When we talk about the last years of the "stagnation" period and about perestroika, we always remember the problem of defitsit (shortages). The economy of our enormous country was totally planned by the central administration and it was impossible to calculate and provide all the simple every day needs of common people. Priority was given to the development of prestigious and important spheres, like heavy industry, for example.
On the one hand, the USSR was a great power with raw materials, relatively highly developed industry, education, and science (including space research). On the other hand, its people were often badly dressed and shod and tired of queuing up. The situation of defitsit was favourable for black market trade and selling under the table. We often used the verb to get or dostat (достать)instead of to buy when the process of buying required effort, stamina and the help of useful acquaintances (blat).
Even buying everyday food was a rather long process. There were not big supermarkets in our district and it was necessary to buy food in different little shops, queuing up both at the and cashier and shop assistant. Sometimes it was impossible to get simple and necessary things like matches, washing powder etc. My granny always cared about a reserve of these "strategic" goods.
During perestroika the problem of shortages grew and a new aspect of it appeared: a shortage of spirits. Our family didn't consume them much--only during holiday parties--but we sometimes needed them to use as an exchanging currency (to barter) and to get something else very useful (some construction materials for our dacha for example).
Generally, I didn't complain. Fortunately, I had fewer problems to buy shoes and clothes them some of my acquaintances because my parents could buy things abroad. I didn't need to queue for three or four hours to get boots, for example. As a student and then as a teacher, I had the possibility to go shopping in the afternoon or early evening when there were not so many people in the shops. I didn't have a family, and I didn't need to care about my husband's dinners and children's clothes. Finally, I am a Muscovite and Moscow was always better provided then the provinces.
So, being from the last Soviet generation, I didn't feel the whole complex of problems. Really, we quickly forget physically uncomfortable thing like badly organized shops. But I think the problem which troubled me most--some features of the people's psychology--hasn't been annihilated yet: rudeness in everyday life, for example. Average Soviet people, tired of daily queuing marathons, were often rude, trying to pay back each other for the problem for which maybe the whole system was guilty, but not their neighbours in a queue or on a bus.
The shop assistants, who considered themselves very important persons, were rude with the customers and could even offend and humiliate them, like dependent people. I think nowadays in capitalist times the situation should be the opposite. However, surprisingly, many sellers in the markets (especially Ukrainian women) are very hostile to the customers. Maybe the stereotype of the powerful and cruel shop assistant, which they say in their childhood, is very difficult to forget. Maybe they hate Muscovites and are envious of them.
Besides the rudeness, the other problem was envy of the people who stood out of the "grey" background by their abilities, talents, professional skills and clothes. If somebody had several advantages, he or she could be the object of very strong envy. "She wears jeans--she isn't dignified enough to be a member of the Communist Party!" This seems ridiculous, but it was a really fact. Sometimes I ask myself "Maybe I distinguish myself too much from the others? Is it good or not? This is an experience received in our society of equal possibilities.
Posted by Aaron at June 24, 2004 12:33 PM