воскресенье, 10 мая 2009 г.

POST-WAR 40’S


We offer you a narrative about the life of our people after World War Two. We asked our director Vladimir Diomin to share his personal impressions of the atmosphere of the time. At the end of the 40’s he lived in Moscow, and was a student of the acting department of the Sate Institute of Theatrical Art.

“Of course, after the end of the war it was wonderful,” says Vladimir. “The people were all rejoicing! Everyone was so happy! People you knew and total strangers, alike, would be smiling at one another in the street and bowing, congratulating each other with Victory. Very often one could hear songs out in the street, including this Old English soldiers’ song “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary”, which our soldiers borrowed from the allies and translated into Russian. The song became very popular here.

I remember how we, students, went about in the evenings and even at night singing songs, and nobody yelled at us to “Stop singing!” Quite the opposite, people opened their windows to listen to us. Once our student company ran into the mounted police in the street. They were out patrolling by night, to keep an eye out for possible disturbances. And the militia didn’t stop us, either. The mounted policemen simply looked benignly at us, as if to say: “Enjoy life!”

People showed no signs of despondency, despite the ravaged state the country was in, and the acute shortages of just about everything, but most importantly – food. For a long time after the war all food products and industrial goods were rationed. We, students, received such ration cards at the Trade Union committee of the Institute where we studied. Every card had a serial number, which signified this or that food product or item. We particularly treasured cards with the number 6. Each card stood for one capacity of vodka, and after the war alcohol was in great deficit. We weren’t drunkards, but enjoyed having a drink with the other students, so we’d buy up the № 6 cards from anyone who was willing to sell them. For those whose work took them on trips outside Moscow, like us, artists, who went on tours there were special food ration cards. They were called ‘shuttle cards’. With their help people could get food in a different town.

A curious detail: what with the overall food deficit, the shop windows of many Moscow stores featured pyramids of tinned crab meat. But few bought them. It wasn’t the price that stopped them rather than most folks simply didn’t know what they were…

The food deficit gripped the entire country, and my native places – Southern Siberia – were no exception.

I am originally from the distant town of Barnaul, the Altai region. During the war this was far in the rear, and the plants and factories there had been fitted to turn out military produce. Since the men were all at the front, women and 12-year-old youngsters were hastily taught the basics and took their place at the machinery. Both during the war and after it Siberians, just like all the rest of the people in the country, lived a life of many hardships. I recall how in the end of the 1940’s, after I had graduated from Theatrical Institute, I was on tour in Barnaul. My friend and I were invited by some friends of ours to their place, where they treated us to potatoes fried in machine oil. There simply wasn’t any other to be had. It was a life of semi-starvation everywhere, in the capital and in the provinces.

After the Victory Moscow for a while bore the imprint of wartime. Thus, in the centre of the city, near Pushkin square, there was a hospital where the windows still had white strips of paper glued on criss-cross. During the war that’s how they protected glass from breaking during bombing raids.

Still, slowly but surely life was getting back on track. A characteristic feature of those first post-war years in Moscow was the desire of people to get together to talk, sing, pitch in and lay a festive table… The people were amazingly good-natured, cordial and amiable.

I remember how we, artists, performed at hospitals for the wounded. Even though the war was over, there were still many hospitals and many wounded. We would act out excerpts from plays for them, recite poetry and prose, sang… Like, for instance, a military song of the sailors “Farewell Beloved City…”

We also sang other war-time songs. The wounded, just boys most of them, listened to us, rapt, and were so grateful and attentive, it’s impossible to forget the joy mirrored in their faces. Of course, we, artists, all felt gratified that we were needed out there.

Life was gradually changing for the better. Thus, it was manifested in the way people began to dress better, opting for clothes of lighter hues than before. I recall how in 1946 I was taking part in crowd scenes as an extra in the popular film comedy “Spring”, which would later make it into the golden film heritage of Russian cinematography. My friends and I attended these sessions with great joy. It’s unbelievable, but despite all the hardships, there wasn’t just a lightness in my heart, but I actually had the acute sensation of a never-ending carnival. I guess similar sensations gripped other people, too, after having experienced the horrors of war, so today everyone was thriving on hope. It seemed that now we would be able to really live it up, and there would be no reasons for sadness…” says Vladimir Diomin.

Hopes are all very well, but after the Victory the general landscape in the country was a terrifying one. Judge for yourselves: the years of war had ruined 1710 towns and villages, 70 thousand villages, almost 100 thousand kolkhozes and sovhozes, 32 thousand factories and plants, 65 thousand kilometers of railways. 25 million Russian people had been left homeless. In this connection one recalls the old Russian town of Vyazma, situated slightly over 200 kilometers to the west of Moscow. Before the war there were 50 thousand houses there, while after the war just 30 remained!

The country needed to be speedily resurrected from the ruins. But we had also sustained terrifying human losses: according to varying estimates from 22 to 27 million people!

The post-war situation in the villages, in rural areas was extremely difficult. Historian Piotr Deinichenko noted:

“From an economic aspect the country had been thrown back into the 1930’s. All attention was turned to development of heavy industry, while the village was practically squeezed dry without anything in return. War had claimed a majority of the male population, there were but women and children in the villages. To add to the hardships, 1946 brought a terrible drought. Famine followed, chiefly gripping Ukraine. Collectivization, war and post-war devastation of the villages resulted in that by early 1950’s the productivity of 1 hectare was lower, and the number of livestock much fewer than on the eve of the Bolshevist revolution of 1917. As a result the entire population of the country, with the exception of the bureaucracy, was undernourished.”

