Actually a lot of people did not even care for the books themselves, but it was prestigious to have a library. Shops with book exchange were a common thing. For example you could bring a volume of Agatha Christie and ask in exchange a book of Fenimore Cooper.
All publishing was under strict control of the KGB. Everything printed was to be checked. If it was “Uncle Toms Cabin” about slaves in the United States – it is OK, but Sakharov had no chance. My first trip abroad was in 1988. I was in Poland. I brought from there a full suitcase of books printed in Russia. No-one cared about them in Poland but for us it was a real treasure.
It was very hard to make a copy of anything. In the 80 th we already had big copying machines used to copy architectural and engineering projects in A3 format. I was attending music school and my father paid bribes asking to make a copy of musical scores. If the copying was not authorized, you could not do it.
Comparing that life and life in our days I can say that there was more order in the country. The communist party in the USSR was a powerful instrument of keeping order. There was a 24 hours person on duty in a regional party committee whom you could call and tell about any disorder. For example, passengers of a local bus line were told that the bus is broken and can’t go on schedule. Just one phone call to a party committee and just one threat to the director of the coach station and all was fixed.
All leading positions in the country were mostly for party members only. There were only rare exceptions from that rule. It was difficult to enter the Communist party and party members were not the majority of the country still the influence of the party was huge. To be excluded from the party was the end of any career for any person.
So it was. The most interesting that we truly believed in Brezhnev, in the Communist party as a leading force, in peaceful policy of our socialist country. May be it is difficult to believe but people in general liked their life and we never felt ourselves under “pressure of totalitarian regime”. We just could not imagine that life can be different from what we had.
The end of Brezhnev epoch was a tremendous event for the whole country. Did you see how North Korean citizens cry at a funeral of their leader? Well, we did not have it to THAT extend, but still it was a catastrophe. My classmates-girls also cried, boys thought- how shall we live now without Brezhnev? We believed that he is able to protect our country from “malicious Americans” which want to start a nuclear World War. In every school, factory, university they arranged TV sets in big halls to watch the on-line the funeral of Leonid Brezhnev.
Is there anything to miss in the soviet times? Yes. For me it is definitely a system of health protection which was absolutely free. Of course you could give some tips to nurses or doctors but just tips, not more. A free medicine was guaranteed by the Constitution and that was a great benefit.
Would I like to live in Soviet times? Probably not. “A virus” of freedom is already in every person. My kids grew up in another country and just like me in 1980they can not imagine now that life can be different. But unlike me they have an option to see the other world and to compare themselves where the life is better.