Pros and Kons of the Kommunalka
The 1970s in the Soviet Union are often known as the time of stagnation. The economy was doing rather poorly, and the new leader, Leonid Brezhnev, backpedaled many of the reforms that had been made under Khrushchev. However, one positive that many Soviet people found was life in communal apartments. While there were definitely some issues to communal living, for the most part it seems that most people who lived in large communal apartments (kommunalka) enjoyed it.
This 2013 video gives a tour of a kommunalka similar to one that Soviet citizens would have lived in during the Brezhnev era.
Ekaterina Sergeevna was a newly divorced mother of two when she did a room exchange in 1972 in order to gain a new living space for her tiny family. She raised her boys in a large apartment where anywhere from about thirty to fifty others lived, depending on the time. Ekaterina said that life in the kommunalka was a mostly positive experience. The tenants were like one big family, sharing nearly everything with each other, be it good or bad. The tenants always knew that they could turn to one another.
However, there were challenges unique to life in the kommunalka as well. In 1972, a legal question was answered in the “Current Digest of the Russian Press”. The tenants of many communal apartments were unsure how to divide utilities and electric bills, leading to arguments amongst each other. According to the Current Digest, it was up to the tenants to calculate exactly who owed what. Another issue that arose for those who lived in the kommunalka were people who lied about how many family members lived with them, in order to gain more living space, as detailed in a follow-up letter in another issue of “Current Digest”.
While life in a kommunalka was not always carefree and pleasant, for the most part it seems that the people who lived in communal apartments enjoyed their lifestyle. As Ekaterina summed it up, “Of course, you own apartment is a good thing, but if I had to choose the lesser of two evils, [the kommunalka] is better”.
Utekhin, Ilya, Alice Nakhimovksy, Slava Paperno, and Nancy Ries. “Communal Living in Russia: Stories and Thoughts.” The Russia Reader: History, Culture, Politics. By Adele Marie Barker and Bruce Grant. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2010. 616-18. Print.
Utkin, N. “Follow-up on a Letter: How Apartments Were Allocated.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 24.10 (1972): 22. East View. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. <http://dlib.eastview.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/doc/13645513>.
“Essay Viewer for Communal Living in Russia.” Essay Viewer for Communal Living in Russia. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Nov. 2015. <http://kommunalka.colgate.edu/cfm/view_text.cfm?ClipID=376&Field=NarrationTranscript&Language=English&CustomTourID=0&SearchTargetList=>.
“Legal Service: WHEN THE APARTMENT IS SHARED.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press 24.7 (1972): 21. East View. Web. 15 Nov. 2015. <http://dlib.eastview.com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/browse/doc/13645741>.
November 16, 2015 @ 2:21 pm
It was important for the Soviet citizens to have this style of living arrangement. Americans are very individualistic, therefore we would not believe in community-style apartments, but the Soviets enjoyed family and friends time much more than us. These apartments provided by the government free of charge can still be seen throughout Moscow. Times have changed, but infrastructure survives until it crumbles.
John Mark Mastakas
November 16, 2015 @ 4:51 pm
I think that it’s very interesting that groups of 30-50 people would live together–that really embodies the concept of communal living. The legal and monetary questions posed by living this way was also a thought of mine when I first read about that many people living with each other. This is vastly different from what we are accustomed to here in the United States; great job showing us what living may have looked like in Russia–great post!
November 17, 2015 @ 12:10 am
This way of living is very interesting. it almost reminds me of the corps where we all live so close together and share everything with one another. I definitely understand why this sense of comradely and togetherness would appeal to people, I know it does to me. another interesting part is the variety of people who lived together, theses places must have been almost like a microcosm. Great post!
November 17, 2015 @ 1:40 am
I think the idea of the kommunalka really shows what it is to be a Soviet. To me it is representative of the society as a whole, where everyone shares things and can depend on each other. It seems like a poor quality of life to us, but it’s easy to see the advantages.
November 17, 2015 @ 3:01 am
Wow, thank for the interesting post. This style of communal living reminds me of living in my sorority house. Thankfully, we don’t have to work out who owes what for utilities. I can’t imagine the frustration that would cause.
November 17, 2015 @ 3:07 am
Ahhh the communal apartment! Any thoughts about how the apartment depicted in the 2013 Viking River Cruise ad differs from those you saw on the Colgate website? Nice work citing the Current Digest articles within the text of your post!
November 17, 2015 @ 5:45 am
Great job analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of communal apartments. Highlighting the personal experience of an individual is not only a great primary source account, but also a digestible way of contextualizing your post.