Archive for December, 2008

Maiya’s paper: Soviet Living Conditions

The echo of the past:

Destruction of Soviet memories.

I.  Introduction

Soviet Union. This country doesn’t exist anymore, and even though our generation was born while it still was one nation, we don’t know how it was like to live there. Only through the books, movies and the stories of our relatives we can draw a picture of those days. And, of course, now, when we finally do have freedom of speech, people started to find out all the bad sides of Soviet leaders, all the evil things they did and now try to wipe out everything that was left from those times. But I believe that despite all the bad moments we know in Soviet history, we should not try to erase it and not to destroy the monuments that remind of it.

II.  Our history – Memories of WWII

          Today, our teachers at school tell us all the truth about the policies of Soviet leaders, about all the problems people had in USSR – famine, injustice, repressions, the Great Patriotic war, “perestroika”, etc. Sometimes when you hear all of that, it seems that it was impossible to survive in those kinds of living conditions. Despite all of that, the generation of our grand parents somehow managed not only to survive and overcome all those tribulations with pride, but also to bring through the memories that are full of joy, happiness, love and passion. When we had a personal interview with Lydia Timofeevna, who was only 2 years old when the World War II has started, what was very surprising for many of us was that she is reminiscing that some of the fascists were nice to them and gave her candies, if they met her on the forests while she was looking for her dad there (2008). I mean, after all the fascists did to our nation, to remember moments like that is very rare and significant. And there are plenty of examples like that! However, the younger generations now tries to amend all the history like it never happened – they rewrite books, change the facts, and destroy the monuments of Soviet era that as Forest and Johnson (2002) noticed were “among the most potent sites for the construction of a Soviet national identity”(p. 524).


III.           Possible causes – living conditions of our parents. 

Along with all the difficulties that our parents had in their childhood there were many problems they had to overcome when the Soviet Union collapsed. Changing from one system to another was definitely not an easy task. As Klugman and Braithwaite (1998­) noticed in their research paper, “for many that transition has been marked by a dramatic increase in the scale of poverty and deprivation.” (p. 37).  The period of 90s was a hard time for them – no job, economic problems within the country… And they had to raise and feed us – their children – in those conditions. Men usually worked on two jobs or even more, and women had to work even when their children were very small. It was even estimated that over the last two generations, women in Soviet Russia reached the highest labor force participation role in the world (Ofer and Vinokur, 1985). As one lady told her life story:

“I started working at the factory in 1975 and I’ve given it, or to be more precise, I’ve given the foundry shop, my whole life and my health. I fell in love there and got married. No matter how we tried, we couldn’t get our own place to live. We had a tough time and he left. We were left alone. We’ve been living in a dormitory since 1984. There are ten families on our floor, and each of them has two kids. Imagine the hell we have in the kitchen, in the bathroom, in the laundry room? Lord, how tired I am of living! I earn 250 rubles and the child support payments are paltry. Believe me, I don’t want to live anymore. But I feel sorry for my children-who needs them?! Our life is humiliating, poor and hungry.”


IV. Possible causes – stereotypes from Soviet times.

Also, because of the fact the Soviet Union was such a closed country – all the information coming in and out of it was controlled by the Kremlin – during the Cold War period many stereotypes were born and we still have to live with many of them nowadays. So, many people try to ruin everything that reminds them of Soviet Union because they do not want to live with those stereotypes. For many nations all over the world states like Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and other CIS countries are still associated with USSR. And the youth of these countries doesn’t want to have anything in common with Soviets. But as Merridale (2003) noticed “recreating history was never likely to be a simple matter. It may be easy to agree on the destruction of a unitary past, but after that the contests start again, often in an atmosphere of anxious economic and political transition.” (p.13)


V. Conclusion

In conclusion, probably no one would not want to change our lifestyle to the one that Soviet nation had during the last century, because they had to go through so many difficulties and problems. We should appreciate all of that and treat them better than we do sometimes, we should listen to what they have to say, their personal stories and try to learn from them, because it is remarkable how they managed to stay kind and caring people after all they went through. More than that, we should not try to erase and wipe out all the evil from our history, because it will not help. If there are no monuments that remind us of that, it does not mean that nothing happened. Instead, we should remember of all the mistakes done and try not to repeat them all over again.



