Privileged Connections in the Former Soviet Union
Not only were connections made to obtain things or make exchanges for the privileged people under communism but also connections were made in matrimony during the Soviet Union era. Aiganym’s mother told her there was an “interesting place called “Salon of Just Married” where young couple came, showed the documents proving their marriage and received some “tolons” where were written things you can buy on it in this store.” Yekaterina T. also confirmed this statement by writing: “if anybody want to buy clothes for married, he or she should take a special document from ZAGS, and only then go to the specialize shops with this document and buy the clothes.” Marriage must be on these young girl students’ minds because Aidana also wrote, “When my parents got married, they had to buy wedding rings in the special shop going through the special registration, because there’s no such things in free market. They had a long time searching champaign and fruits for wedding party. Also, my father said that having money (a lot of money) in your pocket meant nothing if you hadn’t good connections in shops.”
Connections were what only the privileged few had during the Soviet period. Anastassiya admitted that her grandfather was a “top” guy. “He was important person, so that’s why my family actually doesn’t know what is a deficit. They have everything.” Another male student wrote that his privileged parents “remember the times when they used to pay for food with special card, and only those who were in the party could take those cards.” Fortunately Eldar’s father had a helpful connection with his aunt who was the director of Tsum department store in Almaty. “…when he [father] was 15 years old and traveling by train, his new clothes, bought from another country, were stolen. Then he called his aunt and got all the things he wanted, not available for the others. Even having a deficit, it’s not a problem if you have helpful relatives.”
Indeed, having relatives especially those who had the good fortune of going abroad were the needed connections for people to have during the period of USSR. Aleksandra revealed “My parents told me that in the 1990s my mom’s uncle lived in Finland. And my mom from time to time went to see him and she had been buying cheap products there (for example, dresses, cosmetics, bubble gums) and she sold all those products when she was back to Almaty. For example, she bought a dress in Finland for 50 rouble and sold it in Almaty for 300 R. It’s a big benefit…in 90s people had good chance to make money if they had relatives abroad!!!” Aleksandra’s mother also learned about some vegetables, like cauliflower, she had never known existed until she went to Finland.
Yuliya wrote about a strange bird called “blue chicken” which meant it was so skinny it looked blue. She wrote that her parents told her that many times it was crowded in shops where it was happiness to buy a blue chicken and “during that times they could buy meat of wild animals and birds that today is unavailable. And they cooked different, interesting dishes.” Ilyas’ parents also used connections with relatives “We used to go to the village near our city to our relatives to get meat there with no lines and for cheaper prices.”
If any traveling outside of Kazakhstan happened, it was for those people who had privileged connections with the Soviet government. Aigerim’s teacher told her that people would go abroad on holidays and when arranged by the government they were very cheap. Another girl student by the name of Aigerim wrote that her parents liked to travel. In fact, during this period of the Soviet Union a popular place to go to on vacation was Praha. “They bought all high quality clothes there. And what is amazing they (clothes) are still like new. So, demand for Czech products was high.”
Some party members enjoyed other perks, besides cheap vacations, such as what Chingiz wrote about his father who “worked as chief accountant on car repair factory (which is a very prestigious and “benefitial”), he was able to purchase new car “Volga” which used to be quite rare and prestigious at those times. And almost only car of such “rank” at neighborhood.” Ainur’s parents worked in a Trade Union and most goods were available to them, especially food. “There was a case, for example, they wanted to buy a car. They had to wait for a couple of years, but if you want it faster, you should give a bribe for people who are dealing with.” Marat’s father was not as fortunate, he was in line for a car for almost five years. He was number 1500 and he never got his car.
Elena’s father’s family worked the ground instead of relying on party privileges to get a car. “In the middle of spring they left homes for summer and some part of autumn to grow many fruits, vegetables and then sell them. Coming back they could buy a car (Moskvich) and were counted as kings and very wealthy people. Through agriculture, people who worked for themselves, selling products to neighbors, also could earn good money.”