Юрий Штивельман. What was life like in Moscow during the 70s?

I lived in Moscow most of the seventies. I finished high school, graduated from MGU (Moscow State University), met my second wife, married and divorced my first wife, got my first job, all in chronological order.

This period of Russian history is known as the Era of Stagnation, and my generation is called Children of Stagnation. Not much happened during 70s. The Cold War was raging at the Politburo, newspapers and television. At the same time, Russians loved Americans, listened to Jesus Christ Superstar, coveted Levi's jeans and adored cowboy movies.

Moscow was very orderly, safe and clean. The subway (Metro) worked flawlessly, public transportation was practically free, traffic jams were unknown, streets were swept every morning. People spoke with a special accent, accentuating the vowels that was a sign of belonging to the capital, a sign of prestige in Soviet Union.

Seventies were also a time of innocence. Sexual revolution was decades away. People married in early 20s, and severe real estate shortage precluded much of premarital sex. As it was infamously summarized by a teacher Ludmila Ivanova during a joint US-Russian TV program with Phil Donahue, "there is no sex in USSR".

It's difficult to imagine these days, but it was mildly embarrassing to be rich or to be preoccupied with material goods. Only two types of people had money - either those involved in the underground economy, which was considered uncouth, or those connected to the state, which was even worse. My university classmate had a car, which was an unimaginable luxury. He hid this fact from everyone for two years parking a mile from the campus. It was much more prestigious to be a dirt poor scientist, artist or a writer.

During the 70th there was a tremendous Renaissance in film, theater, arts, and folk songs. These were times you can hear live such legends as Visotsky or Okudzhava, although these names mean little to non-Russians. Taganka Theater was the most provocative and innovative venue despite all the censorship. Several unsanctioned art exhibitions took place and were bulldozed by KGB.

Speaking of which, KGB was everywhere. Every school and place of work had KGB curators who tried to recruit people to spy on each other. I was personally subjected to these psychological attacks.

Most people never traveled abroad or had any contacts with foreigners. If you were lucky enough to visit "the West", your social standing was guaranteed for many years.

Moscow of 70s doesn't exist anymore. I visited the place several times in recent years. The place has the same geography, that's about it. All the innocence is gone. I don't regret living in Moscow these years, though. Typical joke of that era - what's the difference between an optimist and a pessimist. Pessimist says "life is so bad, it can't get any worse". The optimist counters "it can, it can". I guess this makes me an eternal optimist.