Tales from Soviet times

Kaz

Grandfather

It was May 1st, International Workers Solidarity Day, and everyone was expected to be part of the celebrations. My Grandfather left the house, and walked down the street. Unusually for May, it was cold and there was snow on the ground. My Grandfather snorted “What the hell kind of a May the first is this?”. He was taken by the KGB. “Someone doesn’t like International Workers Day?”.

The family were horrified, most people never came back once taken. My grandmother was distraught, but eventually at three in the morning, he came back looking white, and without a word went straight to bed. The only thing he said about his interview in the morning, and that only to his closest family was “not all of them there are stupid”.

Father

When my Father was 18, it was the war, and he was in the army, laying communications cable with one other guy younger than him. The sun was shining, the sky was blue and they were laying the cable through beautiful countryside. They were enjoying themselves until they noticed, not far away, two German youths about the same task who had also just noticed them. They both knew that they would be expected to use their weapons, and attack, but instead, they and the Germans gradually moved backwards away from each other until they disappeared into the undergrowth.

Knowing that if it was discovered that they had failed to attack it would mean discipline, and probably execution, they swore never to tell anyone, and until the last year of his life, my father never did tell anyone.

Neighbour

In Soviet times, it was very easy for anyone to get a summer house in the countryside – they were given to anyone who wanted one fairly cheaply, but the size of the plots was very limited, to make sure that nobody got too independent from the state. There were also specific rules about what you were allowed to do with your plot, to make sure that everyone had more or less the same. The KGB would come and check every now and then that the rules were not being flaunted.

In the hot summer, everyone wanted a swimming pool, but one of the rules was that you were not allowed to build a swimming pool on the plot you were allotted. One of our neighbours did anyway. We warned him “You’re bound to be found out, you’ll disappear, you’re risking your life”, and others did too, but to each of us he just smiled and said “I’ll chance it”.

Sure enough eventually, one of his neighbours reported him, and the KGB came round to inspect his plot. Seeing the swimming pool, they said “what’s this?”, and he showed them a recently erected sign; “Extra Water Storage in Case of Fire”. Commending him on his forethought, they left.

Very soon afterwards, everyone in the neighbourhood had extra water storage reservoirs in case of fire. I taught my daughter to swim in one.

These stories are all more or less as told to me recently by my guide in Kazakhstan

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