Soviet Leisure Time

Luzhniki Stadium (1957)

During the 1950s and 60s, Soviet society saw a huge increase in urbanization. Nearly half of society was considered urban and universally literate. This expansion of higher education and training created a more complex world. Improvements in transportation, communication, and education helped draw people into these more urban areas and urban-based culture as a whole. In addition to these changes in urbanization, work weeks and work days were shortened during this period. Work-days were shortened from eight to seven-hour days, while the work-week was shortened from six to five days. This change in how long people were spending at work per week led them to enjoy more leisure time.

With all of these developments, people were able to devote time to spectator sports. In 1956, Moscow’s Luzhniki Sports Complex, “located at the southern bend of the Moscow river,” opened its doors (Seventeen Moments). The complex was seen as a symbolic representation of the massive transformations that all of the Soviet Union was undergoing at the time. Inside the Luzhniki Complex were soccer fields, tracks, swimming pools, and basketball, volleyball, and tennis courts. One of the massive stadiums, named Lenin Stadium, held 103,000 people and was actually one of the largest in the world at the time.

The Luzhniki Complex, included the first of many new stadiums to pop up over the Soviet Union. By 1960, the number of stadiums had increased by about 1,400 and by 1968 there were over 3,000 structures of the sort. The dramatic increase in the number of stadiums reflected the increase in leisure time that many citizens enjoyed during the fifties and sixties. In addition to those already enjoying soccer and hockey, people who were otherwise not interested, started to pay more attention to these events because of the expanding industry.


All is Fair in Love and War

Two Soldiers PosterTwo Soldiers”

During World War II, many things were changing, especially gender roles and the importance of romance in the lives of those on and off the battlefield. Because of the war, people were feeling the stress of not knowing if or when they would next see their loved ones. This desperation to find time to show affection “threw people into each other’s arms with a sweetness and sadness rare in less dangerous times” (Geldern).

Individuals were expressing these feelings by writing beautiful poetry and songs. One such instance of this is in the film “Two Soldiers” as depicted in the poster above. In one particular scene of this film, the protagonist, Mark Bernes, sings a lovers’ anthem titled “Dark is the Night.” The song is as much sad as it is sweet, showing a young man’s desire to just be reunited with the one he loves one more time.


However, “the traditional roles that evoked such deep sentiment in songs, films and poems was strikingly at odds with the real life roles that women assumed during the war” (Geldern). Because most men were shipped off to the battlefront, many women took roles in their factories, families, and communities. The Soviet Union also placed women in dangerous roles, something unique to this country at the time. Women took jobs in transporting, combat, and as pilots during the war. Following the war, women did not forget these leadership positions that they played, leading them to help families who were without a spouse.

Because of the romance inspired during and after the war, births skyrocketed, many were illegitimate. The government had previously, in the 1930s, tried to reinforce family life and structure. However, the need for future soldiers and industry workers was evident in the loss of millions of lives in World War II. Because of this great need, the government even enacted a tax that would target families without children.

The effects of World War II are seen in many different manifestations. The increase in romance and love songs might have helped to ease the pain that both men and women were feeling during the war. The increase in these tendencies ultimately lead to an increase in births following the war. Women had seen themselves in more leadership roles that would eventually evolve to be much more. We can see through films and songs that the war created a sense of longing for what one cannot have. During the song “Dark is the Night,” we see the perfect example of man in a dugout with his fellow soldiers, longing to be with his lover.



Geldern, James von. “Love and Romance in War.” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History. Accessed March 25, 2018.

The Emancipation of Soviet Citizens from Religion


Religion is the Opiate of the People.

After coming to power in 1917, the Bolsheviks made it their duty to “emancipate Soviet citizens from the scourge (or as Karl Marx put it, the “opiate”) of religion” (“Antireligious Propaganda”). Along with the literacy campaign, the attempt to dismantle religion also played a large role in the cultural front of the 1920s. With the decree of January 20, 1918, the Bolsheviks successfully disestablished the Orthodox Church. In addition to the dismantling of the church, this decree also “consigned the clergy of all faiths to second-class citizenship” (“Antireligious Propaganda”). The decree showed how extreme the Bolsheviks were about implementing their ideals into every avenue of the public sphere. However, these measures were not peaceful by any means; they sent society into years of bitter and violent struggles, where church valuables were confiscated, churches closed down, and Patriarch Tikhon was arrested.

The picture above is an example of one of the posters used for Antireligious propaganda. In the poster, a man is shown “carrying religion,” while another man is just leading him along. The text under the photo says, “He who lives and works in need his entire life is taught by religion to be meek and patient in this world, offering the comfort of hope for heavenly reward. And they who live on the labor of others are taught by religion to be charitable in this world, offering them a cheap justification for their whole exploiting existence” (Religion is the Opiate of the People). This propaganda shows how Bolsheviks viewed religion as negative towards the lower class, while it allowed the upper-class to live off of the efforts of those below them.

Other non-Russian populations often saw no difference in the policies of the Bolsheviks compared to the tsarist regime, “who had been hostile to their churches for very different reasons” (“Antireligious Propaganda”). However, the propaganda proved to be very inappropriate towards the Islamic communities in the Republic and Central Asia.

An essential component of the Bolshevik movement was to split the clergy of the Orthodox Church (“Living Church”). Because of the cracks already forming in the church prior to the revolution, this task was much easier. The divisions between young and old within the clergy helped form schisms in the foundation of the church, leading to the creation of the new “Living Church”. After Patriarch Tikhon was arrested and put into prison, the government went ahead with laws targeted at the church. An instruction that required all religious groups that had more than fifty members to register was passed, where any organization could be denied and shot down by the government. At this point “the church was placed fully under the power of the state” (“Living Church”).