Forest, B. & Johnson, J. (2002). Unraveling the Threads of History: Soviet-era monuments and post-Soviet national identity in Moscow. Annals of the Association of American Geographers, 92(3), 524-547.

Klugman, J. & Braithwaite, J. (1998). Poverty in Russia during the transition: An overview. The World Bank Research Observer, 13(1), 37-58.

Merridale, C. (2003). Redesigning history in contemporary Russia. Journal of Contemporary History, 38(1), 13-28.

Ofer, G. & Vinokur, A. (1985). Work and family roles of Soviet women: Historical trends and cross-section analysis. Journal of Labor Economics, 3(1), S328-S354.

Racioppi, L. & O’Sullivan, K. S. (1995). Organizing women before and after the fall: Women’s politics in the Soviet Union and Post- Soviet Russia. Signs, 20(4), 818-850.

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Alexandra’s Grandfather: Soviet Economic Conditions

I. Introduction  Today our economic conditions are more free and people can work and earn various amounts of money, all that we call the capitalistic system. But even today,  people do not think about what our parents, grandparents, ancestry went though, how was an economy different in  the Soviet Union period and how was it difficult to survive in harsh economic conditions. During the Soviet period, many people in Kazakhstan had no jobs or opportunities to earn money for food, but those who survived had their own ideas and ways to educate themselves.

II.   Why did this problem happen – war

Actually, the first point was war, because conditions which war brought were awful. In other words, the whole economic system has been devastated. Economy during Soviet time became very strict, influential and economic conditions which everybody had were equal. The Soviet Union’s ability to achieve appropriate goals declined, along with the attractiveness of its economic model (Stone, 1999).  Moreover, not all people were responsible for work. But on the other hand, it is difficult to believe that, at one time, the Soviet approach to economic development, or at least the sanitized version of it, was often held out as a worthy model for developing countries (Goldman, 1991).  

III.           Extent of problem –children having to work, no clothes

Nevertheless, such an economic situation had a great impact on people. For instance, women were the highest labor force and children as well. Women worked in an economy that espouses equal pay for equal work, but in which the wage gap between men and women was as large as in most other countries (Clayton & Millar, 1991). Real living conditions were terrible especially for families with many children. Because after the war period, the birth rate was on its expansion. This meant that having many children in families, the children had to work. Also, other problems such as no clothes occurred.

IV.            Effects of problem – bad conditions of life, effects the health and psychology of children

How did an economy affect simple people? Of course, bad conditions of life, no money to feed family, health and psychology problems of  children and etc. First, bad conditions of life. According to my grandfather, Melis, his family which consisted of 11 children, had terrible conditions , they lived in apartment of one room. In Soviet times, there were lots of such families, all they experienced situations when there was no money and no food to feed the whole family. Not everyone could get an education, buy school uniforms, and even for work. Sometimes, it was difficult, because according to an official Soviet statistics, women’s jobs required an advanced education (Clayton & Millar, 1991). It strongly was occurred because some people could not even to read, for example, my grandfather’s mother. Moreover, such principles as “to each according to his work”, “equal pay for equal work” affected many (Chapman, 1989).

V.   Solution – experience

Each family had their own ways and ideas on how to survive in such conditions. There were many problems, serious, sometimes vitally important. Opportunity to work and study was very difficult because of  high requirements on work places and opportunity to receive a chance to feed one’s own family. Different people tried different ways, for instance, scientists tried to change regime itself, but in their own interests (Pollock, 2001). My grandfather, Melis Usupov, experienced many harsh ways for money receiving. For instance, when he was a teenager, he had to work for possibility to buy school uniform and books. He lived in Guryev, on the river Ural, where he had chance to sell and caught fish for money or food. Actually, Melis was very young and he did not know how his father or mother handled all their problems. By the way, this period of history brought enormous experience to our ancestors. Now their opinion and thoughts are significant for us, because we know what they went though, what they experienced. In other words, this period of history should be treated as treasure, because we can hear from them.  

