Friday, May 25, 2012

Memories of growing up in the Soviet Union. Part 2.

Latvia is a very small country, only about 2 million people, of which about a million live in the capital city  Riga. Because of its location - right on the golf of Riga, Latvia has been occupied by many neighbours over the last few centuries - Russia, Sweden, and many, many others.

The last occupation, which lasted for 50 years was by Russia after the World War II. I was born in the Soviet Union and lived in it until I was about 11. I remember a few things, which I am trying to capture as I start forgetting as the years are going by.

When I was growing up I didn't know anyone who was 'rich'. In communism there were no 'rich' people because the very idea of communism is that everyone is equal (well sort of, I think it's more of a Marxist theory but I won't go into all those nightmares) and rich should share their riches with the poor.

Because no one really owned things, they used to get run down and generally people didn't care too much about work. To get fired someone had to do something really bad. The 'really bad' usually consisted of not joining the party or not paying your dues to the Communist party or something similar, which was more related to the ideology of communism.

I realise that I am making a big generalisation here and keep in mind that these are my subjective memories but I think if you asked anyone who lived in that era they would share very similar opinions.


Most things were state owned. Each community had a collective farm where people worked, including my grandfather. He used to be a truck driver and used to transport corn and other grains to places. 

These were called 'collective farms' because when the Soviets occupied they took away the equipment and the livestock and whatever else they wanted and made it all state owned. This was the case with my great-grandfather who was a wealthy man and lost the efforts of his lifetime within a matter of a week or so. 

I remember my grandad used to take me on his trips on an occasion, I would sit with him in the truck with no air conditioning and we'd set off to his destination. 

The funny thing about that was that on lunch breaks my grandad would come home, eat his lunch, then open the gas (petrol) tank in his truck and pour a can for his car for later on. This was sort of ... normal. 

The grandma on the other side used to work as a seamstress in a big factory. To be able to get work, generally one had to join the Communist party. Otherwise people would get questioned and could get in a lot of trouble. For some reason she had to pay dues to the party. To measure how much one has paid, there was a little book that she had to glue stamp-looking things with amounts of money. I found this little book one time while she was napping and decided to start my own stamp collection... The hardest part was trying to decide which side of the page I should cut the stamps from. I went for the more colourful ones. By the end of it I decided that actually these stamps are not that pretty and stuffed everything back in the drawer. 

I have no idea how much trouble she got into because of me. I never once remember her yelling at me and she didn't do it this time either. She just asked me why I'd done it and I explained to her... She loved me so much. 


1 comment:

FeliOland said...

WOW... it's so crazy how similar our childhoods were. I am reading this and I could swear you would write my life:)) The difference is that my grandmother was not a seamstress but did have our own lady who would sew our good clothes. There was nothing in the stores to buy... just like you said. Keep on writing... :))