The Bolsheviks actions towards religion and those that wished to follow them, alienated and offended many individuals across the state. Not only were people of the Orthodox Church hurt, but Islamic and Jewish individuals as well. As part of their antireligious propaganda, the Bolsheviks enacted many rules and regulations that would keep religion from interfering with their policy and societal preferences.



“Antireligious Propaganda,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, accessed February 25, 2018,

“Living Church,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, accessed February 25,

“Antireligious Propaganda: Religion is the Opiate of the People,” Seventeen Moments in Soviet History, accessed February 25,

The Effects of War on Civilians



During World War I in Russia, soldiers and civilians alike, were fighting a battle that they did not understand. Men were being drafted, leaving families at home with little to no help in their survival. Although Russia entered the war with plans for victory, “the multi-lateral conflict soon developed into a protracted war of attrition exacting enormous economic, political, and human costs” (Digital History Reader). The failures on the part of the Russian Government, lead to distaste and distrust with the Russian leaders.
Families that were at home trying to survive were seeing shortages in food supply. The cost of living had risen since the war started and people were feeling discontent with their living situations. Not only were the peasants dissatisfied with the autocracy’s ability to support its citizens, but the top of society also realized the incompetence of the tsar and his officials to execute war effectively. People had been experiencing long-term deprivation and rationing; this led to distrust of the tsar and eventually strikes across the country.

ev_img19Women were waiting in long lines in hopes of receiving bread for their families to live off of. As seen in the picture to the left, these women were often waiting in lines that took hours and were sometimes turned away because the bread supply ran out. The state’s failure to regulate “the grain market, food distribution, and food pricing emerged as a main issue in the early stages of the war” (Digital History Reader).

In Russia’s scramble to immobilize quickly for World War I, it thought less of the civilians it would be affecting at home. Though the government believed the war would be brief, it turned out to be lengthy and debilitating. This failure of foresight, led civilians and soldiers to protest and seek a better regime. The lack of food resources at home forced families to starve without knowledge of how their husbands were doing in battle. The military drafted almost seven million men in 1914 alone. People all across Russia were feeling unrest with their never-ending situation, and it seemed as though the tsar was unfazed by his lack of success.


The picture to the right depicts Jewish civilians who were fleeing Warsaw in the Summer of 1915. The German military advances and the Russian’s lack of preparedness, led to devastating circumstances like the one shown above. Families were fleeing war zones and moving to places where they hoped to find refuge and resources, such as food. Not only were people without necessities such as bread, but they were also being forced to move by the ever-changing military conflicts across Europe.




“European History: Context,” Digital History Reader, accessed February 11, 2018,

“European History: Introduction,” Digital History Reader, accessed February 11, 2018,

“Evidence 13: Photograph of a Jewish Family Retreating From Warsaw,” Digital History Reader, accessed February 11, 2018,

“Evidence 19: Photograph of a Bread Line,” Digital History Reader, accessed February 11, 2018,

Gregory L. Freeze, ed. Russia. A History, 3rd Edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.)

A Carpenter Tells All


Carpenter. Samarkand photographed by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii

In this photograph, taken by Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in 1905, we see a man working as a carpenter in a town known as Samarkand. Samarkand is located in present day Uzbekistan, and was once part of the Russian Empire. Samarkand was likely founded due to its location along the Silk Road. Due to its location, it made a perfect home for Russian operations. Behind the man pictured is a building speculated to be a Russian compound. Although the Russian’s may have a building dedicated to them, the people of Samarkand are not what one thinks of when imagining a typical Russian population.

Titled, “Carpenter,” this photo shows a man dressed in what appears to be a long robe and a headdress not typical of the Russian population. The people of Samarkand were in fact mostly Tajiks who spoke Persian, while Uzbeks were in the minority. This man pictured, likely Tajik or Uzbek, is not Russian by heritage, but instead is a part of a territory under Russian control. The area of Samarkand during the 20th century was full of individuals that were “working” for Russia, though they were not even Russian. This man, possibly a serf, or at least a worker, is likely working for the Russian compound shown behind him in the photograph.

With the major religion of Imperial Russia being Russian (Eastern) Orthodox, it is interesting to note that the religion of Samarkand was dominantly Islam since the 8th century. The Christian and Jewish populations of the area are considered very small. Samarkand is actually known for its many mosques and mausoleums built during the 14th and 15th centuries. Imperial Russia was drastically different from Samarkand when it came to their religions of the time. This may be a common theme among Russia and its territories.

The carpenter pictured here is one of many individuals that were a part of an empire that differed greatly from their own culture and ways of life. The different aspects of the man in the image, from the way he was dressed to the ethnicity that he was a part of, illustrate just how different Samarkand was from Imperial Russia. The people of the town were asked to participate just like a normal Russian citizen would in duties and battles during World War II, though they were from a completely different world. This image does a great job of showing the dramatic differences in these two cultures all the way from how they dressed, to the languages they spoke, and even the religions they practiced. It also depicts how, even when included in a larger empire such as Russia, the local historical culture of Samarkand continued to thrive and present itself in peoples’ everyday lives.



Photograph URL:

Gregory L. Freeze, ed. Russia. A History, 3rd Edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2009.)

“Samarkand- Crossroad of Cultures.” United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization: World Heritage Center. 2001.

“World Digital Library: Carpenter. Samarkand.” Library of Congress. Last updated September 30, 2016.