Summerhouses & the Soviet Union

Following the industrialization of the Soviet Union in the mid-20th century, many people moved to cities in search of work and opportunities. This mass migration to urban areas such as Moscow and the population boom that occurred resulted in a housing shortage that left many homeless with the lucky few being forced to live in communal apartments. With Joseph Stalin’s death in March 1953 his successor, Nikita Khrushchev, wanted to distance himself Stalin’s legacy and the politics that surrounded him. To do this form of destalinization, Khrushchev wished to connect with the common people and afford them the right and ability to move away from the shared living situations that afforded to them little privacy. Thus, Khrushchev implemented numerous housing projects that rapidly expanded the boundaries of urban centers and increased the number, size, and standard of apartments across the Soviet Union (Morton, 235). Despite these seemingly improvements in housing, the changes were not all that positive compared to the standards of living in other countries. These so called “Khrushchev barracks” had low ceilings, small rooms, and shoddy and fast construction (Freeze, 425). The result of such homes and standards of living left many Russian citizens wanting to escape from their encompassing and overcrowded lives to a more natural and free environment.

Ivan Shagin: Moscow Landscape (1955)

To find such a retreat from the urbanized areas such as Moscow, many Russians sought out dachas, or summer houses to either rent or own for a duration of the year. These countryside vacation homes were largely state-owned and operated in the rural areas untouched by industrialization and development (Geldern). They served the purpose of allowing Russians to receive fresh air they could not get in large cities and reunite themselves with nature and the rural territories that many of them had grown up in.

Despite their popularity and appeal to large amounts of the population, there were not many dachas in existence. This is the result of good land being used for agricultural purposes under Khrushchev with his “Virgin Lands” program, where farmable land was taken and used as state-farms because of their history of never previously being used (Freeze, 424). As there were a limited number of dachas available for rent, the search for them began early in the year, sometimes as early as January.

Georges Bortoli, "Dachas outside Moscow (1954)

One family reported that when searching for a dacha in February to spend their summer holidays at that the dacha-searching and renting processes were very curt and filled with examining less than acceptable homes and rooms. They state that they viewed a wooden shed and a room that was to be divided among numerous families that wanted to rent that particular week. Finally, they concluded that: “We finally found a suitable dacha, but the price was staggering. For the same amount, the entire family could have gone on holiday to the Black Sea for three months (Dashkevich, 180).”

Dachas were also divided along the signs of wealth and status with politicians and the elite owning private summer houses equipped with servants and other forms of luxuries. The average man on the other hand was forced to rent a summer house for a considerable price while also facing the risk of having his stay be double-booked with other families. This risk was serious as there was no agency to protect against this from occurring, or even a government department that oversaw the renting and regulations of dachas (Dashkevich, 18). In fact, many of the existing regulations only existed on paper. The process of renting a dacha is primarily done between the owners and the renters of the summer houses, with the Soviet government rarely being involved in the process (Morton, 248). This directly affects the pricing of the dachas as there were no strict and enforced regulation for renters to base the prices off of. The non-existent regulations combined with the growing demand for dachas and their small quantity forced many Russians to overpay for their accommodations.

 

Bibliography

Bortoli, Georges. “Moscow and Leningrad Observed. ” 1975. Soviethistory. Web. 8 April. 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1956-2/dachas/dachas-images/#bwg144/800

Dashkevich, Natalia. “’I WANT TO RENT A DACHA’ – Existing Concerns and Nonexistent Services.” The Current Digest of the Russian Press. Vol. 25, No. 19. (1973): 18. https://dlib-eastview-com.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/search/simple/doc?art=13&id=13642453

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia: A History, Third Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.

Geldern, James von. “Dachas.” Soviethistory. Web. 8 April. 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1956-2/dachas/

Morozov, Sergei. “Sovetskaia khudozhestvennaia fotografiia.” 1958. Soviethistory. Web. 8 April. 2018. http://soviethistory.msu.edu/1956-2/dachas/dachas-images/#bwg144/799

Morton, Henry W. “Who Gets What, When and How? Housing in the Soviet Union.” Soviet Studies. Vol. 32, No. 2 (1980): 235-259. http://www.jstor.org.ezproxy.lib.vt.edu/tc/accept?origin=/stable/pdf/151234.pdf?refreqid=excelsior%3A9d9d1f15d3a60ac56118a23113f0021a

 

 

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5 thoughts on “Summerhouses & the Soviet Union

  1. Taylor, great work! I think it’s interesting how dachas became such a phenomenon at the time, and how it was the poor construction of the homes in cities along with the Virgin Land campaign that made them so hard to find.

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  2. On a somewhat related note this definitely reminded me of booking a place for spring break. You either find something of reasonable price but the place is run down or you find a nice place and the price is outrageous. Thanks for teaching me about dachas!

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  3. Taylor, this was a really interesting post. Since starting this class, and reading in passing about “Dachas” of various famous Soviets, I always wanted to learn a bit more about what they are and their significance. I found it very interesting how the concept was designed to help the common soviet citizen, but their was a fundamental lack of structure or regulation behind actually facilitating common citizens from using one privately. Great job!

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  4. The world of dachas is so fascinating! Good work finding the article from the Current Digest that addresses the struggles of ordinary people to find a place they could afford during the summer. Part of the answer to Zane’s question is that lots of people accessed dachas or vacation housing through the workplace (via their trade union). So the more privileged the work(er), the better the dacha.

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