Video Tours > Tour 5. Our Neighbors > 5. There Shouldn't Be Any Communal Apartments
expand/collapse this text box Summary
An old lady talks about how her neighbors did not understand her, and says that in her opinion there shouldn't be any communal apartments.
expand/collapse this text box Translation of the Russian Transcript
Alla Ignatevna: So this is the village of Olgino, and this is the count's castle. And my grandfather is standing quietly right over here, see? He's got his white dickey on, see? This count, he owned everything, from Sestroretsk all the way to Olgino, he owned the whole shoreline. Well, that was before the revolution. And my grandfather, he just bought land from the count and built a house. There were seven children, he needed a house. And then the revolution came, and he, well, obviously, in Soviet times there was a kommunalka there, so all sorts of people were living there. And then it, well, it... fell into disrepair, it needed to be fixed up, and all the people left for different places, and the house is still standing there.

A.I.: This year in July you should come to the village, it's called Olgino. It's having an anniversary, 100 years.

Ilya: When did you come here?

À.I.: Well, seven or eight years ago.

Ilya: That is, relatively recently?

À.I.: Of course, yes.

Ilya: What do you remember, what was this apartment like when you first arrived? Was it different in any way from the way it is now?

À.I.: You know, I knew what I was getting into. I knew that, well, that word "kommunalka" had something tragic in it for me. But I decided, I decided that I, that I was not going to start in with anybody. I was not going to, well, to put it bluntly, cozy up to someone to try to make friends, or to ask for favors. I would act like, well, like here is my room, and I come out, I cook something, I get washed, and I'm gone. I say "Good morning" and that's the end of it. Well I think that I, I have no obligation to open myself up, to reveal my... my... well, my private life... in front of anyone. So that's how it was. But it turned out not to be so simple. People don't like people like that. And they even, I don't know if you can say they hate people like that, but...

Ilya: Why?

À.I.: Because of the way I act. I live here and I don't owe anybody anything, all right? I pay for my apartment, I live in my room. I come out and say "Good morning." An educated, cultured person doesn't wish anyone ill, therefore... but on the other hand, that person has a certain private life, and with some people this life can be, can be shared and with others it just can't. And this is the way things work and I thought it was just the way things work. But in the end, here in the kommunalka it didn't go over.

Ilya: Did you ever feel comfortable? Did you feel at peace here?

À.I.: What are you talking about, what kind of peace could I feel? On the contrary, I was so misunderstood... what went on here was... oh my! To start with, you know, in all honesty, I find it very difficult to tolerate people who drink. This is more... I mean that people like that, they've lost their ability to reason in a sob... no, I don't even mean sober, I mean in a normal way. What's normal for them is that everything is seen through, through... And at the same time they are full of pride, they think, "I've spent my whole life working the crane, I am a construction worker," you know?

Sveta: Did you have any friends here?

À.I.: What do you mean by "here"?

Sveta: In the kommunalka.

À.I.: No, no friends at all. And I shouldn't have any. You can't talk about friendship in this situation, what you want is some kind of elementary politeness. So, let's say, to treat everyone in a friendly way, not wish harm on anyone. It's the most elementary Christian way of acting.

Ilya: But somebody has to see to it that order is maintained, right? Did you ever have to be the one to make sure things got done?

À.I.: No, that's not the point, you come to an agreement, somebody does the cleaning, you take turns, right? That's not the main thing. The main thing is, the main thing, the most painful thing for me was that nobody has the right to intrude in my private life.

Ilya: Did they?

À.I.: There are some people who can't help themselves. Since we're living in the same place, that means I have to know things about you... It's outrageous to have these kommunalkas. If I had been around, I don't know, somewhere up there, in the government, I would have done anything, I'd knock myself out to convince everybody not to do it.

expand/collapse this text box Details in Photographs
Mantelpiece, table, icons (close-up)
The woman who lives in this room is shown in the clip "The Archangel Michael," Tour 5. The portrait of her ancestor (on the mantelpiece) was taken before 1917. See also a more detailed photograph of her desk. 2006.

Locks on a room door
A padlock on Alla Ignatevna's door provides additional protection. Apartment from the clip "The Archangel Michael," Tour 5. 2006.

expand/collapse this text box Basic Facts and Background
When: Spring 2006

Where: A room rented by Sveta, a student, in a midsized apartment in one of the central neighborhoods of Petersburg.

Who: Alla Ignatevna, who has been living in this apartment since the mid 1990s, longer than everyone else; her move to the kommunalka from a private apartment was precipitated by family circumstances unknown to us; Sveta, a student, renting a room here; Ilya, an anthropologist, teaches at the university where Sveta is a student; he interviews A.I.; Marcus, a German acquaintance of Sveta's, who has come to see her; Ksyusha, who is renting another room in this apartment.

What: A.I. talks about her ancestors, their aristocratic acquaintances and the house that they owned. Historical memory about a family's past, particularly its prerevolutionary past, was not encouraged in the majority of Soviet families. It sometimes happened that grandchildren knew only in the most general terms what their grandfathers and great grandfathers did before the revolution. For most of the Soviet period, there was some danger in talking about a bourgeois or aristocratic past. In the first decades of the Soviet state, representatives of former "alien classes" (the aristocracy, the priesthood, and the bourgeoisie) and their progeny suffered restrictions that limited their right to vote and their access to social services and higher education. Later on, silence about family history was linked with the Stalinist repressions that affected many layers of the population. Adults decided, quite reasonably, that children were better off (that is, in less danger) if they did not know the details about relatives who had been arrested. Even accidental information about such relatives could lead to stigmatizing.

In the post-perestroika period, when remembering one's ancestors and their prerevolutionary activities was safe and fashionable, an aristocratic past was transformed into small-scale social capital. In A.I.'s rendering, her family's past enhances the image she has created of an educated, cultured person devoted to Christian values.

Describing her attempt to protect herself from incursions into her privacy, A.I., says, in part, "I have no obligation to open myself up, to reveal my... my... well, my inner world... in front of anyone." The phrase "inner world" is in Russian, literally, "spiritual world"; the translation "private life" is used further down in the text to render a phrase invoking the Russian word "soul," because the reference is again to "personal" or "private" concerns and not to anything an English speaker would classify as spiritual or religious. The concept of privacy occupies a particular place in Russian language and thinking.

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