Skip to comments.Experiences in communist countries
Posted on 06/29/2012 9:23:02 PM PDT by moonshot925
Have you even lived in or visited a communist country? What was your experience?
I have relative who lived in Cuba for a short time. From what they told me, at least in the area they were in basic supplies were usually available, but housing and infrastructure were very poor to nonexistent.
I’ve been in a communist led country for the last three years, and I didn’t even have to move from America.
Are you describing Budapest or Detroit?
Kidding aside, I have a friend from Norway and he described growing up kind of like this. Not as bad. So even the Euro-Socialist countries are a good example.
Good idea for a thread. BKMK
I visited Vermont once. They were happy to have me spend my US dollars there.
I used to visit NJ, but stopped a few years ago.
I went to the Olympics in Sarajevo. I learned how it must feel to be a rich Arab - couldn’t spend all my money because there was so little to spend it on. They had crystal goblets, rather primitive art and a few other things to bring home. Overall the people were eager to see us, in a way seemed sort of naive, they were not affluent at all. We stayed in a local’s house one or two nights - she couldn’t speak English but managed to communicate that her husband had died in a war.
Lots of little stories - but in the end I felt so sorry for the people when the war came - as predicted by one of our taxi drivers.
BTW - many of the men were quite good looking - I saw what could have been the most gorgeous guy I’ve ever seen when he got on and later off a bus in the middle of nowhere on the road between Dubrovnik and Sarajevo.
Yes, I’ve lived in Montgomery County, Maryland for 30 years. What did you want to know? :-)
Capitalism is alive and well in China, if that is what you want to know. Lots of pub crawls. Don’t protest the government by why would you, it’s not your government and you don’t want to be kicked out. I always found it amazing that you can post to FR from China without interuption while for some reason CNN and the Washington Post are frequently blocked. Oh, and when a U.S. official is visiting, all the stores that sell copy CD/DVDs close for a week.
Once Obama makes voting obsolete, all those things you mentioned will come to pass.
I live in one.
Budapest today is another world from 1988.
My first visit was in 2000, and had a number of visits after that, staying in a very fine pre-Communist house in the area known as Oktogon. I spent summer of 2004 in Romania, and the rest of my time till Jan 2009, in Slovakia.
Budapest, Since the late 90s, is quite nice.
Anyone here that is going to be in Budapest, I can recommend
a very fine B&B, run by an acquaintance in the same building where I stayed.
I spent a number of months off and on in China over the course of several years back in the early 1990’s, and eventually married a young woman from there.
It was pleasant there. There were no hassles for me. The people were friendly, and seemed content with their lives.
About a year after my wife came to live with me in the States she surprised the heck out of me one day by going on a rant about how much more freedom people had in China, pointing out multiple instances of government intrusion and hassles in our daily lives. She was right, and it’s just gotten worse in the years since then. Not proud to say so, but there it is.
No hiding the drab sameness of the Trabbis or the pervasive sadness of...everything.
They tell us some interesting stories.
One that stands out is that every year they were forced to partake in blanket drives for the poor, under-privelidged kids of capitalist America who were freezing in the streets. They said they were poor as church mice and every year they were forced to give up blankets for this cause. They knew it was complete BS but they were forced to go along with the farce. They said it was such a dysfunctional society based on lies and pretending you didn't know they were lies.
I’ve spent time in Russia and it looks like both the US 1960’s as well as what I imagine the US 2020’s will look like.
My parents are from Romania. I have heard lots of stories about life under the communists. They had to live largely off of what they could grow and raise on their 10,000 sqft lot. There was almost never any food available for purchase.
That post made me snort
Rejoice, we’ll never be like Soviet Russia, we’ll be like Argentina!
C’mon, these apartment buildings actually had piped water and inside toilets. They also had food available until late 80s and there was no need to carry internal passport all the time.
Sounds like Norway today.
I visited Poland around 1998. The concrete flats were everywhere and there were hardly any radio stations to listen to. But, by gawd, McDonald’s was there. It was surreal. LOVED the Polish peeps, tho, and almost moved there with hubby’s job.
Was very sick from mosquito attacks from a tour stop in E. Germany during the trip. Think it was a parasite. Went to a government hospital TRYING to get meds after the first medic wanted to INJECT me with some $hit. “ENT” (supposedly) at this hospital sterilized his instruments over a Bunsen Burner when I was sitting there. NO autoclave. I just wanted some antibiotics!!!
Went to a government hospital TRYING to get meds after the first medic wanted to INJECT me with some $hit. ENT (supposedly) at this hospital sterilized his instruments over a Bunsen Burner when I was sitting there. NO autoclave. I just wanted some antibiotics!!!
That sounds like Amerika in 2014. Or sooner.
