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Life in a Soviet time. Part 2

Updated on November 20, 2012

soviet times photo

Moscow was a place of Olympic games 1980
Moscow was a place of Olympic games 1980 | Source
a book "About a tasty and healthy food" has many photos like this.
a book "About a tasty and healthy food" has many photos like this. | Source
Cars were produced not only for the USSR but for other countries as well
Cars were produced not only for the USSR but for other countries as well | Source
Ads? no, propaganda.
Ads? no, propaganda. | Source

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.

Continued here: Perestroika in 1985. Perestroika in 1986-87. Perestroika in 1988. Perestroika in 1989.

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    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
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      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Thank you very much for a comment and correction! I will correct it in the hub. Probably all those who left comments before were not attentive readers and did not tell me about mistake :)

    • Deerwhisperer profile image

      Brenda Krupnow 5 years ago from Bradenton, Florida

      I just cannot imagine standing in line for a book. Very inciteful hub. However, may I make just one tiny clarification? The book you are referring to is "Uncle Tom's Cabin," not "Uncle Tom's Hut." Keep up the good work. I voted up, useful, and interesting.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
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      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Wow, your comment is worth a full scale hub!!!! why not to use it and write a good hub something like "Any propaganda is aimed to influence your mind" or "The massive brainwashing in a modern world"? I mean it. Your ideas are so deep and well thought! Thank you for comment!

    • profile image

      Charles Hilton 5 years ago

      I really enjoyed this informative and well-written hub. It reminds me of the dysfunctional paradigms on which both totalitarian regimes and capitalist societies operate. One claims to protect the poor from the rich, while the other protects the rich from the poor while pretending otherwise.

      And both rely heavily on propaganda.

      In totalitarian regimes, propaganda is a function of the state, while in Capitalist nations, propaganda is accomplished mainly through the ubiquitous marketing industry. Nevertheless, every form of propaganda shapes our values and our self-perception.

      Truth be told, the United States is one of the most thoroughly propagandized nations in the world and only recently are many Americans waking up to it---thanks in large part to the internet.

      While some experts in politics and academia acknowledge that the Communist threat was intentionally exaggerated to justify our insane expenditures on armaments and war, such revelations come as no surprise to those who pay attention and value truth above all else.

      And now we're making the same mistakes the Soviets made and are bankrupting ourselves with bloated military spending and multiple overseas conflicts, and a hobbled economy to pay for it all. Such scenarios never end well.

      Too many people fail to realize that abuses such as the conventional Western paradigm of 'expand-exploit-dominate-control' is what gives rise to reactionary ideas and foments revolutions, such as the one that led to the creation of the Soviet Union, Cuba, Red China, et al.

      I hope for a better day for all, but, it will never come unless we get over our gluttonous addiction to material excess. Only when we stop buying unneccessary things will we take the power out of the hands of the wealthy who exploit us. That requires a new way of looking at life and our place in it. But, I'm not sure the Western mindset is up to it.

      Voted way up!

      By the way, Saint Basil's Cathedral is one of my favorite works of architecture and I would love to visit it!

      ~~~~~~~~

      "It is part of the general pattern of misguided policy that our country is now geared to an arms economy which was bred in an artificially induced psychosis of war hysteria and nurtured upon an incessant propaganda of fear." ~ Douglas MacArthur

      "If those in charge of our society - politicians, corporate executives, and owners of press and television - can dominate our ideas, they will be secure in their power. They will not need soldiers patrolling the streets. We will control ourselves." ~ Howard Zinn

      "Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media." ~ Noam Chomsky

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
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      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Government of Ukraine should hire you to defend their interests . lol. Actually your comment are very apt to the point and correct! Thank you!

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 5 years ago from Irvine

      Ever since Ukraine showed an interest in joining NATO, Russia has been giving the country a bad reputation. I also read that the Russians have cut off or re-routed the gas supply, which is really mean spirited. I haven't visited the country, but I've noticed that so many of the models who originate from Ukraine are incredibly beautiful. That alone is a big incentive to take a tour. Some of the people in Moscow seemed to hold a real prejudice against Ukrainians. If they couldn't speak without an accent, it was like they were second-class individuals, which seemed unfair. I hope Ukraine continues to lean in a Western direction because they certainly do not need Big Brother looking over their shoulders and dictating policy.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
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      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Ha, it is not surprising (about KGB). I learned English in the University and almost all boys from my group were asked if they want to work there. I wanted, but failed medical tests . You cant even imagine how upset I was that time :-). You also cant imagine how happy I am now about it.

      I can also say a lot about "propaganda war". The latest sample of it - a negative campaign against Ukraine before football championship. Was it a propaganda? Yes. Does it have a political ground? Yes. Now read what fan write about Ukraine. They saw the country different from what they were told. I do not say Ukraine is perfect but people here are not monsters...

