Barracks represent an era where communal housing was common, which, for Russia and the Soviet Union, is a big span of the twentieth century. This was an era where people used to live together and were shaped by this “togetherness”. Here is a picture of people celebrating a holiday. Barracks are in the background.
(The picture is from the archives of V. Dolgosheev, from http://ssgen.livejournal.com/495769.html)
It is precisely that feeling of a happy communal living that my mother praises when she recalls her grandmother’s room in a barrack on the outskirts of Moscow. I find that kindness, generosity and love that she always describes when talking about her visits to her grandmother’s room are the results of my great-grandmother's nature and the happy obliviousness of the childhood in general (when you're not that concerned about one toilet for thirty families) rather than that of the barrack’s itself. But mostly barracks are associated with unhappiness and poor living conditions. Igor Kholin, a great Russian postavangardist poet, a member of the famous Liаnozovo group of underground poets, wrote in the 1950s:
Дамба. Клумба. Облезлая липа.
Дом барачного типа.
Коридор. Восемнадцать квартир.
На стенке лозунг: МИРУ — МИР.
A damb. A flower bed. A mangy linden tree.
A hall. Eighteen apartments.
On a wall there is a slogan: Peace to the World.
Кто-то выбросил рогожу.
Кто-то выплеснул помои.
На заборе чья-то рожа,
надпись мелом: «Это Зоя».
Двое спорят у сарая,
а один уж лезет в драку.
Выходной. Начало мая.
Скучно жителям баракa.
Somebody threw out a burlap.
Somebody threw out slops.
Somebody’s mug is on the fence,
“This is Zoya,” a writing in chalk says.
Two are arguing near a storage hut,
one is ready to get into a fight.
It’s a day off. Beginning of May.
The residents of the barrack are bored.
With years, barracks lost their already dubious charm completely. I can imagine that people who still have to stay in barracks find themselves in the shabby world permeated by signs of the past.
The picture is from http://vengelse.ru/foto/3912-kirpichnyy.html
Ceramic tiles, durable and costly now but used everywhere in Soviet time, walls, covered by coats (how many?) of indestructible green paint, wooden steps of stairs and communal kitchens.
(The picture is from http://vengelse.ru/foto/3912-kirpichnyy.html)
Dilapidated storage huts outside.
But traces of beauty or, rather, human perpetual aspiration for beauty, still remain now, like flowers seen in the following picture put there by somebody’s hand.
The modernity, even if in the form of a satellite TV, takes over.
Today there exist several government programs of moving barrack residents to new apartments. I believe that the date for the completion of the move is set for 2015. But the implementation of these programs is difficult, especially in smaller towns, as new and affordable public housing is usually universally scarce. Here, in Tula, “depopulated” barracks stay empty for some time ready to give way to their fancier counterparts – private town houses, cottages and fancy high-rises. It is amazing how fast they are gone, destroyed.
It took an excavator just a couple of hours to raze down a whole barrack.
A truck came later, picked up the debris and by the end of the day there were only yellows gas pipes remaining of loves, joys, laughter, death, sorrows, birthdays, breakfasts, dinners, words – of lives of the barrack’s many inhabitants.