Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation

Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation

Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation

Soviet Baby Boomers: An Oral History of Russia's Cold War Generation

Synopsis

Donald Raleigh's Soviet Baby Boomers traces the collapse of the Soviet Union and the transformation of Russia into a modern, highly literate, urban society through the fascinating life stories of the country's first post-World War II, Cold War generation. For this book, Raleigh has interviewed sixty 1967 graduates of two "magnet" secondary schools that offered intensive instruction in English, one in Moscow and one in provincial Saratov. Part of the generation that began school the year the country launched Sputnik into space, they grew up during the Cold War, but in a Soviet Union increasingly distanced from the excesses of Stalinism. In this post-Stalin era, the Soviet leadership dismantled the Gulag, ruled without terror, promoted consumerism, and began to open itself to an outside world still fearful of Communism. Raleigh is one of the firstscholars of post-1945 Soviet history to draw extensively on oral history, a particularly useful approach in studying a country where the boundaries between public and private life remained porous and the state sought to peer into every corner of people's lives. During and after the dissolution ofthe USSR, Russian citizens began openly talking about their past, trying to make sense of it, and Raleigh has made the most of this new forthrightness. He has created an extraordinarily rich composite narrative and embedded it in larger historical narratives of Cold War, de-Stalinization,"overtaking" America, opening up to the outside world, economic stagnation, dissent, emigration, the transition to a market economy, the transformation of class, ethnic, and gender relations, and globalization. Including rare photographs of daily life in Cold War Russia, Soviet Baby Boomers offers an intimate portrait of a generation that has remained largely faceless until now.

Excerpt

In 1961, at the height of the Cold War, the leader of the ussr, Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev, promised the Soviet people that the Soviet Union would surpass the United States in per capita production by 1970 and attain communism by 1980. a vast improvement over socialism, which the state proclaimed had been achieved already in the 1930s, communism represented that stage in historical development when the inherently superior Soviet system would race past the capitalist order. Khrushchev’s blueprint for communism included sky-high incomes; free vacations, trips to resorts, medical service, and education; a sixhour workday; free lunches in schools and workplaces; free day care and unprecedented maternity benefits; and the gradual reduction of fees for other service industries. “But people didn’t think it was possible,” remembered Irina Vizgalova, born in 1950 in the provincial city of Saratov. “Even children. How could we? Because suddenly we didn’t have bread here in Saratov. There was no milk. What kind of communism could there be when they passed out bread in school?” Her classmate Olga Kolishchyuk drolly recalled when, in conjunction with Khrushchev’s campaign, the authorities hung a banner with his slogan “Catch up with and overtake America” across Lenin Street, Saratov’s major thoroughfare. Shortly afterward, the state automobile inspection put up a poster suspiciously nearby, “when in doubt, don’t pass [overtake] anyone.”

Yet several other people their age taken in by Khrushchev’s promises—who, as adults, ironically emigrated from Russia—dredged up different memories. Irina and Olga’s classmate, Aleksandr Trubnikov, who today lives in Israel, trusted Khrushchev: “I even remember arguing with my friend whether we’d each have a personal helicopter in 1980, by which time we’d have built communism. I remember very well how normal this seemed back then.” Trubnikov added, “I now see that our childhood minds were so tainted that we believed that we’d have a bright future. It’s great that at least now I understand that they duped a huge part of the population.” Similarly, Moscow’s Bakhyt Kenzheyev, now a Canadian citizen, stressed how smugly satisfied Khrushchev’s promise of overtaking America had made him when he was eleven years old and in awe of Soviet triumphs in the space race with the United States. “But then the year 1970 began and I was already twenty years old. I looked at Khrushchev’s Party Program and realized that nothing had been done,” observed Kenzheyev. “More than . . .

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