When the Cold War was going on between USSR and the West and were preparing to fight each other, KGB and CIA made their spies work hard on intelligence on the opposing side’s plans. Most of the information was about military and technology was of paramount importance, but there were also random reports about civil life.
Some digging in declassified CIA records, that have recently been made accessible online, revealed that US intelligence agents in the USSR were reporting in detail, including about Minsk. Here are six curious observations about life in the capital of Belarus in 1940-1960s.
1. Workers are chiefly Komsomoltsy. Although they grumble at the daily wage of five rubles, they like working in factories, where they can steal metal, out of which they make locks, knives, etc., for the private resale at 15 rubles and upwards.
Food was scarce with the exception of bread which was plentiful
2. Food was scarce with the exception of bread which was plentiful. The October 1946 ration included ¼ Lb jam per person and 1 kilogram of meat.
Household goods such as glass plates and cooking utensils, can occasionally be bought but generally it is a great lack of metal articles. A spoon costs 3 rubles and a needle 1 ruble (the exchange rate at that time was 5.3 rubles per $1 – note).
Tires, made from Russian synthetic rubber, are the only articles in good supply.
3. Passenger trains were always crowded and it was difficult to obtain tickets. Sometimes one stood in line for several hours and was still not able to buy a ticket.
No one was allowed to board a train more than forty minutes before departure time.
Public transportation consisted of streetcars, buses, trolleybuses and taxis. The streetcar fare was 30 kopeks and the bus and trolleybus fares were 50 kopeks (the exchange rate at that time was 4 rubles per $1 – note).
There were always many persons waiting at the streetcar, bus and trolleybus stops, and the conveyances were always crowded.
Although anyone could use the taxis, few persons could afford to ride in them
The taxis were Pobeda’s and were distinguished from the other cars by a black checked stripe which went around the body of the car. The fare was 2 rubles per kilometer, and one had to pay for a round trip.
Although anyone could use the taxis, few persons could afford to ride in them.
4. Among the good restaurants of Minsk were Belarus and the railroad restaurant. Prices in restaurants were high; a dinner without drinks cost about 15 rubles.
The service was very slow and sometimes one had to wait about an hour before being served
Restaurants charged 44 rubles for a liter of Mosksovskaya vodka, 45 kopeks for a cup of tea and 1.5 to 3 rubles for a soup. The service was very slow and sometimes one had to wait about an hour before being served dinner.
The prices in restaurants (stolovaya) and tea rooms were lower, but the food was much worse. Dinner at a stolovaya cost 4 or 5 rubles.
The Belarus Hotel was on ulitsa Kirova and a room could be obtained for about 16 rubles a day.
5. Minsk had both cafeterias with server sandwiches and cold lunches and restaurants which cooked full cooked meals. Both served alcoholic beverages. These places as social centers for all strata of the population who felt inclined to eat together or have a friendly drink.
The conversations consisted of the usual small talk, gossip and sports news, but never included public or political matters
The conversations on such occasions consisted of the usual small talk, gossip and sports news, but never included public or political matters.
The custom of checking identity cards in public places had been discontinued but apparently each restaurant had a waiter or waitress who collaborated with the security services and reported on the behavior of persons in whom these services were interested.
6. A marked improvement in both the styles and the quality of clothing was noticeable throughout Minsk, particularly among the white collar workers.
The khaki shirts and trousers were disappearing and more and more suits were seen, although they were made with Russian-style wide trousers; the Feodora was displacing the peaked cap.
These changes were evident even among the proletariat, who had begun wearing suits after work.
The clothing was not of high quality and since good materials were scarce, cottons were used mainly. Ration coupons were no longer necessary for clothing and footwear.
Olga Korelina for BelarusFeed. Find the Russian version of the article on TUT.BY.
Photo credit: TUT.BY, Citydog.by.