Nõukogude garaažikultuur. Soviet Garage Culture

Tauri Tuvikene

Abstract


Apart from its manifestation in the form of political ideology, the arts and the economic system, socialism also manifested itself in space. The socialist space did not only take shape ideologically, but was also influenced by societal limitations and possibilities. Because of this, it is important to shed light on everyday life in the Soviet Union, which did not necessarily consist of big slogans or open opposition, and which neither expressed loud support nor aversion in relation to the Soviet system. In this article I take a look at the garage areas (which were usually built in clusters) as spatial elements, and the garage culture associated with them. I describe how the garage was a necessary part of the car culture in Soviet society, a part which at times comprised objects, practices and meanings of its own: in other words, a garage culture. Cars have had a major impact on cityscapes in the West, where the number of cars per capita was many times larger than in the Soviet Union, but car usage has left its mark in socialist cities as well. Getting around in a car inevitably means aneed to park it somewhere; this basic fact applied to both sides of the Iron Curtain. However, garage areas have carried more importance in socialist societies – there is more of them, and they feature a large amount of parking spaces (hundreds if not thousands). The reason for this popularity was societal limitations and possibilities: on the one hand there was an opportunity for extensive land use brought about by the state ownership of land untouched by free-market search for profitability, but on the other hand there were also obstacles, created by a deficit. By enabling the car owner to keep his vehicle going, the garage had a concrete role to play in the Soviet economic system. The garage was a place where you could repair your car, store spare parts and protect it from potential theft. The role of the garage in Soviet car culture as described in this article draws on correspondents’ replies to the Estonian National Museum’s survey nr. 198 ’Bike. Car. Radio. Television’ (1997) regarding car usage in the Soviet era, as well as interviews and conversations with garage users over the course of five years. From these replies it became clear that the car did not only mean freedom of movement, which is what it is usually associated with, but it also became clear that the car required maintenance and effort, such as hands-on repair work at the garage. This gave rise to a place-centered kind of culture – a garage culture which was formed from neighbours socialising with one another, masculine car-centered activities, and transactions taking place outside of the official economic system.

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.7592/methis.v5i7.539

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