6. Dacha Democracy: Building Civil Society in Out-of-the-Way Places

From: Dacha Idylls

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130 chapter 6 Dacha Democracy Building Civil Society in Out-of-the-Way Places Toward the end of my stay in Tver in summer 2005, Larisa and Pavel, a married couple who were friends with Angela’s mother, invited Angela and me to visit them at their dacha northwest of the city. Through Angela’s mother, Larisa passed on instructions about which minibus to take. Fortunately , because Larisa and Pavel’s dacha community was located at the end of the minibus line, we did not have to worry about knowing where to get off along an unfamiliar road. When we exited the minibus, Angela called Larisa on her mobile telephone to let her know that we had arrived. Larisa told us that she would start walking and meet us in about ten minutes . While waiting for Larisa to arrive, we explored our surroundings. A rusted metal shed served as the dispatch office and break room for the minibus drivers. Next to this stood an equally rusted metal building that apparently served as a minimarket where dachniki could pick up a few food staples and other necessities. Several stray dogs lounged in the dirt under the porch of the minimarket. Arranged around the tiny square of dirt were three sets of metal archways that led to the three separate dacha communities that all converged at the minimarket/bus stop. When Larisa arrived, she greeted us and then informed us that she would take us on a tour of the community on our way to her dacha. A more recently established dacha development, this community had established dirt lanes that were wide enough to accommodate cars, neatly demarcated “streets” named after various species of trees (beginning with fruit trees), and tidy, small fences encircling yards filled with neat but riotous profu- Dacha Democracy | 131 sions of flowering plants and blooming fruit trees. As we walked, Larisa pointed out certain houses for their style or for what was growing in the yard. She then took us down a path leading to the outside of the dacha community so that we could see the pond. Because the warm day was a weekday, there were only a few families with small children splashing in the pond or sunbathing on the small beach. Several men stood in the tall reeds lining the banks of the pond and fished. Larisa told us that the pond was one of her favorite places at the dacha but that pollution and litter were taking their toll on the water quality and the condition of the beach. Indeed, we had to step around piles of refuse on our way to and from the edge of the pond. Even more distressing was that the pond was shrinking. Larisa told us that she was not sure if this was because of overuse of the water supply, environmental degradation, or some other unknown reason. Over the course of that summer in Russia, there had been several reports of ponds and lakes that had mysteriously vanished overnight. We continued on our way, encountering an elderly man who was pulling a bundle of reeds that he had collected from the pond, before arriving at Larisa and Pavel’s dacha. During the several hours that Angela and I spent with Larisa and Pavel that afternoon, our host and hostess repeatedly impressed upon me the pleasure and satisfaction that they received from their dacha. It was clear that the couple took great pride in the location of their dacha community, as well as the flower and vegetable gardens they had planted and the banya they had built themselves. Much of our visit revolved around tours of their yard to inspect the newest flowers that were blooming, and to ooh and ahh over the mutant cucumber that had somehow taken up residence in a cistern and grown to the size of a large squash. Our formal interview session quickly gave way to an extremely large lunch and an informal tasting of homemade wines brewed from my host’s homegrown berries. Despite the pride that my hosts took in their dacha, their garden, and the fruits of their labors, it was apparent that the single most important quality of the dacha was that it provided a quick and easy escape from the city. My hosts repeatedly mentioned that because the community was conveniently located near the train platform and at the terminus of two separate minibus lines that went directly to the center of Tver, they could reach their dacha...