Communal Living in Russia: Essays
Coping with Communal Life: Drunks and drinking
  A short essay about attitudes towards alcoholics and drunks.
  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  All people who live in a communal apartment have direct experience with drunkenness, even if they themselves don't drink: in a large apartment there is always someone who does, and the apartment drunk (one or more of them) is a necessary character in communal life and stories about it. Either he is lying in the hallway, or he is passed out on the staircase; he gets common spaces dirty. He brings his drinking buddies home with him, gets drunk, and gets in fights with them.

People suffered from the presence of drunks not only in their apartments but also outside of them, particularly on staircases and in entryways, which haven't been locked since the mid-1950s. Since there were not many drinking establishments in the Soviet period, people drank in all kinds of places: on park benches, in playgrounds, and most commonly sitting on a windowsill in the first available entryway. Drinking at home (say in your single room in a communal apartment), especially in a standard group of "three to a bottle," was not particularly convenient for drinkers with families.

Drunkenness in general, and especially at work and during working hours was a recognized problem, satirized often in humor and film. However, the image of the drunk was typically a source of humor rather than the object of ridicule. Circus clowns often performed the role of drunks: in their best-known routines, the famous Soviet clowns Karandash ("Pencil") and Yury Nikulin performed as sympathetic and funny drunkards. One of the most beloved short sketches of the satirist Mikhail Zhvanetsky, "Meeting at the Vodka Factory," circulated widely through duplicated tape-recordings.

In all industrial plants, under headings such as "Fight Drunkenness," bulletin boards displayed news photos of members of the work unit who had been picked up and brought to "drunk tanks." Drunks rounded up on the streets would be brought by police to these medical sobering-up stations. If someone's drinking was a constant disruption of factory discipline, the most extreme measure was to send them for mandatory alcohol detox, which was usually ineffective.

In communal apartments, people usually turned drunken brawlers over to the police, but only the most scandalous hooliganism would fetch a 15-day sentence; in most cases a drunk would return to the apartment by the next day. In the materials on this site, we encounter a characteristic attitude towards drunks: sympathy and even a certain familiar tenderness, especially on the part of older women. Lena and Marina speak about "quiet, cultured alcoholics" in the clip "I Know Their Footsteps" (Tour 5). In the clip "The Archangel Michael" (also Tour 5), for all her antipathy towards uncultured behavior, Alla Ignatevna affectionately calls her alcoholic neighbor a "poor drunkard," although he causes her trouble. It's not unusual for someone to put a pillow under the head of their drunken neighbor who didn't quite make it home to his apartment and has fallen asleep on the stairway landing. See the selection from an interview about "the good-natured drunk," where the neighbor of a different "pathetic little drunk" takes care of him and compares him to a "lost child."

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