VI.            Conclusion

During Soviet Union period Kazakhstan was confronted with many difficulties.  Situations that each of our ancestors experienced were terrible and those people we call “heroes”. They are real “heroes” of that time and moreover of our time. My grandfather is still alive and his stories about Soviet conditions of life helps me and others to treasure current life and take care of close people. Grandparent’s experience proves problem of job opportunities and that everybody had to follow by his own way in order to survive.


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Garmin GPS and “Guitar Hero”

You don’t have to leave the U.S. for long to find out how behind you are with the latest in technology.  I learned about the Garmin GPS yesterday from my 74 year old computer savvy Mom as we drove to my sister’s place, from a southern suburb to north of the Twin Cities about 25 miles away.  My Mom actually reads instruction manuals, she has for years.  Consequently, she has been rewarded with having technological know-how that leaves most of us in the dust.  For example, long has she known how to program t.v. shows to record on VHS tapes while she is busy out doing her many volunteer community jobs. 


What was funny about yesterday’s adventure was my Mom had capably inputted my sister’s address while I drove listening to charming “Ms. Garmin” computerized voice.  My two young nephews were reading quietly in the back seat. At some point, Ms. Garmin gave us some seemingly erroneous information or so we thought.  Ms. Garmin said we had about 8 miles to Exit 113 and we thought we would continue on Hwy. 10.  Reading the road signs meant that we were to exit right but Ms. Garmin maintained to stay to the left of the four lane freeway.  Okay, once we did that, Ms. Garmin started to say she would “recalculate.”  I should say, we were veering off on what was unfamiliar territory.  We’ve been to my sister’s place 100s of times but this eventually brought us precisely in a J-hook fashion and seemingly wrong approach.  We will have to look at a map to see how we recovered from what was an apparent mistake of the satellite and what actually exists on the ground with the change of exits.


Last night I also drove over the 35W bridge which had been quickly reconstructed over the Mississippi River.  This bridge caved in about a year and a half ago and killed about 10 people.  Harrowing experience for many who survived the splash into the river below convincing all of us that we should NEVER, ever take our bridges for granted.  We should also never take our atlases or maps for granted either but now my Mom thinks they are so “yesterday.”  Despite our minor miscalculation by Ms. Garmin, my Mom still believes this GPS instrument is the best thing since sliced bread.


Last year I had learned at another family Christmas party about “Dance Dance Revolution” which has the same qualities as “Guitar Hero.”  You look on the tv screen (see photo below) and you try to keep up with their version of what they consider music. You get points for how closely you can follow the pattern. My three nephews were having fun playing with Guitar Hero while we played dominoes and word Yahtzee upstairs.  Together, after lunch we had all played the fun game of Apples to Apples but it was a stretch for my 9 year old nephew to understand some of the words. 


I’m just trying to understand all the latest in technology and popular culture in the U.S. while away in Kazakhstan for most of the year.  Good to get these not so subtle reminders that the generation gap is ever widening on me as well.


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Family Fun Fotos – Part II


These photos are compliments of my brother Tony who shot some real good poses.  Thanks Bro Toe!  Thanks Tora and Jeff for hosting and thanks Mom and Dad for creating such a wonderful family!

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Family Fun Fotos at Our Christmas Party

pc260109My sister Karen holds the imfamous bottle of water that came with Ken and me from Almaty in December of 1993.  The bottle has been passed around the households from sibling to sibling these past 15 years.  The rule of the game is to make sure that the person being gifted with this bottled water from Kazakhstan doesn’t know they received it.  It has had a long history of laughs with how creative each gifter has become. My favorite is when brother Tim put it in our car amongst all our wrappings of carryout food.  He did it under cloak of darkness.  We thought he and his wife had tossed it since it had been out of circulation for about 2-3 years. Earlier, my sister Katherine used a orange carton to camouflage it in another’s fridge.  One time my sister Tora busted perhaps Katherine from having her toddler son carry it into their car.  My brother Tony gave it as a white elephant gift to my sister Karen at our Christmas party.  Now I’m not sure who has this valuable bottle of water.  Each recipient labels the date when they received it.  Perhaps this glass bottle will have another 15 years of laughs.  I love my sisters and brothers and nieces and nephews and am grateful for a time that we could spend together, be it ever so short.


