Communal Living in Russia: Essays
The World of the Soviet Citizen: Residency permit
  The Soviet residency permit as a means of controlling citizens' lives.
  Translation of the Russian Transcript
Photograph: This page from an internal Russian passport confirms that the bearer of this document can legally reside at the indicated address.

Soviet power designed many effective methods of controlling the lives of citizens. One of the most important, the residency permit (propiska), appeared initially as a means of recording where people were living. Later, after the introduction of the internal passport in 1932, it became an instrument for extending or denying permission to live in any given place.

At birth, alongside the birth certificate filed in the Civil Registry Department (ZAGS), both the police and the local housing authority where the parents lived registered the child's right (in fact, his obligation) to reside at a specific address. In this way, children automatically received a residency permit. When the child was issued a passport, at age 16, that document included a residency stamp from the police.

Access to medical care, daycare, and school was determined by place of residence. In the years of famine, ration cards were issued at the housing authority.

The main benefit guaranteed by the residency permit was a place to live (see the essay on Housing in the USSR).

The permit tied the citizen to a specific town or city. It was possible to move from one apartment to another one in a different part of the same city; in that case, the passport was amended accordingly.

It was, however, problematic for ordinary Soviet citizens to move on their own initiative to a different city in order to live and work there. Without a residency permit in the new place an individual would simply not be hired. And getting a residency permit in a new city was all but impossible without the active involvement of the workplace.

The possibility of moving, with a permit, to a more desirable place was given only to individuals who were needed by the government. Either you were recruited by a job, or you yourself signed up for heavy unskilled labor under awful conditions with the understanding that you would spend years in a barrack or dormitory. After living in that fashion for a number of years (all that time under a temporary permit) you earned the right to stay permanently. Leningrad was one of the cities that, in contrast to the general poverty in provincial cities and rural areas, was favored by "enhanced supply."

Since family ties were one of the reasons for getting a residency permit (you could, for example, move in with a spouse), people designed their life strategies accordingly. A college graduate risked winding up in the middle of nowhere through the system of "job assignments": in return for free professional education, the government assigned the graduate a job. A young man, for example, would hurry to marry a Leningrad girl to have in his arsenal an additional argument for getting assigned work in that city. Fictive marriages were common on this account.

Nobody had the right to evict you from your official place of residence. But if you had guests, the fact that they did not have a permit for your apartment could provoke a visit from angry co-tenants: after 11 PM, "unconnected individuals" did not have the right to remain there.

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