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Now they seem wild: what prohibitions were in force in the USSR

Yulia PoteriankoLife
Individuality and protest were protected in the USSR

When we pick up a book from the shelf, make an appointment at the hairdresser's, or buy dollars at the exchange office, we don't even think about our actions. For us, this is all an absolute norm of life, familiar everyday activities that no one questions. But this was not the case a few decades ago.

The totalitarian Soviet Union had a system of prohibitions, many of which seem absurd and even wild to a modern person living in a democratic society. OBOZ.UA recalls these prohibitions.

Prohibition to buy housing and choose a place of residence

All housing in the USSR belonged to the state, and citizens could only get it for use. Moreover, an average resident of the Soviet Union had to go through all the circles of hell to improve their living conditions. They had to wait in line for decades to get an apartment or make various exchanges with other people. It was only during perestroika that so-called cooperatives emerged – voluntary associations of citizens who could invest their own money in building housing for themselves.

The absence of private ownership of housing was compounded by another restrictive prohibition: the institution of residence registration. A person was strictly tied to a place of residence and could not change it simply at will. You had to prove to the state that you had the right to live in the place you wanted.

Prohibition to read what you are interested in

Any writer who, for one reason or another, fell into disgrace with the state, disappeared from his readers. Thus, books by the authors of the Ukrainian Executed Renaissance or the Sixties could not be purchased in a bookstore or borrowed from a library. The list of banned books published in 1960 alone took up two volumes. To read Vasyl Stus, Yevhen Sverstiuk, Vasyl Symonenko, and Lina Kostenko, one had to look for so-called "samvydav", or self-published books printed on a typewriter or even handwritten binders, among friends. Possession of such binders could lead to imprisonment.

The ban on buying foreign currency

The USSR economy was a closed, self-contained one. This created many problems, such as shortages of goods and their poor quality. The ban on the sale and purchase of foreign currency contributed to the even greater isolation of Soviet society from the global context. Those who carried out such transactions were called "currency traders," and for such activities, one could be imprisoned for a term of 2 to 15 years. In some cases, currency traders were even executed.

The ban on listening to Western music

From the point of view of the Communist Party, the songs of Western bands could do something very harmful to a Soviet person. How exactly was not explained. But Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, The Beatles, and many other bands were strictly banned. You could get their records for a fabulous amount of money. And this was also associated with a considerable risk.

The prohibition of manifesting religious beliefs

The USSR was dominated by so-called scientific atheism. In practice, this meant that citizens did not have freedom of faith and could not demonstrate their own religious beliefs. It was impossible to buy a Bible in bookstores, and for belonging to non-traditional religious movements such as the Baptist Church or the Jehovah's Witnesses, one could be imprisoned under the article on "anti-Soviet activity." Jews were especially hard hit, as they could be accused of Zionism for simply praying. Significant economic sanctions were even imposed against the USSR for severe state anti-Semitism.

Prohibition of street actions

Any civil protest in the Soviet Union was also persecuted as anti-Soviet activity. For a public action – no matter how massive – one could not only go to court but also end up in camps or even undergo compulsory psychiatric treatment. Thus, dissident Valeria Novodvorska, for distributing leaflets with her own satirical poems in 1969, was first placed in solitary confinement and then in a psychiatric hospital. Dissidents were given a non-existent diagnosis of "delayed schizophrenia" and tortured with psychotropic drugs.

Prohibition of any manifestation of identity

One could get into trouble for the slightest deviation from the standardized image of a Soviet person. Even purely external ones. For example, boys with long hair were forced to cut their hair, and for any piercings, except for women's earrings, they were harassed and could be fired from their jobs. Representatives of various minorities-ethnic, social, etc. – faced much more serious problems. Total xenophobia made life difficult for small and indigenous peoples. Their representatives were ridiculed, and prevented from building careers and entering governing bodies. There was even an article of the Criminal Code for male homosexuality that provided for imprisonment for up to 8 years. Thus, film director Sergei Parajanov served 5 years in prison under this article.

Prohibition to criticize the authorities

The so-called "party line" was a rigid dogma in the USSR, and any disagreement with it could lead to serious problems. People who dared to protest were called dissidents. And for the relevant activities, one could go to court. Anything could be considered a relevant activity – a political joke told in the kitchen in the presence of the wrong person, a cartoon, participation in a literary or scientific circle, contacts with foreign scientists, etc. The authorities saw this as a manifestation of disagreement and were severely punished. People who were imprisoned for political reasons were called political prisoners.

Prohibition of receiving information from foreign media

Nowadays, you can go to the website of any global media outlet and read the news there, even in an unfamiliar language, using an online translator. In the USSR, you could go to jail for this. Foreign publications (except for ideologically "friendly" or official publications of partner countries) could not be subscribed to, let alone purchased, and even owning a copy of a magazine or newspaper could get you in trouble. Western radio stations tried to fight Soviet censorship by installing repeaters and broadcasting in Russian. They were called "voices" and were listened to at night. The SSC tried to jam this signal, but people still did everything to hear world news and listen to Western music, even through the wheezing and crackling on the radio.

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