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Laura’s Grandfather: 15 year Victim of the Gulag

 I. Introduction

          It is a well known fact that USSR was one of the Greatest Powers. Everything appeared to be good, stable and firm. For the majority of people, there was no class division. And it looked like there was nothing to complain about. But, in truth, not everything was so perfect, as it might seem to be. The Soviet system was far from ideal. And those people who did not follow all the rules, or whose actions were misinterpreted were strictly punished. It is hard to imagine what victims of Soviet system had to endure, especially when sent to the Gulags as “enemies of people”, but nothing can be done except to avoid such a horrible mistake again.


II. Soviet penal system

          The Soviet regime of the late 1920s and 1930s aimed on enemies hunting. At first, their target were “former people” – people of non-proletarian origins (Guseva, 2007). But the members of these groups were not really suspected of any oppositional activity. According to Guseva (2007): “neither their thoughts nor their past behavior justified arrests, but only a hypothetical possibility of them committing a crime because they belonged to a certain social group” (p. 325).

          Next, in the early 1930s came the turn to penalize the “kulaks”. Hundreds of thousands of peasant families were labeled “kulaks” and deported away from their home (Getty & Rittersporn, 1993).  And it became a very frequent occurrence when people informed against peasants who seemed to be kulaks, or had some connections with them. Often they were portrayed as young idealists, a new generation of Soviet people promoting communist ideas. And as Guseva (2007) wrote it led to: “…a generation of “new Soviet people”—loyal to the Party rather than their family, vigilant and merciless, ready to spy and report on their parents and neighbors” (p. 327). Remembering what my father said about my granddad, Utelbay Jumabayev: “…as a secretary of Komsomol organization, studying at MGU, he had presented a paper – “About preparing scientific specialists in Kazakhstan”. Furmanov’s  wife, who was at that meeting, reported on him as if he were a nationalist. And he was sent to the Siberian gulag for 15 years”. This is a vivid example of how people denounced others, pretending to be the heroes, who saved the government.


III. Gulags

          Thus everyone who had, or seemed to have, any slightest threat to the government were punished. As McDermott (2007) wrote: “the ‘Great Leader’ said: ‘Anyone who attacks the unity of the socialist state, either in deed or in thought, yes, even in thought, will be mercilessly crushed’” (p.614). Usually they were sent to exiles, Gulags. The Gulag was the government agency that administered the penal labor camps of the Soviet Union (Uzzell, 2003). The Gulag system had become primarily known as a place for political prisoners and as a mechanism for repressing political opposition to the Soviet state. There were at least 476 separate camps, some of them comprising hundreds, even thousands of camp units (Gheith, 2007). Gheith (2007) also wrote that: “the Gulag system spread throughout the former Soviet Union: through the Urals, Siberia, Central Asia, with one of the largest camp systems being in Kazakhstan” (p.162). The number of convicted people reached 2 million in 1941 (Uzzell, 2003). The death rate in the camps was “too high” (Uzzell, 2003). According to Getty and Rittersporn (1993), it was found that between 1934 and 1953, 1, 053,829 people died in the camps of the Gulag.


IV. Sufferings form the Gulag

          Soviet ‘ethnic cleansing’ led to a lot of suffering. But people were not supposed to talk over this problem; otherwise, there was a risk to be next who would be sent to the Gulag. Many people’s lives were destroyed: children, whose parents were arrested and shot, spent their lives trying to find out what happened to their family; people who were put in the Gulag spent their lives trying to build a life, they often had difficulty finding work and dealing with the psychological and physical disruption of these years.  But what about those sufferings that happened inside the Gulags?