Soviet Union: churches had been changed into gyms or indoor swimming pools. Everybody, but EVERYbody, looked poor. No color, no fashion.Cars held together with duct tape, rope, etc. It was like going back in time 20-30 years. Poor dental work. Empty grocery stores, food lines. Lots of drunks. Only goods worth buying were in special stores for, “Westerners only.”
Eastern bloc: To conserve gas, people would push their (very small) cars. Primitive farming and overall lifestyle. Driving through villages people would call out to us, “Americans! Americans!”
Speaking of piped water... here is an example of the glories of the Communist revolution:
I once had a neighbor from Germany and she had been a young girl during WWII. She said that when the Russian soldiers got to Germany they had never seen plumbing and thought toilets were potato washing sinks. They also couldn’t understand why they couldn’t pull a faucet off a wall - stick it on another wall and not get water.
“these apartment buildings actually had piped water and inside toilets”
I said SOME. I would say more than 80% of the flats had inside toilets, sewage disposal, piped water and piped gas.
“They also had food available until late 80s”
There was shortages of everything in the 80s. Which led to the queue lines.
“there was no need to carry internal passport all the time”
Yes there was.
Yes, to the good looking men comment! Albanian men were very handsome.
I visited Bosnia.
You could sense a high level of distrust everywhere.
It’s like...communism makes everyone fearful - to say the wrong thing - to be seen with the wrong person.
That would probably make a good tag line.
I lived in Uzabekistan for a year, right after they seceded from the USSR. Aside from the geographical differences, your physical description of Budapest is remarkably vivid and accurate. It’s difficult to elaborate in a short space. Just a few random memories....1) When I was out of town, the police harassed my host family, trying to find out where I was; 2) The police tried to force a friend of mine to take an AIDS test; 3) Kids swam through muddy run-off on hot days; 4) Medical care was so bad that a friend of mine was sent to Kazakhstan for dental work. When she got there, the Kazak dentist didn’t have anaesthesia; 5) A bus driver tried to kick me off the bus in the middle of the desert if I didn’t offer him a bribe; 6) A friend of mine was kidnapped one night, escaped, then raped by a police officer; 7) you couldn’t drive at night or your car might plunge into a sink hole (though I never heard of it happening); 8) outside the tenements, people generally had pit toilets; 9) the stuff you hear about Russians and vodka is true; 10) DAMN materialistic people...but I’m sympathetic; when you have so little, it’s understandable why they’d want so much more; 11) there was a big crane parked behind the tenement, and it didn’t move the entire time I was living there; 12) cock fights; 13) women didn’t shave their legs or armpits but you got used to it; 14) a lot of gold teeth and unibrows; 15) my host dad was a professor, and his students were always doing major construction work on his home (for their grades, I think); 16) tombstones had engravings of the deceased...my morbid—and likely incorrect—inference is that the engravings were a direct function of their dialectically materialistically atheistic upbringings (i.e., the closest thing to an after-life they could think of); 17...I don’t know...probably other things. I appreciate the chance to share some of this, though I apologize that it’s so rambling!
Needed to be said again.
I went on a bike trip to Poland in 1984. We stayed in college dorms in Gdansk which smelled like urine and were filthy. They were occupied by mostly Africans. Food was plentiful but very limited to bread, plain cheese, crummy apples, canned goods. Beer expensive and hard to find. Vodka -lots. I was struck that during the week, there were thousands of people roaming the streets. They were supposed to be ‘working’. Poles approached us constantly asking the men in the group to exchange zlotys for US $. Apparently there were ‘dollar stores’ there where one could buy items not otherwise avaiable to Poles with US $. Out in the country, we were told at a ‘grocery store’ -empty shelves some bread, bananas, milk, canned goods- that there were no eggs because they were out of season. Maybe a translation error but nevertheless. It was August. Poles only wanted to speak English with us and refused to speak Russian. They hated the Russians. The ferry we took played a lot of American music but all anti=American songs from Vietnam era. American Woman by Guess Who (cover band though!), etc.
I went to Russia in May of 1994, which was early-post-Soviet, but had some Soviet features remaining. The most Soviet thing was the government run stores. At the grocery store, you stood in line at the meat counter. When it was your turn, you selected your cut of meat. The clerk packaged it for you and put it aside. Then you went to the central cash register and stood in line to pay for it. After paying for it, you took your receipt back to the meat counter and presented to the clerk, who gave you your meat. Then you moved on to the milk counter and went through the whole process again. If any of the clerks whose lines you were standing in had a break, they just got up and left. The line broke up and you did not get to save your place when she came back. The rules were designed for the benefit of the workers, not the customers.
