Staunton, September 25 – Most observers have focused on Vladimir Putin’s moves to restore the KGB, but they have not paid as much attention to the return under his rule of another feature of Soviet life that most Russians thought they had left behind: long lines at stores for even the most basic goods.
And while standing in line is in no way as horrific as being harassed or arrested by the KGB, it is something that affects far more Russians on a daily basis and may prove an even greater source of popular discontent even if the Kremlin-controlled media seeks to blame sanctions by the West for this development.
The long lines of Russians waiting to purchase the latest edition of i-phones have attracted some media attention (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57E620ED1E72F), but lines at food stores and other outlets have generally been ignored by the media – even though for many Russians, this return of the Soviet past may cast a more immediate shadow on their lives.
Kasparov.ru commentator Aleksey Roshchin notes that the arrival of fall in Moscow this year has been accompanied by a most interesting development: “a lot everywhere in supermarkets have appeared … lines.” Lines of seven to ten people or even more at cash registers (kasparov.ru/material.php?id=57E77EEB0F89B).
Lines, of course, had “begun to appear even earlier,” he writes; “but in recent times, they have begun to assume an almost ordinary character” like in Soviet times. Consequently, when people say they are headed to the store, they are routinely warned that they must be “prepared to stand in line” in order to make their purchases.
This return of a phenomenon that for many Russians defined Soviet life is now surprise, Roshchin says. After all, “’the party and government’ with the complete approval of the post-Soveit people has begun to ‘restore the USSR’ and so it is impossible to avoid seeing the return of lines.” That is truly something that binds the people together.
Many factors are clearly involved in this revival of a Soviet phenomenon, he continues. Stores are trying to save money by cutting the number of employees. The shutting down of street trade has pushed people back into the stores. And because of the crisis, many stores are closing (lenta.ru/articles/2016/09/23/dolgi/?utm_source=lentafb&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=krupnye-reteylery-budut-prodolzhat-uhodi).
How Russians will react is an open question, he suggests. Many will go along convinced they have no choice, but at least some will get angry. Whether this anger translates into political action, of course, is far from clear, given that the powers that be can be counted on to crack down on any such manifestations.
One anecdote from Soviet times, however, suggests how at least some Russians will react and learn. According to the story, a man goes out to buy toilet paper and meat. He stands in line for hours to discover when he reaches the front of the line that the stores are out of both or perhaps didn’t have either.
He goes away cursing the Soviet system, and a militiaman accosts. The officer tells him that in Stalin’s time, he could have had him sent to Siberia; but in the time of perestroika, he will let him off with a warning. The man, chastened, returns home and says to his wife that things are even worse than they thought.
Not only has the Soviet system run out of toilet paper and meat, but it appears that the authorities have run out of bullets!