          The Gulag tried to organize prisoners to live in such a way as to get maximum work out of them. The system of food norms was designed for economic purposes. As Uzzell (2003) wrote for the frailest prisoners it was given half as much food as those deemed capable of heavy labor. Being at Siberian exile, my granddad remembered that every day people next to him died. In winter time when they were moving from one camp unit (in Siberia) to another, if you had just stopped for several seconds you would have had been immediately frozen to death, and no one would search for you because  they already knew that you were dead. After spending 15 years at Gulag he remained the same intelligent, calm and kind man, but the shadow of those tormented years never left  his eyes.


V. How my granddad survived

          As I already told my grandfather was sent as nationalist to Siberian Gulag. You might know that in Siberia there was one of the most horrible Gulags in the Soviet Union. He spent there 15 agonizing years. My granddad was from intelligence, but he used to stay not only with political prisoners but also with killers and thieves. And along with hunger and cold people were dying from murders. But as my father told me everyone respected my granddad, because of his justice, erudition, wide reading and strength of will. 15 tormented years he struggled with death, repeating to himself again and again: “I will survive”. He was not of those men who ever gave up. So he survived. And after several years my grandfather defended a dissertation.


VI. Conclusion

          The ideology of the Soviet Union made a society where people had to report on each other.  And the communist system was merciless to those on whom were that reports. The social effects are searing, long-lasting, and often just that little bit under the surface that makes it difficult to bring into the realm of language and tangibility. Unfortunately the consequences of that terror are irreversible. But knowing the past we can change the future. So by having minor representation of how had society admitted such horrible situation and what endured victims of the Soviet regime, we are not to allow such huge human’s mistake happen again.





Getty, J. & Rittersporn, G. (1993). Victims of the Soviet penal system in the pre-war  years:  A first approach on the basis of… American Historical Review, 98(4),



Gheith, J. (2007). “I never talked”: enforced silence, non-narrative memory, and the           Gulag.        Mortality, 12(2), 159-175.


Guseva, A. (2007). Friends and foes: informal networks in the Soviet Union. East        

          European Quarterly, 41(3), 323-347.



McDermott, K. (2007). Stalinism ‘from below’?: Social preconditions of and popular           responses to the Great Terror. Totalitarian Movements & Political Religions,              8(3/4),        609-622.


Utelbay Jumabayev (from family remembrance)


Uzzell, L. (2003). Remembering the gulag. First things: A Monthly Journal of Religion &           Public        Life, 137, 38-45.


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Akbota’s Grandmother: Reconstruction of Soviet Economy after WWII

I. Introduction

The victory in bloody war opened a new page in the history of the Soviet Union. Potential possibility of changes in a political mode, economy, and culture opened. As a result of war the parity of forces on international scene sharply changed. Despite heavy losses, the country’s victory in the World War II, its huge economic potential, presence of powerful army, formation under the direction of the USSR of the block of the people’s democratic states have transformed the Soviet Union into a new super state. However, there were a set of problems in the country after the war, with which the state already ought to struggle. Reconstruction of the economy became one of the central problems during the post-war time, the government decided to use the work of Gulag’s prisoners and influence people by ideology to increase the USSR’s economy. According to Yevsei Liberman (1967)

“The rapid rate of Soviet economic development, begun in 1921-1922, was based upon Lenin’s theory that socialism and communism could be built in our country if public ownership of the means of production was established and the economy was centrally planned.” (p.53)


II. The problem section

In the conditions of transition from war to the peace there were questions on ways of the further development of a national economy. It was a question of fast reconstruction of the industry and agrarian sector. In the first post-war years the country position was similar to the martial law. So, there was a labor’s acute shortage that led to turnover of staff, shortage of products, high percentage of different diseases, there was a process of conversion of the industrial enterprises which have been reconstructed during the war on the territory of USSR. As Pozharov (2005, p. 166) said:

One of the crucial factors is the military (war) economy. Experience shows that victory in a big war implies, first and foremost, a military-economic victory, which creates the material basis for superiority in military might. This is possible not only with superiority or equality of the economic opportunities of the belligerent states, but also when a country has significantly lesser economic might, but is able to gear it more fully to its military goals and build a more efficient military economy than that of the enemy.”