If you just needed a cucumber or a loaf of bread in Moscow, you could buy something from a lady standing near the subway entrance. Women from the outlying suburbs would show up at peak commute times with a couple items to sell, and when they had sold them, they went home.
Some things were cheap. My Russian friend got us tickets to the Bolshoi ballet really cheap. The price for tourists would have been much higher. Museums and cultural events were cheap for natives. Also, I rode in Russian trains which were charming and included tea service. I went to the great Ismailova flea market and got beautiful handmade items from the hinterlands, although they also sold some junk.
Worst restaurant meal ever: a microwaved, breaded fish patty with ketchup and peas on the side. Enjoyed in a beautiful, classical European style room, which was clogged with cigarette smoke emanating from noisy drunks. The microwave oven was a new, cool thing, and so was the frozen fish. Ketchup was considered cool, too, because it was a recent, foreign arrival.
A traditional Soviet food: rich, tasty vanilla ice cream whose recipe had not changed since the 1920s, I was told, because the Carnation company had the ice cream contract in the early days of the USSR and when they checked out, the ice cream kept being made exactly the same way, ever after. And only vanilla flavor.
Yep! Lived in the UK for almost a decade. Just you wait, folks! Try scheduling with a GP if you’re sick. Took me a WEEK in some cases. My son’s surgery? Had to pay (privately) to have it done as the wait period was 3 years.
Had an terrible ear infection while pregnant. Face was swollen. Couldn’t get in with GP.....went to ER. D@amned ER doc was incredibly incompetent. Took him 30 minutes to flip through a PDR (Physicians Desk Reference) to find the right drug for me. Then told me that the drug prescribed MAY lead to birth defects. Had to call the US to MY PEDIATRICIAN, of all people, for advice.
I was in labor for a WEEK because they didn’t have a d@mned bed available and was sent home even though I was having hard contractions. Almost LOST my child due to that.
That’s aweful. You’re right-it will get ugly here.
Traveled all through and stayed in Yugoslavia as a teenager in the 1970s - ugly, smelly, everything broken. Visited East Berlin with a native German about a year before the wall came down - the minute you crossed over to the East, you could smell the pollution in the air. Ugly, grim - but both Yugoslavia and E. Berlin were paradise compared to Cuba, to which I traveled a lot in the 1980s and 1990s and lived in people’s home. It’s a concentration camp. The people there have been destroyed. Even if they were liberated tomorrow, it would be no use. Aside from a tiny elite, they are quasi-illiterate, have had no meaningful contact with the outside world, no references, no understanding of right and wrong. It’s a nation of prostitutes, and I’m talking about the professors and doctors.
No toilet paper, scarce food, constant vigilance. It’s like being in the novel 1984.
Visited the USSR back in ‘76 part of a 12-group student exchange program of the college of education & nursing. We went for two weeks to study their education & health care.
A few anecdotes if I may.
There was the fish store (with fish on big tables full of ice), the butcher shop (meat hanging on wall hooks), the tea (chai) and bakery shop (mostly just bread). Then there was the other store that had mostly potatoes, beets, cabbage, onion. That’s about it. Went into the “specialty” store, where, for example they had on display a single can of tomato juice on a pedestal.
The so-called “biggest department store in the world” (Gum) was more like a huge empty train station, with not a lot of retail space. E.g., the “linen department” was two glass cases, about 12 ft long in total, with several sizes of plain white sheets & pillow cases, and about a half-dozen plain blankets.
Most folks rode the trolley or walked, only the apparatchiks had cars. Streets were pretty empty & clean (no trash or other signs of commerce, plus the endless sweeping of the babushka ladies). Very, very few store signs, almost no neon, billboards, etc. Actually went into culture shock on my return to the states, after being in such bleak and bare circumstances, got a little dizzy on the ride home from the airport.
Inside the hallway entrance to an elementary school was a big map with the Russian areas in red (back then, including Cuba, most of Eastern Europe, a few African countries, etc.) above it were the words “Tomorrow the World”. Students as young as three went oustide for “recess”, about an hour a day, in two feet of snow (toughening them up, and getting them prepared for drilling, I suppose).
They showed us with pride some of their newest medical equipment - looked like something from some bad 1950’s sci-fi movie.
Managed to talk to a Russian student (never know if he was a plant or not, but anyway....). Told me if you were good at, say, engineering, State would help you along. E.g., living space was charged by the square foot, and you’d get a cheaper rate. If instead you wanted to go into another field of study, theoretically you could, but you’d pay an exhorbitant per-square-foot rate. In his words, what you’d be doing by going into engineering was better for society. He tried to dissuade me from my belief in such US accomplishments as landing on the moon, Holland Tunnel, etc., telling me I was a victim of US propaganda.
