|Communal Living in Russia: Video Tours|
|Ilya visits a comparatively small communal apartment and shows us its "empty" room with an asymmetrical ceiling. A student who rents a room here shows us the bathroom.|
|Basic Facts and Background|
When: June 2006
Where: A midsized apartment in a prestigious neighborhood in the historical center of St. Petersburg. The common storage room, hallway, and bathroom.
Who: Sveta, a student, renting a room in the apartment; Slawomir, who asks Sveta questions and also films the scene; Markus, a German friend of Sveta's, who has come to see her; Ilya, an instructor at the university where Sveta studies.
Tatyana, mentioned by Sveta, bought a room in this apartment about a year before this filming; Alla Ignatevna, mentioned by Sveta, has lived in this apartment since the mid-1990s, which makes her the apartment's most long-term resident. Ksyusha, mentioned by Sveta, recently completed graduate studies in art history. Ksyusha rents a room here.
What: Sveta's expressions "I'm renting"´and "I live like an ordinary, normal person" reflect the different status of various neighbors. There is a difference between permanent residents and temporary ones. Temporary residents are not interested in repairs.
Temporary residents either rent rooms from people who own them, or from people who rent from the government at a standard low price. That type of rental is now called "social contract renting." For all practical purposes, this is the Soviet model of providing basic permanent housing for a modest monthly rent. Now it is used mostly by the poverty end of the population, while in the Soviet period the vast majority of urbanites rented housing from the government, including most of those who lived in private apartments. People who rent from the government have permits for their places of residence.
Renting rooms is almost always done by oral agreement. Taxes are not paid.
Sveta says that she thinks the renovation would be paid for in its entirety by the housing office if all the rooms in the apartment were "government" ones, that is, not privatized. In reality, even in that case the housing office would not hurry to fulfill its obligations and would try to have the tenants pay part of the cost.
A year after the leak, the ceiling had still not been painted. Sveta's pessimism was fully justified. It is possible that after the housing office rejected their request, or if they had no answer from the housing office in the term indicated by law, the residents could start writing simultaneous complaints to a variety of government offices, thereby forcing the housing office to do the work. But negotiating with the housing office and writing letters would take up many days of someone's working life. It would not be worth the trouble, especially since, strictly speaking, the leak was in the hallway and doesn't particularly bother anybody. The leak is really noticeable on the ceiling of Ksyusha's room, but she is a temporary resident. For that reason, she is not obliged to worry about repairs. She will not ask that the rent be lowered because of the stain, because complaining might spoil her relationship with the room's owner and lead her to lose a comparatively cheap place in a convenient location in the center of the city.
When listing the people who use the washroom, Sveta omits some of the residents. Nine persons lived there at the time of filming.
|Translation of the Russian Transcript|
Ilya: This storage room, the empty room, you see, it's no emptier than the storage rooms we have seen in other apartments. There are all sorts of unnecessary things here: clothing, old boxes, cartons—whatever people feel bad about discarding. Old furniture, well, to throw it out in... in the dump... that's work. People would sometimes sit in this room, have a cigarette. I remember not so long ago hanging out here and talking.
Ilya: What's interesting, if you look at the ceiling, is that the hook in the middle of the room is probably from a chandelier that once hung here, while over there, where the wire is, there's nothing but a bulb. This means that this wall wasn't always here. This used to be one large room, and the hallway we just walked through wasn't there either, it was a part of the room. You passed through this room and went on into the next room. Here there was a door, but it's blocked now. Now we can see from the ceiling that the middle, the middle of the room, was where the chandelier was. So the hallway was just a part of this room.
Ilya: They had to make a hallway, because the type of railroad apartment, in which one room leads into another, only works in a private, a separate apartment. In a communal apartment it would be untenable.
Sveta: I was just explaining which soap to use, and which towel to dry your hands on.
Slawomir: So tell us again.
Sveta: So everybody has their own space. For example, this space belongs to Anya and me and Ksyusha. So this space belongs to three girls. Even though girls use it, it's pretty dirty because we really don't clean it too often. So. As for soap, well, this soap is ours, and this soap, I don't even know whose it is because I never use it. And I don't know who all this stuff belongs to.
Slawomir: And which is yours?
Slawomir: Could you tell me which is yours?
Slawomir: How many people use this space?
Sveta: Let me count. Anya and me, that's two. Ksyusha, Tatyana, Serezha, Alla Ignatevna. This space is Alla Ignatevna's, so I never know what's here. And that's about it.
Slawomir: Does it ever happen that somebody takes your soap or..?
Sveta: Maybe it happens, but I don't pay attention, maybe somebody even uses my toothpaste, but... If, for example, I forget to buy toothpaste, if I've run out, I usually ask, say, Ksyusha, if I can use hers. And she does the same. But to take it without asking... not usually. Well I don't know, I don't do it, maybe somebody else does, but I just don't think about it. Now this space is, I think, Tatyana's; I mean, she actually moved in after we did. I mean, we were already living here, and she set up her space over here. She's pretty much the most concerned in having things set up nicely. She puts in things like this. None of this was here before. So. Or maybe she'll buy a new plastic cover. We had a problem with the shower attachment, but it was replaced recently, it's new, so everything's nice. So if the tub didn't look so awful, at least the water works.
Slawomir: Do you have hot water?
Sveta: As a general rule.
Slawomir: If you have to replace a big pipe like that one, who pays for it?
Sveta: That's complicated. I can't say. I think that if this room belonged to the government, I mean in total, then the Housing Office would pay because the Housing Office would own it, I mean the government would, but since now the rooms are being privatized, then I think that if all the rooms were privatized, then the neighbors would have to chip in, and everybody would pay their part. What's happening now, I think, is that people chip in anyway, so the government pays a part, since a part of it belongs to the government, and the neighbors pay their part. At least that's what I think. But since I'm more like a renter than a normal tenant, these issues... I simply don't concern myself with these issues.
Sveta: Recently we had a pipe burst, and Ksyusha's room was flooded; you can still see the stains on the ceiling.. So Ksyusha had to take all the furniture out of her room, fortunately it's a fairly small room, and she had to sleep in our room, which she did for a whole week, until the room dried. Because there was a damp smell; it was impossible to stay there. When the pipe burst here, what happened was we cleaned up, we washed the floor, we took Ksyusha's things out. Basically, all the neighbors were involved. Everybody was helping her out.
Sveta: I don't know, I don't think it's going to be fixed any time soon.
Slawomir: You don't know what?
Sveta: When it will be fixed, and if it will even be fixed at all any time soon.