At the end of the 1980s and the beginning of the 1990s was a very difficult time for the Soviet people. When the Soviet Union collapsed there were many crowds of people who stood to buy something, they spent much time in crowds, according to Sergey. He further wrote: “And everything was very expensive. People fought for goods. People were rude and impolite with each other.” Yekaterina B. also added that the shop assistants behind the counter were also “impolite and impudent, as they were proud of their position, a lot of people depended on them; they could decide whether the person would get a good or not…some food products were diluted with water (e.g. milk, sour cream) and sometimes scales didn’t work properly (on purpose) so that people paid more money for less amount of a good.”
An efficient and helpful service mentality did not exist during the Soviet period as witnessed by Aigul’s parents. She wrote: “Near the shop, Soviet people saw only horrible long queues. People had money but they hadn’t opportunity to choose different things. And seller at the shop was rude and service was poor.” In order to avoid the lines of hundreds of people waiting for the store to open, Baurzhan wrote: “…to buy technics or clothes, you needed something called “blat” or “po blatu” – kind of corruption when you use your acquaintances in order to get something easier in order to skip the line.”
Elena admitted corruption existed and there were those people with good work experience and many years of working got everything first of all. “My Mom’s uncle was a director at the factory and could get many things from abroad through his friends. I especially remember the story about red shoes on the high heels. Also, many products were available with a coupon.” In other words, the principle of “First come, first served” applied only to those Soviet citizens who were patient enough to stand in long lines. Yerboiat told about this principle which was widespread throughout the Soviet Union, not just in Kazakhstan. Yerboiat reported that if one wanted to go to a restaurant or café or hotel, you must make a reservation before you go there.
Azamat wrote an interesting story about his father who did not like to wait in lines and he was able to move quickly in the line, especially when there was a deficit in sweets. Some guy had told Azamat’s father to take his place in line, he recalls that it was a hard period without sugar and “I won’t wish it for my enemy.” A story which seemed much more grim was written by Backytgul when she wrote: “Clothes and dresses was ‘equal.’ All nation was in the same coat. Also, there were some people who were selling clothes from ‘America’ for example jeans. The name of these people were ‘chelnochniki.’ But this business was very dangerous because if the police would know, they could put you in jail.” Aibek also claimed “people who sold jeans were considered as a high treasoners and jailed.”
Perhaps there was good reason to put jeans sellers in jail because of their dishonest practice as Dalida wrote: “Jeans was prohibited product and you could buy them only by black market. Cost of jeans was near 100 roubles. When you wanted to buy them and go to sellers you could be deceived and buy only one part of jeans. Therefore, you have seen that they are ok, sellers showed you good jeans, but in your package there was only one part of jeans and sellers selled second part to another man.” Aigul wrote that her mother had an interesting story of how she bought her jeans. “It was early morning, through somebody. It was illegal to have American or abroad clothes. But, people had this things anyway.”
Julia had a very descriptive narrative her father told her, “when he was twelve there were no jeans. All wear only few kind of trousers. He said that sometimes they really look like in incubator. Then my father’s uncle was in Germany and brought him one pair of jeans. After that my father was like a “really cool guy” in his school. We still have this pair of jeans and he really don’t want to get rid of them. He says that this is like a “history.”
Alua responded with a similar incident of a relative going abroad: “When my uncle came after army back to Kaz-n (he was in Hungary), he brought bubble gum and some pairs of jeans. It was 1968, and there were nothing in Kazakhstan at that period. He sold all that to his friends and neighbors, and everybody fought with each other to buy all this.” Irina claimed it was possible to buy “jeans in such shops called “Berezka” but it was necessary to stay in line.” Ruslan admitted that there was not much change in style of dress or shoes so people would “buy their dresses in such countries as Polska and Chekhoslovakia and only after half year they take it. They have not so much to wear, each person have only one or two jeans.”
Anisa wrote a response about corruption and the black market that prevailed, she wrote: “Everything was standard and mostly it was a shortage of these standard products. Most of the people bought clothes and other stuff on the black market, more expensive than it was.” Baurzhan elaborated on what his father told him about the jeans deficit, “he used to buy “Levis Strauss” jeans for one average monthly salary. My mother told me that it was hard to buy French perfume and it would cost more than monthly salary. There was such a thing like “blat” you could buy anything you wanted, because you have that, namely, you have acquaintances in shops, “universams” magazines, places where all kinds of products are sold. They used to call you ‘blotnoi.’”