Recently, when travelling by truck near the Iranian border high in the mountains above the town of Lerik in Azerbaijan’s deep south, I noticed that beside the roads there were always power lines and a water pipes. Indeed, it was a proud achievement of the Soviet Union that it brought roads, piped water and electricity to even the most obscure of rural villages. These were the tangible fruits of the revolution that everyone could enjoy. Simple as they were, they proved that communism worked.
Did it matter that many of these roads were no more than rutted tracks, that the electricity dimmed and surged and the water pipes were often above ground and therefore prone to freezing? No, of course not! To complain against such things was tantamount to treason and betrayal of the 1917 revolution …
It has always surprised me that a regime that lavished so many Roubles on memorials to the Glorious Dead of the Patriotic War, that raised so many statues to the founders and martyrs of Communism, cared nothing about aesthetics as they inpinged on the lives of ordinary peoples.
I have seen the same squat, ugly, five-story apartment blocks with smelly plumbing, tiny kitchens, leaky windows and cramped staircases in Moscow, Omsk, Sophia, Belgrade and now Baku. In 1985 I saw a system of water pipes that completely disfigured the otherwise beautiful old city of Bokara in Uzbekistan, Central Asian where they ran at knee height, on the sides of buildings, blocking doors and even crossing road junctions. No traffic could enter the old city because of this. Even now in dynamic, ever-changing Baku, the remnants of this lack of care is evident when you walk down the road from our apartment to the city centre.
The old ring-main runs just above head height, attached the external street walls of not only pre-revolutionary buildings but ones of more recent vintage as well. As oil money gushes from the public purse to improve the city infrastructure, these monstrosities are being swept away but with seventy-years backlog of patch-it-up and make-do, it will be some little time before the last vestiges of Soviet aesthetics are wiped from Baku’s streets.