To build on my previous post, I am thinking about our perception of foreigners back in the Soviet Union. It was not about “foreign countries,” it was not about “international tourism,” it was about “Abroad” as a noun, “Zagranitza” in Russian.
The word means “behind the border” or “over the border,” anything which lies outside the borders of your country. I never thought of it back then, but now it seems funny for me that this word exists in the Russian language.
Zagranitza was scary and exciting at the same time. And when I am trying to analyze my past thoughts and feelings, I have to agree that they were very inconsistent and conflicting.
I never questioned the fact that we were effectively not allowed to go anywhere abroad. And I am not talking about capitalist countries; these were off-limits for most people. But you could not even go to Bulgaria without the approval of the Communist Party commission. Here was the first controversy – we were told, that Zagranitza was terrible, that people over there were poor and discriminated. But at the same time, the permission to go to Zagranitsa was considered an award.
And it did not bother me. The Soviet propaganda was very effective, and even if you won’t believe everything they say, you were sure that “there was something to that matter.”
I took close to the heart the phrase “The Soviet people have pride of their own,” and didn’t like when somebody criticized any aspects of our life. I was sure that “life is better here,” but at the same time believed that everything produced in Zagranitsa was of better quality. I use to find it disgusting when the youth was begging foreign tourists for some chewing gum. But when a delegation of the Slovak teachers was visiting our school, I would find myself among the similar crowd, stretching my hand for anything.
And I was not alone. I think that the majority of people felt a similar way, and never thought that something does not match in their reasoning.
I loved to travel. And traveling to Zagranitsa was one of the best things I could imagine. I think that if at the age of twelve somebody would ask me what’s my biggest dream, what I wish most in my life, I would reply: to be able to go to Zagranitsa.
The “opening of the borders” during the Gorbachev era was huge. Nowadays, people tend to think it was not such a big deal, but it was. It took a while to internalize the idea that you can just book a plane ticket and go, without asking anybody’s permission.
And people started to go out and see the world. Not that many, not that often, but they started. And they began to realize that life may be different in different places.