In one of the soviet movies, which gave a very faithful account of the dire plight the village was in during and after the war, there is a striking scene… A group of dead-tired, disheveled women can barely stand… They have just ploughed a vast field with a plough they harnessed themselves into, for lack of a horse. A one-armed man is approaching them, the Chairman of the Kolkhoz, and addresses them with a request to carry out some other kind of job. Instead of a reply, the women suddenly, as if half-crazed, begin mooing loudly, lifting up their arms to their heads in an imitation of horns… The man, appalled, gazes at them with tears in his eyes and indescribable sympathy, powerless to alleviate their suffering…

During and after the war there was a popular saying among the womenfolk “I am horse, and I am bull, I am woman, man, and mule.”

Our heroic peasant women, who’d lost husbands and sons at the front, hunger and work-worn, gulping back tears, labored on, aware there was nobody else they could shift the burden onto. No one else could feed the ravaged country.

Western economists predicted the Soviet Union would need 50 to 75 years to raise its devastated economy from ruins and reach the pre-war level of national economic development. However, running ahead somewhat, we must note that despite these forecasts, at the expense of incredible efforts of the entire population by the end of 1950 the USSR had largely concluded its reconstruction period.

After 1945 certain changes were occurring in the public consciousness of our compatriots. Victory in the war had spawned hopes for an easing of the political regime. The generation of soviet officers, who had gone through the severe trials of war and experienced relative independence and the value of initiative, were expecting a certain democratization of public life. Moreover, these hopes were augmented by an enthusiasm and pride for our country that had made a decisive contribution to victory over Nazism. In September 1945 the state of emergency was cancelled in the USSR, and the State Defense Committee was disbanded. In March 1946 the government of the country – the Soviet of People’s Commissars – was transformed into the Council of Ministers of the USSR, with its Chairman Joseph Stalin.

There were new elections to local and central legislative bodies of power – the soviets. These bodies were now significantly staffed by former war heroes. There was a great deal more democracy in the work of the soviets, and an amplified collegiality. For the first time in the history of the USSR a people’s court was elected by direct secret vote.

In 1948 the Trade Unions resumed their activity, as did divisions of the Komsomol and the art unions.

As far as the youth was concerned, part of it was quite radically inclined. A whole number of anti-Stalinist groups emerged in their midst, chiefly consisting of students. Such groups existed in Moscow, a number of towns in central Russia and the Urals. Young radicals accused Stalin of the communist party’s degeneration and a bureaucratization of the party-state apparatus. The participants of the youth group from the Urals town of Chelyabinsk adopted an appeal – the Manifesto of Ideological Communist Youth, where they called on their age-mates to struggle against the existing regime. At the same time the young people maintained a dedication to the socialist choice, communist ideals and democracy.

As for the village, in the words of historian Piotr Deinichenko, it “waited for the kolkhozes to be disbanded. And the Chairman of the State Planning committee of the Council of Ministers of the USSR, that was responsible for the planned development of the national economy, Nikolai Voznesensky, recommended that development of private plots of land be encouraged… However, his recommendations were overruled by the top authorities on the country.”

Historian and publicist Nikolai Yakovlev in one of his books wrote:

“The year 1947 was a lofty and epochal year in our history. That year saw the healing of the country’s main wounds, sustained in the devastating war. By autumn the level of industrial development had reached the pre-war level…

A new peaceful life was being rebuilt by yesterday’s soldiers on the rubble of war-torn towns and villages, plants and factories. The workers’ overalls were now army coat, soldier’s blouse, quilted jacket… Still soiled with the dust of Europe, smelling of gunpowder and blood, they were being worn by an army of builders, resurrecting their country.

It was a hard life. The country was facing gigantic problems. What was needed was to ensure the country stand firmly on its own feet, and look with optimism to the future. A normal life had to be guaranteed to the heroic people, who had shouldered the brunt of the most devastating war in history.

Soviet people had earned a right to a dramatic improvement of their lifestyle, and a rest after the hardships of war. Although everything possible was being done, there was still a vast amount of work to be done. It wasn’t only the legacy of the war, which was a poignant reminder at every step. Even after victory the resources of the country were being drained by military needs. The atom bombings of Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki by the USA had warmed all of humanity about the emerging new threat. So fresh funds were required to be channeled into creating new modern armaments, boosting the defense potential, and, first and foremost, – nuclear weapons development. And this at a time when every rouble had to be accounted for!

This couldn’t but affect the lives of ordinary soviet people, and impact everything around.”

Source:The Voice of Russia.

4 комментария:

Cordelia комментирует...

This was an interesting read, thanks! I am Swedish; I work in London and have started to learn Russian for work related reasons.

Media in the UK has a very pre-conceived view of Russia - different from the Swedish view and the personal view that I am beginning to view.

It's very important with blogs like yours to get positive messages out about Russia.

In England people believe that communism was living hell and that modern Russia has aggressive plans against Europe. Personally I am sure that neither is true and it's sad to see Russia constantly blackpainted in media here.

lastochka комментирует...

Thank you for your comment))
Yes it's sad.It's the only reason why I'm here.The myth of aggresive russians is very popular in anglo-saxon countries.Double standarts is an integral part of this politic game.It lasts for centuries already and it doesn't surprise most of the russians.
The lack of true information is a big problem the educational level of people also.

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