Coming from an Eastern post-Soviet country I can feel the USSR in each detail from my city. Going for a walk I see brick apartment buildings (Khrushchyovka) all having the same facade with small windows symbolizing how citizens should live in perfect equality, without having the right to choose. I feel it when I hop in the old bus and when I hear conversations of old people saying that life in the Soviet Union was better. But was it really like this or they still have this utopic idea of the regime that was infused in them since childhood from the school years, that had the objective of sick propaganda? “Thank you, Comrade Stalin, for our happy childhood!”.
The kids nowadays have a colourful childhood, they can watch cartoons on tv, play games on their tablets and wear brand new clothes from international brands. I am not stating that childhood in USSR was not interesting, since my parents always tell me stories from their childhood. Maybe they did not go to private schools and the did not go to vacations in exotic places, but they were way more independent and creative. They did not have talking robots and smartphones, but they were dividing themselves into teams, imitating war. Summer vacations were the time for pioneer camps. Kids did not know what being spoiled is, maybe because comparing one’s life to someone else’s was not possible, because everyone was living the same life. Everybody was raised in modesty. Any manifestation of luxury was being criticized, even though deep down I still think that they wanted to experience a more western-like life and people living in communal apartments wanted to move in bigger places that could guarantee better conditions.
If people from the West were living free, going on vacations, driving different cars, eating various food, the people in the USSR could not benefit at all from foreign goods. There was always a shortage of food and lines at the shops. The products were simple and healthy. Nowadays people are living in a world where marketing plays mind games on them and when they go into a shop they are being attracted to innovative packages and ads. They can choose between hundreds of desserts and cold drinks, while back then candies were not something common in every family’s kitchen drawer. Bananas, oranges and similar products were literally a luxury. My grandma always recalls the vending machines on the streets that were selling soda with fruit syrup or, each time we are eating ice-cream, everyone is praising the natural one that people were eating before, made of real tasty milk.
I am a true fan of music so I asked my grandparents what were they listening to. Right now people can access every album or international chart just by clicking once. What was the youth listening to back then? Foreign music was banned. The Soviet government did not want its citizens to listen to ”freedom and happiness records’’ coming from the enemy itself, namely the West): no rock and roll and for sure no jazz. Even now I have this clear image in my head: it is summer and there is no school, I am in my grandparent’s house and I hear the Beatles playing from the recorder. My grandpa was telling me that it was risky listening to it back then and only with the help of the black market you were able to acquire this type of music. Imagine how much people were craving culture to be ready to risk it just to hear foreign music. Isn’t this true respect for art? Wanting to hear the original songs and not the improvisations, wanting to discover another nation’s culture and trends.
Even fashion was highly inspired by the West. A lot of women knew how to sew clothes that they were seeing in the magazines, therefore they were able to design the clothes they wanted.
But not everything was a copy from the West, a lot of fashion trends that we follow today are Soviet-inspired. For example, the oversized tailor suits that have been all over the runways in the past few seasons were actually a must in the USSR. People were buying them oversize to then wear them in the future (to grow into later). Or another trend nowadays is the square toe shoes, that were present in every man’s wardrobe; trainers shoes were not available until the production of Adidas started in the USSR in the late 70s.
Of course, there were good times, but it was not easy; people were living in a bubble, a bubble filled with the idea that they were born in a magnificent country with perfect leaders. The Soviet propaganda was everywhere, infused in kids from the kindergarten years. Back then yelling and harsh language were not things to be surprised of, kids were used to this type of behaviour from the teachers. Social services did not exist back then, maybe also because no complaints were coming from parents.
Atheism was spread, the only religion were the slogans about the communist ideology.
Even though I did not experience the Soviet life, Russian-language media is filled with USSR nostalgia. I do not like how it is romanticized in movies, showing just the happy side of it. I understand the nostalgia, it is normal to be fond of one’s youth, but it was a sad reality people were living in. It was like living in a black and white movie while on the other side people were having everything their soul was desiring.“The rules are simple: they lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying to us, and we keep pretending to believe them.”