What was so communist about my childhood? Nothing much when out of school. At school we were reminded by the teachers that it was the Communist Party that gave us our happy childhood.
The Communist Party, like a person, had its birthday. On that day we recited poems and sang songs about our happy life in the Soviet Union. We were happy! Why not to say 'thank you' to somebody for it? Even if it is a Party? Even if it is Communist?
I liked going to school. The lessons took place from 9 a.m. to about 2 p.m. There were 30-35 children in the class. We learned all the usual subjects that children all over the world did: mathematics, biology, physics, chemistry, literature, the Russian and English languages, physical training, history and some others.
Once a week we had a tutorial where we discussed different moral issues with our class teacher. Although we did not have religious education our moral values were, as I realised later, based on the bible.
We discussed things like "What does it mean to be a good friend?" or "What does it mean to love your country?" They gave us lots of examples from the literature and from life to illustrate the discussed issues. The Great Patriotic War (1914-18) gave much opportunity of showing great love of people for their country by the examples of those who gave their lives for the motherland.
The image of Lenin's was widely used by the teachers to show us what a good citizen was supposed to be like. There were lots of stories about Lenin's childhood which they used as a model for any boy's or girl's good behaviour. Lenin was our Christ. There were many songs written about him which we sang on different occasions.
During some tutorials we discussed great artists' paintings and saw how they showed their love for Russia in their masterpieces. Reproductions were hung on the blackboard. The pupils also participated in such tutorials where the paintings were divided between us and we came in front of the class to describe what was shown in this or that picture and why.
Some weeks we went on excursions to a local factory or a museum. It was up to a teacher to make a plan for a term what to do with the class but all the important parts of our communist upbringing should have been covered.
We had a lot of extracurricular activities after lessons. We cleaned the school grounds regularly in the spring and autumn, burnt last year's leaves. We decorated our classrooms for occasions like New Year and then had a competition for the best decorations in school.
We took part in the celebrations of the greatest festivals of the year such as: May 1st - the Day of the International Solidarity of the Working People, November 7th - the Day of the Great October Socialist Revolution, May 9th - Victory Day over fascist Germany. Apart from these political holidays there were also non-political like the New Year Celebrations and International Women's Day.
On May 1st and November 7th there was a demonstration in town when all the institutions: schools, factories, offices marched to the town centre in columns reporting their achievements in work and studies. We got up early and went to an assembly point near the school. At the designated time everyone set off walking to the town centre. All over the town similar groups converged, merging in to columns in prearranged order as they approached the centre.
The columns were beautifully decorated with the banners, balloons and slogans which read: "Long live the Communist Party of the Soviet Union!" or "Long live Socialism!". Some people were merry, they were singing and dancing in the streets. The feeling of togetherness was the most wonderful.
Roadblocks prevented traffic from interfering with the parade. In the centre all the local dignitaries observed from a platform. Loudspeakers announced each group, school, factory etc. as they passed. "Hooray for the toy factory, who doubled their quota this year!" "Hooray for school No 12, for successfully bringing up the next generation of members of the future communist society!"
If it was sunny then we had fun, but in bad weather decorations soon drooped and we looked forward to the celebrations at home, warm meals and, for the adults, warming vodka.
The demonstration opened with a military parade, but only because we had a military school in town. The military school had a nice brass band which marched along with the cadets performing beautiful music. They mostly played major optimistic music: marches, waltzes etc.
There were thousands of people on both sides of the road watching the parade and the demonstration. My father was always there with his cadets taking part in the parade as well. He was wearing his special uniform on the day and I was very proud of him.
Our school column was always the best. We started to prepare long before the event and there was a lot of inventiveness and enthusiasm in those preparations. Our column looked different each year. One year I remember we were wearing national costumes of the fifteen Soviet Republics symbolising the friendship between the nations. It was all very exiting and we were happy to do things together.
The demonstration was usually over by one o'clock and everybody went home to their families where a very special meal was already waiting and the celebrations started and went on till late evening.
The 9th of May was a very special day too. On that day we had meetings for peace and against the war all over the place. There was a tradition to invite war veterans to school to tell children about the war times and how it felt to be in a real battle. Children asked questions, gave veterans flowers and promised them to study well and appreciate the life they won for us. Those events usually were very touching.
Later when I was a teacher myself the meetings with the war veterans became more of a habit than a thing from the heart. Everybody was doing it but there were fewer and fewer veterans left alive and they were not young people anymore. For some of them it was not easy to speak in public.
The children got used to listening to the similar stories every year and were not as attentive as they used to be when such meetings were new. The discipline became worse and I often wished people found other ways of celebrating the V-day. However the school administration did expect the teachers to organise the Lessons of Courage as they called them and we had to do it.
When I was a girl we celebrated the 20th anniversary of the Victory over the facist Germany with a big special greeting concert for the veterans of the Great War 1941-1945. It took place on the big stage of the House of Culture.
We children recited poems and sang songs saying our 'thank you' to those who had risked their lives for our bright future. There were about two hundred children involved in the performance and I thought it deserved being filmed but we did not have video cameras in those days.
It was very solemn and exciting to be on stage with all the lights on. We were wearing our parade pioneer uniform: white tops with red pioneer ties and dark skirts or trousers for the boys. We saw the hall full of grown-ups applauding and smiling at us from the stalls. My mother, being a headmistress, always made sure that her daughter was involved in the celebrations.
Thinking back I find it a much nicer way of celebrating the victory day where the veterans were really honoured but were not asked to do the job. It took a lot of time and effort to prepare a big concert like that. It was a good way of showing our love and appreciation to the veterans, rather than asking them to entertain us as with the Lessons of Courage.