Archive for March 11, 2008

Closed Country and Soviet “Equality”

          The Soviet Union had a different concept about what “equality” was and Kamila wrote from her mother’s perspective: USSR was a closed country, so there were almost no imports or exports.  People got goods by special tickets, so my parents and many others stood up at 4 or 5 o’clock in the morning not to be without products.  I don’t like this time, I think it wasn’t fair, because some people work hard, and some didn’t do anything, but the result was equal.”  Dinara didn’t mince words where she stated what her parents said: “In Soviet Union there was a statement that all people must be equal in everything.  It is called communism.”  Most surprising to read but I knew it to be true from earlier readings about the Soviet Union and its people is what Dina’s parents said, “…in spite of food and clothes deficit, they loved the country and was very patriotic.  They believed that in other countries people have worse life.”
           Aigerim chimed in that her parents thought theUSSR’s time was wonderful time, where all people were equal.  There wasn’t rich or poor people.  All have equality of rights, equality of strength, not like now.”  Aigerim was quite candid when she further noted:  “My mother bought 4 white loaf of bread for 1 rouble.  I was in shock when I knew about it.  I think USSR’s time is very interesting time, which is full of mysteries.” Ruslan also understood from his parents that in the Soviet Union “Everybody in that time have equal rights.  There are no poor or rich, how it is now.  Also, every Soviet people can travel in every Soviet country and for this they did not want to do a visa.”  So, when people went abroad from Kazakhstan, it meant going to Moscow as Aidina revealed: “Then our parents had to go abroad for example to Russia, Moscow to buy furniture and etc.  They hadn’t everything that we have now.”
           Laura wrote about the limit of imported goods from other countries outside the Soviet Union.  “The amount of imported goods was too little, that people didn’t even see good from other countries.  It was the politics of “Iron Curtain.”  That is why in order to buy something in shop, there were long turns for products.”  Alexandr stated that his grandmother told him an interesting fact “that people were standing in lines about 5-6 kilometers long and foreigners who were in USSR in that time was surprised and took fotos of these lines.”
           Laura believed she understood the answer on how this problem of long lines should have been solved:  “When government intervenes in the economics, it is always inefficient.  To make situation better, the market should develop on its own.  Then the demand and supply, also prices will be natural.  There will be high supply of goods, no deficit would be there.”  Because of the limits imposed on imported good Damir wrote: “we bought only domestic product because international product didn’t bringing in Soviet Union.”
           An example of government policies going awry is what Alexey noted:  “As I heared, in times of Krushev, when he went to America, he spoke with leader and the leader said that they were growing corn because it is very expensive and profitable to grow it. When Krushev came back from America, he immediately arrived in Almaty and everywhere in free spaces, in mountains, instead of other crops, he began to grown corn, a lot of corn.  And it was really, very, very big surplus of corn for people and there were too little other crops.”  Gorbachev was also trying to correct the wrongs of earlier government policies.  Lyudmila wrote:  “They said that it began from ban of alcohol (second part of 1980s).  It caused great deficit of sugar, and then it was like chain reaction.  People began to buy everything.  Demand was much more than supply.  And because of supply was provided by government it couldn’t be increased.  So almost all population of USSR was in long lines in shops.  This situation continued to 1990s years.  Even after collapse of USSR awful situation with deficit of all goods was.”
           Lyudmila’s father is convinced this chain reaction was done intentionally because he “said that there was a plenty of production, plants and factories, the reason of deficit is because government wanted to do so.  My dad thinks that Mr. Gorbachev made this in order to destroy communism.”  Zhanna’s mother would like to go back to the good times of the USSR, she said: “Market was not so important and there wasn’t competitive market (there were no competition of different kind of firms, brands and companies).  Finances also were not so important.  People’s wage was regulated.  There were a lot of engineers and people who worked in factories.  Almost all products were domestic, but a lot was limited.  People bought products using coupons…My mother said that sometimes she wants to come back in that times, because everyone were equal, everything was right.  Everyone has a regulated and fixed wages, everyone weared similar clothes, they also had premium tickets to the rest place (sinycu).”
           These last six sections I have featured each day show from Ken’s economic students’ point of view what their parents told them about communism in a closed country. Everyone had long grown weary of waiting in lines with not many products to buy and looking all alike, thinking all alike.  One student was more emphatic about clothes especially when she wrote “So, the truth was, if you wanted to be original and good looking, the way is to start to sew the clothes by yourself.”  Another student said her father had taken a great risk to buy jeans from America “He somehow bought jeans for $1,500 [sic] and was afraid to wear them.”  The people of the former Soviet Union did NOT want to be closed off from the rest of the world.  I am grateful for what I have learned from these students’ writings.  Please read in reverse order:
I.                   Humor and Irony in the former Soviet Union
II.                Bad Manners, Black Market and Corruption
III.             Barter, Exchange and Recyle
IV.            Privileged Connections in the Former Soviet Union
V.               Hopeless Desperation and Other Strong Feelings
VI.            Closed Country and Soviet “Equality

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