      The same in Moscow. It is a nice city worth seeing. Or you may come to Ukraine. A small secret : US citizens do not need visa to come to Ukraine unlike Russia and Belarus :-)

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 5 years ago from Irvine

      Pavlo: I was particularly fascinated by the architecture in Moscow -- it was such an odd blend of the Stalin years, the Kruschev years and modern construction. I took a lot a pictures of the churches because they were so ornate and beautiful. I was surprised to learn how much the Soviets allowed Christianity to flourish during the darker years. My wife was approached several times to be recruited into the KGB, but she managed to avoid joining. It seems like the government wanted everyone to be a communist member and work as an agent. My wife said that she listened to "Voice of America" but this may have been after you left the country. The propaganda "war" still seems to be going on with a lot of gusto. When visiting Moscow I thought that a lot a lot of the distrust and misunderstanding could be dampened if Russia were to do more to encourage tourism. They need to build more affordable hotels and do a whole lot more advertising. I know a lot of Americans would find the trip to be fascinating.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
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      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      to rjbatty: An other source of information we had was a newspaper of communists in UK (?) "The Morning Star".

      I met first Americans in 1985 when I was a student of the first year of study in the University. It was so exciting to talk with them! At the same time I was so stupid to see a spy in every person from there :-) Lack of information made us ignorant of many things. Do you know that even radio broadcasts from abroad were jammed by special equipment in the USSR? If somebody said he was listening to BBC Russian service he might have a long and warm conversation in a KGB. I know what I am saying. I had one. It was while I served in the Soviet Army. Not very pleasant :-)

      Thank you for telling your story. It is always interesting to read what the others think about your country. "A fresh look" from an other angle is always different from what you used to see.

    • rjbatty profile image

      rjbatty 5 years ago from Irvine

      Pavlo: I visited Moscow a few years back to meet my fiancee. I had a wonderful time. Although I did not advertise I was an American, I had no problem with the people whatsoever. In public they seemed restrained but inside their own apartments, they were as free and happy as anyone in the US. My wife has told me a great deal about living behind the Iron Curtain, and most of it meshes with what you have to say. So much of what we were told in the US about the "Evil Empire" was highly exaggerated. She went through periods of privations (not being able to find the latest clothing fashions), but generally everyone was used to shortages and didn't think much about it. They sold a magazine, which I think was titled "American Life," and according to my wife, the magazine depicted a rather rosy picture id the US. In fact, when I brought her here to get married, she was startled to find that so much of the country was really run down. People do not seem to "get" that Russia is a competitive country. They want to be as economically advantaged as the better countries in the West. This competitive and self-interested drive does not automatically make them our enemies. Their interests often diverge from those of the West because such interests do not pose the best advantage for their economic interests. There is still an unwarranted amount of distrust on both sides, and this is unfortunate because we have much more in common that most people could possibly realize.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
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      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Dear Suzanna (I believe it is your name) :-) Thank you so much for your comment! You are lucky to be one of those rare foreigners who visited the USSR before it was broken into pieces. Actually you can proudly say that you visited a country which is dead now . Something like: Latin language is dead but I can speak it :-) You are also lucky not to see how this country was broken later on. For us it was very sad and frustrating. I wrote some hubs devoted to that as well. But you gave me a good hint to write about Russian mafia. I live in Ukraine, but it was all alike in the years of perestroika.

      Subway in Moscow was one of the biggest proud of the USSR and still is. I visited London in 1995 and had a chance to their subway. The one in Moscow is definitely better (dear English hubbers, please do not feel offended :-) just come to Moscow or Kiev and see it yourself).

    • suzettenaples profile image

      Suzette Walker 5 years ago from Taos, NM

      What an interesting article. I visited the Soviet Union in 1982 and I found it much as you have described it here. I spent 10 days in Moscow and St. Petersburg. It is one of the most fascinating places I have ever visited. To actually walk in Red Square was fascinating and I was completely awed.

      We did come by a bookstore in Moscow that had a que down the street and around the corner. When we asked what book everyone was waiting to buy (we found some Russians that spoke English) the answer was "The Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire". We nearly died as we had learned all that in grade school and of course those types of books are freely available to us. We were stunned but so happy to see so many people wanted to read about that.

      I can imagine what an adjustment it was from total control of the Soviets to freedom. With freedom comes alot of responsibility and self-discipline. In America we have read the horror stories of the Russian oligarchy and Russian "Mafia." Putin is also not well liked here in America. But, you mentioned you were from Ukraine, so things may be better there.

