Dacha in Russia is not just a summer house, it is a unique Russian phenomenon.
Dacha is a name referring to a summer weekend house predominantly located in the suburbs of big cities. Very common of USSR, former republics of the Soviet Russia, present day Russia, it is used and treated by people with love and passion. Today more than 50 % of St Petersburg citizens have their own dachas. Dachas are sometimes visited by guests of St Petersburg as a part of private tours in order to understand this big Russian cultural phenomenon.
History of Dacha
It goes back to times of Peter the Great when the emperor decided to have two types of residences- Winter and Summer palaces. At his age all the courtiers, members of royal family and aristocratic families were supposed to follow the royal traditions set up by the Tzar- so to do the same. They were even given some pieces of land for free. The idea of such a generosity was to provide nobilities with land but ask them to maintain it well e.g. to turn small simple pieces of land into luxurious residences, to built a palace or a mansion, surround it with a nice garden. A lot of imperial and noble dachas appeared near Peter’s residence- mainly, on the way to Tzar’s favourite summer palace in Peterhof.
Life in Russia was changed dramatically after the last Russian Revolution. All former palaces were nationalized, aristocratic property was confiscated.
A new law told people that no longer anyone could have any private property.
Soviet people could not own any apartments or houses. Instead, everyone was told they could equally use whatever was called state property or natural resources. Above all, nobody was supposed to be wealthier than others, to have something others did not possessed. Soviet society was extremely collectivistic. After confiscating former aristocratic mansions, they turned some of them into summer rest houses for workers. However, as their number was exceedingly higher than the number of former aristocrats, workers had to share former heritage of the nobilities with each other. Bearing collectivistic socialist virtues in the mind workers were happy to rest together.
“All animals are equal…but”
But Stalin was the exception. Nobody had a permission to have private property like dachas, but for Stalin. Time passed and soon he allowed other members of the Socialist government to do the same. They were gifted with nice summerhouses. Perhaps, Stalin supposed they would work harder if provided with such a luxury and privilege. Moreover, the Soviet people from art and scientific elite were motivated by getting dachas to write, create and do the research in the name of Great USSR. This would definitely mean that those people were supposed to work only the way the government wanted.
Nikita Khruschev time
When Khruschev came to power Soviet people were finally given an opportunity to have dachas, literally, to get them from the government. Same with having automobiles – they had to wait in a line. While dachas could be considered as a luxury, in fact they were not luxurious at all. Dacha was a very modest piece of land with a poor looking house constructed on it. Just like apartments built at the time of Khuschev houses were super small.
People still did not own them, but yet they were allowed to build a house, to lay out a small garden and vegetable garden. Dacha was regarded as a real privilege same as getting apartments or cars.
Fall of the Soviet Union
At first, when USSR collapsed, life of ordinary people became extremely difficult. It goes without saying that for some people it was hard to live in the last period of USSR either. That was a period when a deficiency of products( trivial things like cucumbers and tomatoes) was very strong. Thus, growing veges ans fruits at your own dacha was the way to feed one’s family and literary how to survive. When people were finally given a legal right to possess their property. Those who did not have any dacha were able to buy it eventually. Those who had -could privatize it. All restrictions concerning sizes etc were lifted
Russian dacha now
I shall tell you that we adore dachas. Majority of Russians have dachas. Every Friday citizens try to escape from big cities and come to their dacha for a weekend. Grandparents still cultivate fruits, vegetables etc. They like to spend time with the grandkids and thus, parents always send their grandkids away from them for the entire school vacations. Some dachas look very nicely done even luxurious, but it is not always very important. Today people often stay in these houses even during winter season, this is why some houses just have to be very warm to let people stay in the cold weather.
My dacha, honestly, looks more like a log cabin: it is very simple. I remember in the past there was even no electricity in our summer house. That was not so problematic though, as we have white nights here in St Petersburg. And that was an idea –to stay away from equipped apartments and fully enjoy rural type of life. Our dacha includes a nice orchard garden, a vegetable garden nearby. It was a big hobby for my grandparents to cultivate vegetables and fruits. Together with helping us, kids to grow up. My granpa had few chickens, our neighbors had cows and goats, others – pigs. I remember always having fresh milk and eggs for breakfast. Although our dacha is just an hour driving from the city, it all is like typical Russian derevnya- village. It is located in the famous Pavlovsk a town next to Catherine palace.
But i, myself, do not spend a lot of time there as i have to work in the summer. However, it he’s always such a pleasure to get there as soon as i only can…
Written and published by Maria Kiryanova