Most harrowing experience - (I suppose I can tell this story now, it’s been decades). One of the girls on our trip was Jewish and was smuggling some information to a young Jewish student in Moscow. She wanted a guy to go with her for safety, and asked me. Scariest walk ever, I kept expecting the soldiers in the wool coats and big fur hats to come around the corner every minute. He was living in a very sparse apartment - he was selling his furniture, books, etc. for food. He was stuck in a Catch-22. Since he had asked the authorities to be able to leave the country, they took his working papers (you don’t want to live here, then obviously you don’t want to work here either). Without working papers, he could not get a passport, visa, or whatever. So he was stuck, on a path to starvation, jail, or worse. I got this strange feeling, realizing I was indeed on the opposite side of the world.
The girl gave him some papers with contact information, almost like an Underground Railroad of sorts to get him through parts of Europe and to the West.
On a lighter note:
Hotels had a concierge of sorts on each floor, basically I assume to keep an eye on us. We would talk in gibberish around them, just to mess with them.
Coming in at the airport, was waiting to move through customs. Looking down the hall (I swear this is true) saw a young woman with blond hair & sunglasses watching us surreptitiouly. When she saw I was looking at her, she slowly backed up behind the corner. Right out of a Bond movie.
On the looooooong ride between Moscow & Leningrad, saw mostly forest. Every once in a while there’d be a clearing with MAYbe one old pickup truck in a small farm village of a few dozen buildings. The stopover hotel was fenced in (probably to keep us in), but they said it was to protect us from the wild wolves (and I believed them after I heard them howling at night). No TV or radio, but our bus guide taught us how to sing “Moscow Nights” in Russian. We taught her how to sing “Take Me Out to the Ball Game”.
The Hermitage was quite beautiful, and seemed so out-of sorts with the rest of our trip - all that decadence, tsk, tsk.
In summary, I never felt like kissing the ground until I returned from that trip. Thank God for the USA.
Unk....I can’t tell you enough! It IS AWFUL!!!! Please, people......LISTEN!!!!!!
I cant tell you enough! It IS AWFUL!!!! Please, people......LISTEN!!!!!!
I hope enough are listening and waking up but I have very little faith in most Americans.
Does Massachusetts count?
The first thing that struck me is there are no banks. We had hired a private guide, a professor of English at the University,who was quite candid when out of earshot of the driver, who only glared and never spoke for 3 days. She was quite matter of fact about it- “no one trust banks, we keep our money under the mattress. That way the government cant tax it.” It sounded like most transactions were underground, in cash. She said she even bought her car, a new BMW for cash.
The urban center was quite nice, the buildings seemed to be in good repair. She told me they “bought” their own apartments now- from the government. She seemed quite proud of the progress to private property. But when pressed, it wasn't clear what she owned. The government still owned the actual building, the walls, floors and ceilings of each apartment, and all the common areas. So I guess they bought the air inside, and the right to breathe it. They think they are REAL capitalists- not like Moscow or the provinces clinging to the old ways. So bizarre.
Finally- my husband's most striking memory was how beautiful the women were. We are of an age where dumpy Mrs. Kruschev was the only Russian woman we knew- so it was a shock to see the streets and shops filled with such lovely females, with gorgeous skin, fashionable clothes, stylish hair.
You didn't mention about the other counters in the stores. For example they had about 3 brands of cereal behind one counter and you paid for them the same way as the meat but it wasn't weighed. You didn't grab anything and take it to a checkout like you do here. Lived on caviar, bread, and pate most days.
Went to the famous Moscow circus. My now fiance went to a scalper for tickets. Has to pay in American dollars which were illegal at the time but they took anyway. Did see some errors that I'm sure wouldn't be allowed in previous years but was a great show. Commenting on hoping the cork didn't shoot out of the horse's rear end during the show didn't make her too happy as she thought it was the only thing I got from the show as she didn't completely understand American dark humor.
My personal experiences (previously posted on FR)
1st generation American
Here are some things I remember:
I could go on for ages, but this is already way too long of a list!
I was in Vietnam once. The residents shot at me.
in 1973 I had a job on a Danish cargo ship which made several stops in various ports in Yugoslavia. I even got lost there once and wound up in Ljubljana by mistake. One of my shipmates fell asleep one night in a rowboat (he was too drunk to find his way back to the ship) and spend 2 months in jail... when his embassy finally got him out, most of his ribs and fingers had all been broken from the daily beatings.
I also did a bicycle trek through the USSR in 1985. I was in various cities in Russia, Latvia and Estonia. They wouldn’t let me go to Lithuania as planned due to protests going on there. My assigned escort was a nice gal who explained all the great things about Communism and tried her best to insure I only saw the “correct” things. It was a fascinating adventure for sure.
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