      And, yes, we were always warned about the Soviets who wanted to nuclear bomb America off the face of the earth. Isn't it sad what we are taught about each other? I found the people of the Soviet Union in 1982 to be warm and friendly people. And they so much wanted to communicate with us.

      And you also had the most beautiful subway system and subway stops of anywhere in the world. If you could have seen the NYC subway system in 1982, it was disgraceful, horrible and unsafe. Thank you so much for such an interesting article. Voted up!

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Dear Audrey (I know it is not your name, but Aethelthryth sounds to me too much weird) :-). If you are looking for an answer on such global questions I am probably not the best guru in the world to be asked :-). But I shall try.

      It is not easy to answer your first question. No mater what is your social position or a territorial belongings, your life is always adventurous. It has a set of events which you can treat as an adventure. Every life has certain challenges. These challenges determine the way you go in your life and your counteractions. Therefore fighting your way through these challenges will turn your life voluntary or not into a set of certain adventures (at least from your own point of view). Ask someone from any country and he will say that his life is full of problems and things he has to overcome. What is different between all of us is not a challenge of our life but the priorities we set answering these challenges. If for instance a person somewhere in starving African country has a priority to stay alive, another one somewhere in Europe determines the priority of his life in a spiritual growth and makes a lot of efforts to reach this goal. Do they both have an adventurous life? Yes, from the point of view of each of them. But one of them wants to reach his spiritual enlightenment while another has to survive.

      The second question you asked even more complicated than the first one. I believe the Pedagogical science still does not know the answer what is better for a children – an everyday challenge which hits them here and there but makes them real fighters in this evil world or a comfort which you definitely want for them but understand that to be in a total comfort often means to be helpless against a mosquito bite. Probably there should be some “golden middle point” between these two opposite approaches.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting. It was interesting to think your questions over!

    • aethelthryth profile image

      aethelthryth 5 years ago from American Southwest

      Somehow I missed this article when you first wrote it. I had a friend (from the Caucasus, as I remember) who was one of the first exchange students to the US after things opened up. She was in Oklahoma at first, then spent some months in California.

      She was impressed by the wealth in California, but said she liked Oklahoma better - I think she felt the people were more genuine - and missed Russia, because it was "more of an adventure" when you never knew what time of day the electricity would be on.

      But she kept coming back to the US and eventually married and lives in the US now, but neither in Oklahoma nor California.

      Do you think life was more "adventurous" then, and if so, would you want adventure or comfort for your children?

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      I am glad you liked it. One can understand the quality of life only if compared with something. Now, I can see that that life was not the best. Thank you for commenting!

    • LaThing profile image

      LaThing 5 years ago from From a World Within, USA

      Very interesting insight to the USSR! I guess people get use to what they have around them. No one in the US would stand in line for general everyday think that you can go to different store and have the choice to pick the one you like! I don't think we can comprehend that way of living!

      Thank you for sharing your experience with us. Enjoyed reading it......

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Thank you Theresa! I love your articles too!

    • phdast7 profile image

      Theresa Ast 5 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Another great hub giving the rest of us an insiide look at life in the Soviet Union. Good essay. Sharing.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
      Author

      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Very good comment and I just agree with it. I visited UK and I had a chance to see how medicine works in your place. well, comparing to other countries.... you are not in the worst position with health care.

    • alian346 profile image

      alian346 5 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

      Absolutely rivetting stuff, again, Pavlo!

      What you're saying is people are people and there's good and bad in every system. Where I live (UK) we have good and bad eg we have a health service which is free for all, but we're bombarded by advertisements at every turn.

      I remember in 1978 being very fortunate to visit friends in Poland and the DDR. Getting in and out was very scary especially in Berlin. What I remember was that the standard of living compared to the UK was much lower, but that the level of happiness in the people I met was much higher - everyone looked out for everyone else!

      All of us in every society receive propaganda from the powers that be and it's up to us to sift it all to try to determine the truth of what's really going on.

      Ian.

      PS If you like history quizzes calpol25 and I have some for you to try over at his and my pages.

    • Pavlo Badovskyy profile image
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      Pavlo Badovskyi 5 years ago from Kyiv, Ukraine

      Gosh, such inspiring words... Thank you! I'm glad my first and awkward attempts to fill up the gap in the history of the USSR were interesting.

    • UnnamedHarald profile image

      David Hunt 5 years ago from Cedar Rapids, Iowa

      This is another fascinating look at life in the Soviet Union. Your phrase "virus of freedom" is absolutely perfect, connotating good as well as bad. Yes, we have the freedom of choice, for example, but we have so, so many choices of various things that trying to decide which choice to make becomes difficult because those peddling the choices are quite eager to pitch lies about their product or service. Thank you for writing these articles, Pavlo. They seem fairly even-handed, recognizing the good with the bad.