 Also, the agrarian sector had suffered because products were delivered for the front and the city; heavy taxes were withdrawn from peasants in the war. But how the government did solve these problems?

1) Using the work of Gulag’s prisoners.

From the history we know that many innocent people had been deprived of their freedom. So, among the real criminals there were soldiers and marshals, the simple peasants, many party and statesmen, scientists, creative intelligence in the Gulag. The state had started to use work of prisoners as one more economic resource, maintained them as a free or cheap labor. Prisoners of Gulag worked on construction of many industrial enterprises, in agriculture, in extracting branches and on timber cuttings. According to Shirokov (2007, p. 158):

“A new impetus for the spread of prison-camp complexes came when the Soviet Union embarked on a program of accelerated industrialization. Indeed, their prime objective was to serve economic objectives. It was then that GULAG came into being. It was created as a specialized agency to enforce penalties but was rather used as an instrument of forced labor backing up major projects of the national economy.


2) Influencing people by ideology.

But nevertheless, I think that the more effective way was influencing simple people, citizens by the force of its ideology. Joachim Zweynert (2006) wrote that Soviet ideology rested on three pillars: on the belief that Marxism – Leninism offered a ‘true’ interpretation of social reality, on democratic centralism (the dictatorship of the CPSU), and on a centrally planned economy. People put enormous efforts for improving the position of the country thanks for great wish to prove to the whole world that the USSR was the super state with high level of economy. People worked with one enthusiasm about the fast light future, about democracy, and nobody thought that actually they lived in a totalitarian mode. As we know, the government influenced people through the literature, cinema, music, painting, newspapers, it means that the ideology was in all spheres of life and the Bolshevik party controlled the mass consciousness with it.

My grandmother Zhumagul(2008) told me that she was grown up in children’s home because her parents were died in the Great Patriotic War. And the post-war period was very difficult not only for her, but also for all Soviet Union. As Pozharov(2005) noticed, just as during the war, Russia faces a titanic challenge: to be or not to be. The national economy was in a bad plight, there was a strong shortage of the foodstuffs, money, labors. But despite these problems, people trusted in an idea of creation of the developed country and used the best efforts for achieving of this purpose. During summer vacations, even schoolgirls worked on fields and collected vegetables, fruits, it means that they also brought the contribution to restoration of agriculture of USSR.

III. Conclusion

To conclude the two most appropriate decisions that helped the Soviet Union to solve their economic problems in agriculture and industry sphere is using the work of Gulag’s prisoners and the other by influencing people’s ideology. So, the first problem solving was more severe, because lot of innocent people was prisonned and they had to work hardly to survive. Nevertheless, the best way of solving the problem was influencing people by ideology, because it was more humane and profitable. But after the Stalin’s death in 1953 the USSR had different problem solving in economics.


Works cited

Bernhard, M.(2007). Gulag: life and death inside the Soviet concentration camps. Journal of Cold War studies, 9(3), 191-195.

Liberman, Y.(1967). The Soviet economic reform. Foreign Affairs, 46(1), 53-63.

Pozharov, A.(2005). Military-Economic Victory and Its Lessons (On the 60th Anniversary of the Soviet Union‘s Victory in the Great Patriotic War). Military Thought, 14(2), 158-168.

Shirokov, A.(2007). A history of Gulag. 1918-1958. Socioeconomic and political-legal aspects. Social Sciences, 38(4), 158-162.

Zhumagul grandmother’s story (2008).

Zweynert, J.(2006). Economic ideas and institutional change: evidence from soviet economic debates 1987–1991. Europe-Asia Studies, 58(2), 169-192.

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