Tuesday, June 24, 2014
An article at NPR describes how important kitchens were in the
Khrushchev-era Soviet Union as gathering places and centers for civic culture.
The piece is somewhat erroneously titled "How Soviet Kitchens Became Hotbeds Of
Dissent And Culture", but it doesn't really answer that question. Nevertheless, the piece is still quite interesting for the perspective it lends to our
current cultural and political situation:
When Nikita Khrushchev emerged as the leader of the Soviet Union after Stalin's death in 1953, one of the first things he addressed was the housing shortage and the need for more food. At the time, thousands of people were living in cramped communal apartments, and one bathroom with sometimes up to 20 other families.The emphasis on privacy -- which helps "[set] man free from men" is interesting for many reasons, among them: how much value even a semi-private space brought with it, how much privacy we still have by comparison, and how much privacy has come under attack of late. Anyone blithely says things like, "I have nothing to hide," in reaction to the torrent of news about our deteriorating ability to keep the meddlesome out of our affairs, would do well to read this.
"People wanted to live in their own apartment," says Sergei Khrushchev, the son of Nikita Khrushchev. "But in Stalin's time you cannot find this. When my father came to power, he proclaimed that there will be mass construction of apartment buildings, and in each apartment will live only one family."
They were called khrushchevkas -- five-story buildings made of prefabricated concrete panels. "They were horribly built; you could hear your neighbor," says Edward Shenderovich, an entrepreneur and Russian poet. The apartments had small toilets, very low ceilings and very small kitchens.
But "no matter how tiny it was, it was yours," says journalist Masha Karp, who was born in Moscow and worked as an editor for the BBC World Service from 1991 to 2009. "This kitchen was the place where people could finally get together and talk at home without fearing the neighbors in the communal flat."