Communal Living in Russia: Documents
Letters From Soviet Citizens: A letter to Brezhnev about dachas
  A volunteer inspector writes a letter to Brezhnev proposing to bring order to the housing problem.
  Basic Facts and Background
  A volunteer inspector has various functions within the (volunteer) civic work sector.

The writer of this letter appeals to the head of the Soviet state to make a law that would serve the goal of social justice by ensuring that the government apportion living space more fairly. This would help solve the housing problem by making it possible to take away "unjust" additional space from those who now have it. In the opinion of the writer, people are using loopholes in the law to deceive the government. For example, they can get relatives residency permits in their apartments, making it seem as though there is less space per person than actually is the case.

The writer refers to the possibility of registering relatives "without the right to living space." People who do have that right—members of the immediate family—can inherit the space and receive a substitute space if the unit is disbanded. Relatives who are registered "without the right to living space" can live there, but cannot inherit it or get a substitute.

If someone owned a dacha in which it was possible to live year round, then the government, like the writer of this letter, viewed that space as a part of the family's allotment. In the 1960s, when many families got separate apartments in "Khrushchev housing" (low cost five-story apartment buildings without elevators in the outer-city developments), there were cases when a recently acquired apartment was taken away when it was discovered that the family was hiding the fact that it had a winterized dacha. Information about the dacha often reached the government when kommunalka neighbors, who had themselves not received apartments, wrote complaints.

The writer mentions the Financial Inspector of the National Bank, meaning the official responsible for examining income and payment of taxes. In the Soviet period, tax payment was automatic; people would have to take specific action only in rare cases, as, for example, when there was an inheritance. The Soviet understanding of justice is inseparable from the idea that the government must strictly control people's income and expenses. The Financial Inspector imagined by the writer was a real figure in the 1920s and 1930s, but a mythical one by the 1960s. The Soviet public of those years knew about the Financial Inspector because of Mayakovsky's poem "A Conversation with the Financial Inspector about Poetry," which was part of the school curriculum.

  Translation of the Russian Transcript
  To the Chairman of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet of the USSR Com. Leonid Ilich Brezhnev:

A Proposal:

In the course of some years work as a volunteer inspector I have seen a number of housing problems both in my own Housing Office 12 and in other Housing Offices. I would like to point out that a lot of people in the areas surrounding Leningrad have built themselves dachas which are counted legally as "summer dachas" while most of them are good for year-round use. These dachas are either wood, stucco, or stone (stucco), some of them are exploited as rentals in wintertime, and the only reason the other dacha owners don't do this is that they are afraid of getting into trouble (as they say) because all of them have housing in Leningrad. The local authorities could (on the basis of the law requiring dacha owners to vacate their city units) establish the suitability of these dachas for year-round living. Then 80 percent of the dacha stock would become permanent housing stock. This law would improve the housing situation of the working masses of Leningrad and other cities.

We cannot overlook those people living alone who have 20 to 35 square meters of space per person when the norm is 5 to 9 square meters. There are a lot of cases when one person has an apartment of two or three rooms (with residency permits for the apartment issued to additional tenants "without the right to living space"). We need a law that would establish a limit of living space of a maximum of no more than 15 square meters per person. This would also help free an impressive amount of living space, around 35 percent.

By taking this up we could improve the difficult living situation of the workers of Leningrad.

Everyone knows "that nobody ever built a palace through his own honest labor." That's why it is so important to bring rightful order to our housing problem. It would be good if this proposal found its rightful reflection in legislation and could be applied in reality as soon as possible. A great many people who don't deserve it have two residences: their dacha and their city space, they live like gentry and profiteer on their dachas.

Our legislation has to go forward together with life, not contrary to it. It shouldn't be defending people who have their living space requirements satisfied twice over (dacha owners) but help working people who are living with three square meters per person. Dachas that have been built without the approval of the National Bank Financial Inspector should be nationalized.

Volunteer Inspector Rybalkin February 28, 1961

This radio program has used documents from the archives of the Russian Federation and from the Russian State Archive for Social and Political History.

Cited with permission from Radio Svoboda from material available at the site

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