The apartment doorbells packed without a plan on the door of the old bourgeois flat, all completely different, but slowly assimilated to each other by the layers of time, faithfully reflect the nature of the kommunalki mentioned in the previous post. The коммунальная квартира, the communal flat was a fruit of the revolution of 1917, called to life by the new collective vision of the future shorn of private property on the one hand, and by the pressure of the huge masses of population flowing from the countryside to the cities during the artificially induced urbanization on the other. Between the first and the last years of the Soviet Union the proportion of 20:80% between urban and rural population turned almost exactly to the reverse, but the mass construction of housing estates – the so-called khrushchevki, or even khrushchoby, “Khrushchev-slums” – started only in the 1960s. As a solution of the urgent housing problem, the former large bourgeois flats were divided into several – five to ten – one-room apartments, each for one family, while hallways, kitchen, bathroom and telephone were shared among all the residents.

Dmitry Annekov: I go and call him

Boris Vitkevich: Pusya cat in the communal kitchen

Communal kitchen

“Now the tenants of the large communal apartment in which Lokhankin resided had a reputation for being capricious and were notorious throughout the building for their frequent brawls. Apartment 3 had even been dubbed the “Crow Colony.” Prolonged cohabitation had hardened these people, and they knew no fear. Blocs of individual tenants maintained a balance of power, but occasionally the inhabitants of the Crow Colony would all gang up on some single lodger, and that lodger was in for a rough ride. The centripetal force of litigation would snatch him up, drag him into the lawyers’ offices, swirl him through the smoke-sodden corridors of the law and thrust him into the chambers of the Comradely and Peoples Courts. Long would the defiant lodger roam in search of the truth as he struggled to reach All-Union Elder Comrade Kalinin. And to his dying day he would sprinkle his speech with legalese he had picked up in various judicial offices, saying “punitive measures” rather than “punishment” and “perpetrate” instead of “commit.” He would refer to himself not as “Comrade Zhukov,” as he had been known since the day he was born, but “the aggrieved party.” Most often and with special relish, however, he would utter the expression “file a suit.” And his life, which wasn’t exactly flowing with milk and honey before, would really go sour.”
Ilf-Petrov: The little golden calf

Get acquainted! 1938

Come in! Take care not to knock against the table.

Don’t knock off anything on the corridor! (Savinsky pereulok, Flat No. 5, 1929)

Do not cause congestion in the common spaces!

“There’s no way we can walk through the hallway,” said Selizneva. “I can’t keep stepping over a man. And he sticks out his feet on purpose, and his arms too, and sometimes he turns on his back and stares. I come home from work tired, I need my rest. And he always has nails falling out of his pocket. You can’t walk in the hallway barefoot, if you don’t watch out you’ll puncture your foot.”

“Recently they wanted to pour kerosene on him and light it,” said the super.

“We poured kerosene on him,” said Korshunov, but he was interrupted by Kulygin who said, “We only poured kerosene on him to scare him; we weren’t intending to light it.”

“I would not permit a living person to be set on fire in my presence,” said Selizneva.

“But why is this citizen lying in the hallway,” exclaimed the cop.

“That’s a good one!” said Korshunov, but Kulygin interrupted him and said, “Because he doesn’t have any other space: this room here is mine, and that one is theirs, and this fellow lives there, and Myshin here, he lives in the hallway.”

Daniil Harms: Myshin’s victory

This is the kitchen. Just do not touch the other’s tables!

This one you can, this is ours. The lady next door has hung up the socks above the stove again. How many times we told her not to!

R. Bazhenov: Other’s pot. Krokodil, 1959

Besides an education to community life, the kommunalki also made easier spying on the neighbors, and not rarely also denouncing them.

“She openly listens at other people’s doors, or she stands there and listens to a telephone conversation and then with great relish relates what she heard to people in the kitchen. She’ll say something like, “And I heard her criticizing you through the door. I even stopped to listen.” She has this pose she takes. When she’s on her way back from the kitchen, she stops at her door, leans forward a little, and stands there for a couple of minutes without moving, just listening.”

To the toilet you go only if absolutely necessary. You can was your hands also here, although there is cold water only:

A. Kulyemi: Kommunalka in Moscow

Save water! (1950)

There, at the end of the hallway, that is our room

Please walk in!

“I had two childhood friends, whom I still meet from time to time. In the flat of one of them there lived seven families, in the other eight or nine ones, I guess. They lived at the two ends of the same street, and I often visited them. The microclimate of these human beehives was quite different. In one of them there lived very friendly bees. Aunt Lena always served us cakes, Uncle Victor repaired our bikes, and the little sister of my friend could be always thrown in for a couple of hours to Aunt Nadia in the next room. But the other was rather like a disturbed nest of hornets, with constant quarrels and swearing because of the cleaning order of the common areas, soap and hair in the soup and other charms plaguing common life. When coming to visit here, I always tried to sneak into my friend’s room as soon as possible, and to settle peeing, sorry for the intimate details, well ahead in time, even in the bushes near the house.”

One of the best introductions into the world of kommunalki is the virtual museum Communal Living in Russia, composed in English and Russian by Ilya Utekhin and his companions, with a rich documentation, video and audio material, virtual tours as well as an anthology from the literature and film of the period.

A good impression is offered also by Françoise Huguier’s documentary Kommunalka (2008). The director of the film lived in the late 1990s for months in a communal flat in Petersburg, making friendship with the inhabitants and regularly taking photos of them. Years later she returned to shoot a film, and she still found there the majority of the old residents. The beautifully designed site of the film invites you to see it; its introduction can be watched on YouTube; and the complete film is accessible here with a French introduction and Russian dialogues, but without subtitles.

“It’s better to live in a communal apartment, a large one, in this kind of, in a historic district, a historic Petersburg district, than in a housing complex. There’s some kind of disconnection, life is more boring. I don’t know, it seems to me that people there are completely different. Everybody is on their own. And here we’re like one big family. If someone is in trouble, it gets shared. Or a joy, you share that too. Today one person will be in a bad mood, and tomorrow it will be a different person. We somehow neutralize each other, and it works out very well.”

Communal Living in Russia

4 comentarios:

Effe dijo...

“Les Kommunalki perdurent dans les grandes villes russes jusqu’à nos jours”.
Is it true?
I thought it was just a post-WWII circumstance (I think in Italy there was something similar in those times)

Studiolum dijo...

No, it was rather a post-WWI circumstance, which has remained the most basic form of housing in Soviet cities for a long time. And it exists even now. In the late 90s I also lived in such apartments as a guest. According to a very fresh (June 2011) statistics, in Saint-Petersburg there exist still 105 thousand kommunalki with 660 thousand inhabitants. Although fifteen years ago (1996) there were twice as much kommunalki, nevertheless at that time only 587 thousand people lived in them, so now the living circumstances must be much worse in those still existing.

Effe dijo...

Astonishing. It's an anthropologically different way of living I can hardly imagine.

Araz dijo...

Today I suddenly recalled a end 1980s popular soviet song by Russian group "Дюна": "Коммунальная страна" (Kommunalka country) and decided to post it here.