A Personal Experience of the USSR

from Pasa Mehmetov's Mouth

By Mustafa Genc, February, 1999


The USSR was one of the biggest and longest powers in existence that controlled a continent and achieved its goal of spreading socialism around the world. In this essay, I depict the impressions of my friend, Pasa Mehmetov, growing up in the former Soviet Union. I will recount the events as were told to me from his mouth with the purpose of helping you to see the USSR from his eyes. Pasa and his generation are probably the last ones who clearly remember what life was like in the USSR. He was born in Moscow in August 13, 1977. He is from Azerbaijan. Pasa's father worked in Moscow for the Oil Administration Headquarters, and he lived in Moscow when he was little and went to school there. Since there were no travel barriers in the USSR, he used to go to his home country Azerbaijan very often. Azerbaijan used to be part of USSR and it was seen as a gold mine because of its rich natural resources like oil and natural gas.

Pasa began telling me about his experience in the USSR from his years in kindergarten. Pasa has very fond memories of his years in kindergarten. According to him, he received excellent care and attention there. Kindergartens in the USSR were free to everyone and they were very well equipped. Kids had the best toys and the meals were very nutritious.

Pasa is also very satisfied with his education in the USSR. He went to school in the USSR until it came down in 1991. He was then 14 years old. Education in the USSR was free, but he said they had very well educated teachers and the educational system was kept at a satisfactory level. Education was very important, especially for the new generation in the USSR, because well-educated people were guaranteed jobs by the government.

Social life in USSR was very simple, but people enjoyed reading books, listening to music and participating in the arts. Pasa told me that most of the people he knew had pianos in their homes. He remembers that everyone loved playing the piano. The USSR raised many good doctors, artists, scientists, and also musicians.

Pasa was also very happy about public transportation in the USSR especially the trains. Trains were the most important tool of transportation for everyone, because very few people could afford to buy a car and also because other transportation infrastructures were bad.

Every family had a house in the USSR. Depending on the number of people in your household, you were given an apartment and the payment would automatically be deducted from your income. However, there were usually long lists of people waiting for apartments so it would take 5 years or sometimes more to move in. Pasa said people did not have any options, so they had to wait like they waited for everything else. He remembered the lines in front of the stores when they got new products in their shelves, people were lined up and waited long hours to buy them.

Pasa did not forget to mention the economic and political restrictions in the USSR which had a negative effect in the society. The USSR allowed no imports of foreign goods. Everything available from televisions to cars were USSR made. Another interesting memory Pasa had was about his uncle's, Ibrahim Mehmetov's car. Ibrahim wanted to paint his car and KGB went to his house to question him. KGB asked him questions like "Are you a member of a revolutionary organization? Are you delivering a message with this color?". Ibrahim then decided to sell the car not to cause any trouble for himself or his family. Pasa continued his account by telling me how important it was for people to never show off their wealth somehow. The purchase of a new car would guarantee a KGB visit the next day.

In order to have a good position in the workforce, one had to be an active member of the communist party. Most managers at the head of the big plants or other entities lived like kings. They had chauffeurs, nice houses and maids. Pasa looked very nervous when he was telling me about the lifestyles of these managers, especially after thinking about the Socialism's main feature, equality.

Pasa also mentioned the injustice done against his home country, Azerbaijan. Central Administration in Moscow was used to buying everything very cheap from Azerbaijan and then sell it very expensive. Oil, natural gas, and fruits were Azerbaijan's and USSR's main natural resources. Because they bought everything cheap from Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan had very little money in its budget compared to the amount of goods it supplied.

At the end of our conversation, Pasa told me a popular saying that everyone knew in the USSR and that everyone took it seriously: "Kto He Pa?otaet Tot He Ect" which means "Whoever does not work does not eat". Pasa showed his skepticism to this popular saying by asking "Whoever works more should get more, but where is it?". The message sent with the saying was short and clear. Everyone had to obey the rules. Pasa's finishing words were "Everyone lived under very hard conditions in the USSR and we are still recovering from its bad habits, but we have to be optimistic and stay focused on preparing better living conditions for the next generations. We already suffered, at least they will not".




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